Category Archives: Writers

Beyond Wodehouse

P.G. Wodehouse recommends: A Reading List for World Book Day

‘The two twin souls gazed into each other’s eyes. There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.’

P.G. Wodehouse

‘Strychnine In The Soup’ (Mulliner Nights)

To celebrate World Book Day, I’ve put together a little reading list of some of the books featured in Wodehouse’s writing.

Great Expectations by Charles Dickens

dickensGE

‘… I’m in the middle of a rather special book. Ever read Great Expectations? Dickens, you know.’

‘I know. Haven’t read it, though. Always rather funk starting on a classic, somehow. Good?’

‘My dear chap! Good’s not the word.’

The Pothunters (1902)

The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle

adventures_of_sherlock_holmes

‘Mr. Downing had read all the Holmes stories with great attention, and had thought many times what an incompetent ass Doctor Watson was; but, now that he had started to handle his own first case, he was compelled to admit that there was a good deal to be said in extenuation of Watson’s inability to unravel tangles.’

Mike and Psmith (1909)

‘His book was The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and the particular story, which he selected for perusal was the one entitled, “The Speckled Band.” He was not a great reader, but, when he read, he liked something with a bit of zip to it.’

Indiscretions Of Archie (1921)

Tennyson’s Idylls of the King 

She looked down. “Have you been reading? What is the book?”

“It’s a volume of Tennyson.”

“Are you fond of Tennyson?”

“I worship him,” said Sam reverently. “Those–” he glanced at his cuff–“those Idylls of the King! I do not like to think what an ocean voyage would be if I had not my Tennyson with me.”

“We must read him together. He is my favourite poet!”

“We will! There is something about Tennyson….”

“Yes, isn’t there! I’ve felt that myself so often!”

The Girl on The Boat (1922)

A Tramp Abroad by Mark Twain

‘Out of a library which was probably congested with the most awful tosh, he had stumbled first pop upon Mark Twain’s Tramp Abroad, a book which he had not read since he was a kid but had always been meaning to read again; just the sort of book, in fact, which would enable a fellow to forget the anguish of starvation until that milk-train went.’

Mr Mulliner Speaking (1929)

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie

the_murder_of_roger_ackroyd_first_edition_cover_1926

‘You cannot copyright an idea, and times have become so hard for thriller-writers that they are after any possible new murderer like a pack of wolves.

You see, the supply of murderers is giving out. They have all been used so often. You cannot even be sure of the detective’s friend flow. Ever since Agatha Christie’s Roger Ackroyd we keep a very sharp eye on that friend. It is very lucky for Doctor Watson that he belonged to the pre-Christie era.’

Louder and Funnier (1932)

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

frank

What does a fellow’s face matter anyway?’ said Joey Cooley.

‘Exactly.’

‘Looks don’t mean a thing. Didn’t Frankenstein get married?’

‘Did he?’ said Eggy. ‘I don’t know. I never met him. Harrow man, I expect.’

Laughing Gas (1936)

Das Kapital by Karl Marx

What a curse these social distinctions are. They ought to be abolished. I remember saying that to Karl Marx once, and he thought there might be an idea for a book in it.

Quick Service (1940)

Spinoza’s Ethics

‘Bertie! This is amazing! Do you really read Spinoza?’

It’s extraordinary how one yields to that fatal temptation to swank. It undoes the best of us. Nothing, I mean, would have been simpler than to reply that she had got the data twisted and that the authoritatively annotated edition was a present for Jeeves. But, instead of doing the simple, manly, straightforward thing, I had to go and put on dog.

‘Oh, rather,’ I said, with an intellectual flick of the umbrella. ‘When I have a leisure moment, you will generally find me curled up with Spinoza’s latest.’

Joy in the Morning (1947)

And not forgetting:

The complete works of William Shakespeare

title_page_william_shakespeare27s_first_folio_1623

‘Beginning by quoting from Polonius’s speech to Laertes, which a surprising number of people whom you would not have suspected of familiarity with the writings of Shakespeare seem to know, Mr Pott had gone on to say that lending money always made him feel as if he were rubbing velvet the wrong way, and that in any case he would not lend it to Pongo, because he valued his friendship too highly.’

Uncle Fred in the Springtime (1939)

‘From start to finish of every meal she soliloquized. Shakespeare would have liked her.’

The Mating Season (1949)

‘His blood pressure was high, his eye rolled in what they call a fine frenzy, and he was death-where-is-thy-sting-ing like nobody’s business.’

Jeeves in the Offing (1960)

This little compilation merely scratches the surface of literary reference in Wodehouse’s work, providing further proof, if further proof is needed, that the great comic master offers much more than a light read — he’s educational!

Happy Reading!

HP

Cover Image: P.G. Wodehouse’s reading chair and library by Honoria Plum

P.G. Wodehouse: P.I. Writer

‘The effect on her of a dark, keen-eyed man like Adrian Mulliner, who spoke well and easily of footprints, psychology and the underworld, must have been stupendous.’

‘The Smile That Wins’ (Mulliner Nights)

Great piece on Private Investigators in P.G. Wodehouse’s writing from The New Thrilling Detective blog.

The New Thrilling Detective Web Site

By Rudyard Kennedy

“Consider the case of Henry Pifield Rice… I must explain Henry early, to avoid disappointment. If I simply said he was a detective, and let it go at that, I should be obtaining the reader’s interest under false pretences. He was really only a sort of detective, a species of sleuth. At Stafford’s International Investigation Bureau, in the Strand, where he was employed, they did not require him to solve mysteries which had baffled the police. He had never measured a footprint in his life, and what he did not know about bloodstains would have filled a library.”
— a typical Wodehouse sleuth, in “Bill the Bloodhound”

 

P.G. Wodehouse (1881-1975) wrote nearly 100 books, almost all of them comic novels. He’s best known, of course, for creating Jeeves, the ultimate valet (or as he would have it, the ultimate “gentleman’s gentleman”), as well as other memorable figures…

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Reading Wodehouse: a plea for help

What Ho, Wodehouse fans,

Robert Pimm needs your help.

Does he have a complete set of the Folio Society Wodehouse?

And what should he read when he’s finished them?

I’ll post my thoughts, once I’ve gathered them, but I know you’ll have some good advice on these important questions.

Pip Pip
HP

Robert Pimm: novels, short stories and more

I need help.

I need help from Wodehouse experts, or Kenner as we call them here in Austria.

For years, I have been relishing my father’s Folio Society collection of Jeeves and Wooster stories.  I have so far read 14 of them, as reported in my blogs Aunts aren’t gentlemen – 10 quotations, Jeeves and the feudal spirit: 20 delicious quotations, and Right ho, Jeeves – 14 fruity quotations (links in bold italics are to other posts on this site).

When I started reading Wodehouse, as reported in my blog How to read P G Wodehouse: a practical guide, I received invaluable practical advice from top Wodehouse specialist Plumtopia.  I recommend her.

I have now reached the final boxed set of my father’s collection, which I find comprises six volumes set at Blandings Castle: Summer Lightning (1929); Heavy Weather (1933); Uncle Fred in the Springtime (1939)…

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Wodehouse and the Romantic Novelist (Sophie Weston)

wodehouse romances

As you know, each February Plumtopia muses upon the romances of P.G. Wodehouse to mark the anniversary of his death on St Valentine’s Day 1975. This year, I’m on a quest to discover your favourite couples from the world of Wodehouse romance. Please help me by sharing your favourites via Plumtopia, Facebook and Twitter.

And while we’re on the subject of romance,  I’d like to draw your attention to a couple of recent pieces by romance writer and LibertaBooks blogger, Sophie Weston. Sophie clearly knows her stuff — about the romance genre, as well as Wodehouse

In PGW and the Romantic Novelist, Sophie ponders whether Wodehouse was ‘…out of sympathy with the romantic novelist.’ It’s an interesting question, and Sophie’s response is well worth reading and discussing further. Before reading it, I had always considered Wodehouse as a writer of romances, without considering whether readers and writers of the romance genre would classify him the same way.

Sophie Weston’s fun follow-up piece, Rosie M Banks Interview, lets Rosie M Banks answer the question of whether Wodehouse was ‘specially unkind to romantic novelists’.

As a reader, I’ve always had more affinity for Wodehouse’s fictional mystery writer James Rodman than any of his romance novelists.

He held rigid views on the art of the novel, and always maintained that an artist with a true reverence for his craft should not descend to goo-ey love stories, but should stick austerely to revolvers, cries in the night, missing papers, mysterious Chinamen, and dead bodies — with or without gash in throat.

Honeysuckle Cottage (Meet Mr Mulliner)

When I’m not curled up with Wodehouse’s latest, I generally read classic cloak and dagger adventures or non-fiction. However, Sophie Weston is one of several romance writers I’m aware of who have a strong appreciation for Wodehouse, which makes me curious to re-examine my ideas about the genre and explore it again as a reader. I’m starting to suspect there’s some good stuff I’m missing out on.

Happy reading!

HP

P.G. Wodehouse in the news

Having apprised regular readers of certain facts about an upcoming Wodehouse exhibition at the British Library, the keen observer may have detected an absence of new material here at Plumtopia. But the world of Wodehouse has not suffered. Indeed, it has been buzzing along quite nicely.

The P G Wodehouse Society dinner

On 11 October, the P G Wodehouse Society (UK) held its biennial dinner. This is always a special occasion, and in 2018 included readings from Neil Pearson, Katy Reece, and Robert Daws. Daws is well known to Wodehouse fans for playing Tuppy Glossop in the Jeeves and Wooster television series. He also gave a performed reading of ‘Wodehouse in Wonderland’ — a play by William Humble — at the recent Blenheim Palace Festival of Literature Film & Music.

The biggest news item of the year was also announced at the dinner.

P.G. Wodehouse memorial for Westminster Abbey

The momentous news — that a memorial stone for Wodehouse is planned for Westminster Abbey — has been widely reported (see Patrick Kidd in The Times, Alison Flood in The Guardian).

This announcement signifies:

“… a recognition of Plum’s place in the literary pantheon. His stone will deservedly lie among those of some of the greatest writers in this country’s history and his own literary heroes.”
(P G Wodehouse Society Chairman, Hilary Bruce
)

Empress Michiko sparks enthusiasm for Wodehouse in Japan

The Empress of Japan recently announced that she will spend her upcoming retirement reading as much as possible – and P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster books are at the top of her reading pile. This has sparked a rise in demand for Wodehouse’s work in Japan – with sales increasing from around 100 books per anum to 100 per day, according to publishers.  Hopefully this will lead to renewed demand for Wodehouse translator Tamaki Morimura to translate more of Wodehouse’s work.

Jeeves and the King of Clubs  

schottWhat makes this new Wodehouse homage by Ben Schott different from all the other Wodehouse homages that have been written over the years? Well, like Sebastian Faulks’ ‘Jeeves and the Wedding Bells’, this one has been blessed with the approval of the Wodehouse estate. Released in November, it has received kind reviews from Patrick Kidd (The Times) and Sophie Ratcliffe (known to Wodehouse fans as the editor of P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters).

A Plum Assignment plumassignment

Another new release of particular interest this year is ‘A Plum Assignment: Discourses on P. G. Wodehouse and His World’ by Curtis Armstrong (film and television actor) and Wodehouse expert Elliott Milstein.

What Ho! At the British Library

The British Library’s Wodehouse exhibition opened in November and will continue through to February 2019. They’ve also hosted several Wodehouse related events, with the next one planned for 21 February 2019 — an evening of Wodehouse stories and song, including Wodehouse biographer Robert McCrum. Tickets for the previous event sold out, so don’t wait too long for this one (tickets here).

Perfect Nonsense in North America

Wodehouse fans in the USA will finally be able to enjoy the delights of Perfect Nonsense, the Goodale brothers’ delightful stage adaptation of The Code of the Woosters. Its first US performance will run March 21 to April 14 2019 in Hartford, Connecticut (tickets here).

Keeping up to date with all the latest Wodehouse news  

Personal demands (wheels within wheels) over the last few months have made it difficult to write at length, but you can find me on Twitter @HonoriaPlum for a daily dose of Wodehouse, including any Wodehouse news that comes to hand.

I have grand plans for Plumtopia in 2019, and trust this brief absence has not caused any significant loss to the world of blogging, Wodehouse, or indeed literature.

To give Wodehouse the last word:

There was once a millionaire who, having devoted a long life to an unceasing struggle to amass his millions, looked up from his death-bed and said plaintively, ‘And now, perhaps, someone will kindly tell me what’s it’s all been about.’ I get that feeling sometimes, looking back. Couldn’t I, I ask myself, have skipped one or two of those works of mine and gone off and played golf without doing English literature any irreparable harm? Take, for instance, that book The Swoop, which was one of the paper-covered shilling books so prevalent around 1909. I wrote the whole 25,000 words of it in five days, and the people who read it, if placed end to end, would have reached from Hyde Park Corner to about the top of Arlington Street. Was it worth the trouble?

Yes, I think so, for I had a great deal of fun writing it. I have had a great deal of fun — one-sided possibly — writing all my books.

P.G. Wodehouse (Over Seventy)

I love writing Plumtopia — thanks for reading again this year.

HP

Six reasons why P.G. Wodehouse is Stephen Fry’s hero

If I were to construct a Plumtopian society according to my own specifications (which, regrettably, nobody has asked me to do) BBC Radio 4 would be one of the first things I’d bung into the package.

In addition to producing high quality radio, the Radio 4 website is also well worth exploring. It contains, among other things, this little gem:

Six reasons why P.G. Wodehouse is Stephen Fry’s hero

Fry and Wodehouse are always an irresistible combination. For a second helping try the 2017 broadcast (currently available on repeat) of Stephen Fry on PG Wodehouse, as part of the BBC Radio 4 Great Lives series.

That’s enough from me.

Happy listening.

HP

Where Jeeves meets a hard-boiled detective: P.G. Wodehouse and Raymond Chandler

chandler and plum covers

One prefers, of course, on all occasions to be stainless and above reproach, but, failing that, the next best thing is unquestionably to have got rid of the body.

P.G. Wodehouse (Joy in the Morning)

Raymond Chandler was born on this day, 23 July 1888.

Chandler wrote ‘hard-boiled’ detective fiction, including classics like The Big Sleep and The Long Goodbye. His fictional detective Philip Marlowe was famously played on screen by Humphrey Bogart.

P.G. Wodehouse and Raymond Chandler were both educated at Dulwich College in London’s South, which today has libraries named after both authors.

David Cannadine explored the connection between them this Point of View article (via BBC News): ‘Where Jeeves meets a hard-boiled detective‘.

The anniversary of Chandler’s birth seemed a fitting occasion to share it with you.

Enjoy!

HP

“You are evidently fond of mystery plays.”

“I love them.”

“So do I. And mystery novels?”

“Oh, yes!”

“Have you read Blood on the Banisters?”

“Oh, yes! I thought it was much better than Severed Throats.”

“So did I,” said Cyril. “Much better. Brighter murders, subtler detectives, crisper clues … better in every way.”

The two twin souls gazed into each other’s eyes. There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.

P.G. Wodehouse (Strychnine in the Soup, Mulliner Nights)

Agatha Christie’s Hallowe’en Party for P.G. Wodehouse

HPartyAgatha Christie’s novel Hallowe’en Party, the 39th outing for Belgian detective Hercule Poirot, was first published In November 1969.

Christie dedicated it:

To P. G. Wodehouse — whose books and stories have brightened my life for many years. Also, to show my pleasure in his having been kind enough to tell me he enjoyed my books.

In February 2015, many of Agatha Christie’s letters were published to mark the 125th anniversary of her birth. They included a letter from P.G.Wodehouse, thanking Christie for the dedication.

Wodehouse and Christie were mutual admirers of each other’s work, and had begun corresponding fifteen years earlier, although a 1955 letter from Wodehouse to his friend Denis Mackail shows their relationship got off to a rocky start.

…I’m seething with fury. Sir Allen Lane of Penguin was over here not long ago and told me that Agatha Christie simply loved my stuff and I must write to her and tell her how much I liked hers. So with infinite sweat I wrote her a long gushing letter, and what comes back? About three lines, the sort of thing you write to an unknown fan. ‘So glad you have enjoyed my criminal adventures’ – that sort of thing.

The really bitter part was that she said the book of mine she liked best was The Little Nugget –1908 production. And the maddening thing is that one has got to go on reading her, because she is about the only writer today who is readable.

(Sophie Ratcliffe’s ‘P.G.Wodehouse: A Life in Letters’)

But as Wodehouse himself wrote, in ‘Strychnine in the Soup’ (Mulliner Nights): “There is no surer foundation for a beautiful friendship than a mutual taste in literature.” Despite this inauspicious beginning, Wodehouse and Christie continued corresponding until the early 1970s (Wodehouse died in 1975). As prolific and popular writers, they had much in common. They discussed their methods, their work, and in later years, their ailments.

In one letter, Wodehouse wrote to Christie:

I often wonder how you write, — I mean do you sit upright at a desk? I ask because I find these days I can’t get out of an arm chair and face my desk, and when I write in an arm chair I have the greatest difficulty in reading what I have written. This may be because I have a deckchair, a Boxer and one of our seven cats sitting on me. But oh, how I have slowed up. It’s terrible.

(Sophie Ratcliffe’s ‘P.G.Wodehouse: A Life in Letters’)

Agatha Christie’s letters to P.G. Wodehouse are contained in the Wodehouse archives, which I was privileged to view in 2016. Among the treasures I discovered during my visit, was a letter from Agatha Christie dated 15 October 1969, telling Wodehouse of her dedication of Halowe’en Party to him.

Other letters from Christie recount her pleasure on finishing a novel, frustrations with proof readers’ corrections, and her delight that their waxworks were ‘…sitting side by side in Madam Tussauds’ in 1974. These letters, many of them handwritten, were among the Wodehouse archives acquired by the British Library last year.

This will be welcome news for Wodehouse readers who are also fans of Agatha Christie – of whom there are many. A 2014 poll in the Fans of P.G. Wodehouse Facebook group suggests Agatha Christie is the Number 1 author Wodehouse lovers read when not reading Wodehouse.

I am happy to count myself among them. I started reading Agatha Christie in my early teens — a natural progression from Enid Blyton’s Famous Five series, which I had collected and read many times over as a child. By the time I encountered my first Wodehouse story, in my 21st year, I had a solid grounding in the culture and era in which he wrote, and the crime genre he so admired (which he often incorporated into his work). Having also read my allotted share of Shakespeare and Chaucer by this time, I was not frightened by the complexity of Wodehouse’s style, or his extensive literary, classical and biblical references.

Agatha Christie needs no endorsement from me — she is the top selling novelist of all time. But I particularly recommend her books to people wanting to prepare younger readers for enjoying Wodehouse at a later age.

Of course, I shall take it as read that some of you were child geniuses, devouring Wodehouse novels from the age of five, and that your own child began (under your expert tutelage) to read Wodehouse — and possibly Shakespeare — in the womb. Top stuff, old Bean! However, the average modern child is likely to be thoroughly put off Wodehouse, whose writing is more complex than he’s given credit for, if it’s thrust upon them too soon. I suggest these wilderness years can be productively spent reading Agatha Christie instead.

Murders are not as uncommon as you might think in the often gruesome world of Young Adult fiction. Unless your prospective younger reader is particularly sensitive, they may well appreciate the central murder in Hallowe’en Party — of a boastful thirteen year old called Joyce, during a children’s party.

Christie also created some terrific young heroines, try Cat Among the Pigeons, and The Secret Adversary.  When the time comes to move on to Wodehouse, the adventures of Joan Valentine in Something Fresh, and Eve Halliday in Leave it to Psmith, will make great places to start.

In fact, I think I’ll finish with a dash of Joan Valentine and Ashe Marson now.

To set the scene for you, Ashe is struggling to come up with a plot for his new mystery story, which he has decided to call ‘The Wand of Death’, when he is interrupted by a girl (Joan Valentine).

‘I am sorry for your troubles,’ said Ashe firmly, ‘but we are wandering from the point. What is a wand of death?’

A wand of death?’

‘A wand of death.’

The girl paused reflectively.

‘Why, of course it’s the sacred ebony stick stolen from the Indian temple which is supposed to bring death to whoever possesses it. The hero gets hold of it, and the priests dog him and send him threatening messages. What else could it be?’

Ashe could not restrain his admiration.

‘This is genius. I see it all. The hero calls in Gridley Quayle, and that patronizing ass, by the aid of a series of wicked coincidences, solves the mystery, and there I am with another month’s work done.’

She looked at him with interest.

‘Are you the author of “Gridley Quayle”?’

‘Don’t tell me you read him?’

‘I do not read him. But he is published by the same firm that publishes “Home Gossip”, and I can’t help seeing his cover sometimes while I am waiting to see the editress.’

Ashe felt like one who meets a boyhood’s chum on a desert island. Here was a real bond between them.

‘Do the Mammoth publish you too? Why we are comrades in misfortune — fellow-serfs. We should be friends. Shall we be friends?’

‘I should be delighted.’

(From: Something Fresh, 1915)

May all your pumpkins be prize-winners this Halloween.

HP

 

Writing under the influence of Wodehouse: A Blindefellows Chronicle by Auriel Roe

P.G. Wodehouse offers us so much as readers, but he’s an inspiration for writers too. I asked Auriel Roe, author of A Blindfellows Chronicle, about Wodehouse’s influence on her writing.

Author Auriel Roe
Author & artist, Auriel Roe

How did you discover Wodehouse? Probably the Richard Briers and Michael Hordern radio version of Jeeves and Wooster. Dickens always intended his work to be read aloud and Wodehouse has just the right rhythms for this too, so that led me to read Wodehouse.  Coming from a background in drama, I could tell instantly that Wodehouse’s characters and scenarios were theatrical.

Do you have a favourite Wodehouse novel or story? Probably Right Ho, Jeeves as it contains that supreme episode of the humour of embarrassment that Wodehouse does so well with Fink-Nottle presiding over a school prize giving ceremony.  I’ve sat through a number of similar cringe-making efforts at these end-of-year offerings, one in which the guest speaker hadn’t prepared a speech and intoned “You’re all so lucky” probably about every thirty seconds; (she was quite famous too and we suspected she’d been at the juice).

Which character from Wodehouse’s world would you most like to be (or most identity with) and why ? I’m torn between wanting to be Wooster who takes such delight in the simple things in life such as a cooked breakfast and Jeeves who has a solution to every mishap, however unlikely it is to succeed.

How long have you been writing? In a proper sense, for the last two years, but it fits around a full time job, which is an asset to a writer as being in solitude for me would mean no ideas, and no little jottings in the writer’s notebook when you overhear something quirky or witness something bizarre.  Writing for me all happened by accident a couple of summers ago when I had a peculiar little notion that swelled into a novel… What if a man in his sixties suddenly has his first crush?  This became my novel A Blindefellows Chronicle which has recently been published.

How has Wodehouse influenced your work? I think my main character Sedgewick is something of a Jeeves/Wooster hybrid actually – Sedgewick is an awkward chap who often finds outlandish solutions to the predicaments that arise.  Like Wooster, Sedgewick avoids romantic entanglements, and is most downhearted when a possible marriage looms.   My novel is composite, the same set of characters in thirteen chronological stories, a structure Wodehouse favoured, each chapter/story able to stand alone.

Some people claim Wodehouse’s writing is too much a product ‘of his time ‘ to appeal to a modern audience. What do you think Wodehouse has to offer the 21st Century reader? Wodehouse continues to make people laugh so perhaps this humour contributes to making it timeless, but perhaps it’s only a brand of humour that the British have a feel for.  Having said that, Wodehouse has never gone out of vogue in India; it’s sold next to the best sellers in airports and there was outrage when it was dramatized into Hindi.  For years, the actor Martin Jarvis has held packed houses mesmerized with his readings of Wodehouse, which demonstrates an enduring appeal.   As for what Wodehouse offers us today well, there’s just not enough comic literary fiction today.  Comedy is not often written skilfully and Wodehouse is an example of how to do it which I’ve learned from.

I’m passionate about supporting writers who’ve been influenced by Wodehouse — please tell me about your book. Regarding style, I feel like I’ve written the novel I always wanted to read, which pays homage to my favourite writing… Wodehouse, Wind in the Willows, Cold Comfort Farm to name a few.  Regarding content, I am a head of art and I wanted to base my story in a school which is probably what I know best.  My first job was in a somewhat archaic boarding school so little aspects of those years have been used, albeit manipulated to almost unrecognisable proportions.  Here’s the blurb to pop it into a nutshell…

“It was midday on 31 August and the new History master had arrived at Blindefellows, former charity school for poor, blind boys, now a second division private school for anyone who could pay.”– Thus commences the unlikely friendship between Sedgewick, the naive newcomer, and the rumbustious, Japes, Master of Physics, his worldly-wise mentor.

A Blindefellows Chronicle follows the adventures of a handful of unmarried faculty at an obscure West Country boarding school in a series of interlinked tales characterized by absurd, chortle-out-loud humour, punctuated by moments of unexpected poignancy.

Thanks Auriel and best of luck with your book. I’m looking forward to reading it

HP

On this day: George Orwell, who wrote in Defence of P.G. Wodehouse, was born (1903)

Branch of the National Union of Journalists (BNUJ). [Public domain], via Wikimedia CommonsGeorge Orwell was born on this day 1903.

Best known as the author of dystopian classics 1984 and Animal Farm, Orwell also wrote a 1946 essay ‘In Defence of P.G. Wodehouse’.

The background to this story has been covered in much detail elsewhere.*

Before the start of the Second World War, P.G. Wodehouse was living in France. When the German Army invaded, he was among those captured and interned — in a succession of prison camps, from Belgium to Upper Silesia. He continued to write throughout his internment, and read his light-hearted camp diary aloud for the amusement of his fellow internees.

The cell smell is a great feature of all French prisons. Ours in Number Forty-Four at Loos was one of those fine, broad-shouldered, up-and-coming young smells which stand on both feet and look the world in the eye.

We became very fond and proud of it, championing it hotly against other prisoners who claimed that theirs had more authority and bouquet, and when the first German officer to enter our little sanctum rocked back on his heels and staggered out backwards, we took it as almost a personal compliment. It was like hearing a tribute paid to an old friend.

(Wodehouse’s Second Berlin Broadcast)

Wodehouse was released in June 1941, shortly before his 60th birthday, and deposited at the Albion hotel in Berlin. While staying there, he met an old acquaintance, Werner Plack, whom he’d known during his stint as a writer in Hollywood. It was Plack who encouraged Wodehouse to make a series of broadcasts to fans in America (which had not yet entered the war) about his recent experience.

It seemed like a good idea to Wodehouse at the time. The talks made light of his experiences, in keeping with the British tradition of humour in the face of adversity.

Young men, starting out in life, have often asked me “How can I become an Internee?” Well, there are several methods. My own was to buy a villa in Le Touquet on the coast of France and stay there till the Germans came along. This is probably the best and simplest system. You buy the villa and the Germans do the rest.

At the time of their arrival, I would have been just as pleased if they had not rolled up. But they did not see it that way, and on May the twenty-second along they came – some on motor cycles, some on foot, but all evidently prepared to spend a long weekend.

(Wodehouse’s First Berlin Broadcast)

Few people in Britain ever heard the broadcasts, but the ferocious public condemnation that followed was sufficient to convince many people that Wodehouse was a Nazi sympathiser and traitor.

After the war, MI5 and British Foreign Office officials investigated the matter and agreed that Wodehouse had no case to answer. One British Foreign Office official noted:

I do not think that anyone would seriously deny that ‘L’affaire Wodehouse’ was very much a storm in a teacup. It is perfectly plain to any unbiased observer that Mr Wodehouse made the celebrated broadcasts in all innocence and without any evil intent. He is reported to be of an entirely apolitical cast of mind; much of the furore of course was the result of literary jealousies.

Sadly, the facts surrounding the broadcasts and findings of the MI5 investigation were never made public during Wodehouse’s lifetime, and even today some people find it difficult to shake their mistaken ideas about Wodehouse, or to report the matter with accuracy.

Writing in 1946, Orwell was certainly unaware of the full facts, and he had not heard or seen a transcript of the broadcasts. He unwittingly relies on misrepresented accounts of Wodehouse’s experience. For example, Orwell refers to “German officers in the neighbourhood frequently ‘dropping in for a bath or a party’” in the period immediately before Wodehouse’s internment.

With the full transcripts available to us, we can read Wodehouse’s remarks in context and understand there was no such party:

One’s reactions on suddenly finding oneself surrounded by the armed strength of a hostile power are rather interesting. There is a sense of strain. The first time you see a German soldier over your garden fence, your impulse is to jump ten feet straight up into the air, and you do so. About a week later, you find that you are only jumping five feet. And then, after you have been living with him in a small village for two months, you inevitably begin to fraternise and to wish that you had learned German at school instead of Latin and Greek. All the German I know is “Es ist schönes Wetter”, I was a spent force, and we used to take out the rest of the interview in beaming at one another.

I had a great opportunity of brushing up my beaming during those two months. My villa stands in the centre of a circle of houses, each of which was occupied by German officers, who would come around at intervals to take a look at things, and the garden next door was full of Labour Corps boys. It was with these that one really got together. There was scarcely an evening when two or three of them did not drop in for a bath at my house and a beaming party on the porch afterwards

(Wodehouse’s First Berlin Broadcast)

Orwell may have been misled on some of the details, and I don’t agree with all of the points he makes, but his analysis demonstrates a sound knowledge of Wodehouse’s work, along with Orwell’s usual political astuteness.

In the desperate circumstances of the time, it was excusable to be angry at what Wodehouse did, but to go on denouncing him three or four years later – and more, to let an impression remain that he acted with conscious treachery – is not excusable. Few things in this war have been more morally disgusting than the present hunt after traitors and quislings. At best it is largely the punishment of the guilty by the guilty. In France, all kinds of petty rats – police officials, penny-a-lining journalists, women who have slept with German soldiers – are hunted down while almost without exception the big rats escape. In England the fiercest tirades against quislings are uttered by Conservatives who were practising appeasement in 1938 and Communists who were advocating it in 1940. I have striven to show how the wretched Wodehouse – just because success and expatriation had allowed him to remain mentally in the Edwardian age – became the corpus vile in a propaganda experiment, and I suggest that it is now time to regard the incident as closed.

George Orwell: In Defence of P.G. Wodehouse

The following references / further reading are highly recommended to anyone wishing to better understand this chapter in P.G. Wodehouse’s life.

*Summary of the wartime controversy and full transcripts of the broadcasts

Wodehouse At War by Ian Sproat (1981)

Wodehouse: A Life by Robert McCrum (2004)

Honoria