Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Man Who Needs No Introduction is Getting One Anyway: P.G. Wodehouse!

Before I even knew who Jeeves was, I would yell at my father "Ho, Jeeves!" whenever he drove us anywhere. It took a long time to figure out that Jeeves was a character that had been created somewhere. I thought he'd been a real famous butler.

But no! The giant-brained Jeeves and his less-brained man Bertie, are the crazed, creative creations of Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, P.G. for short. It's a testament to him that a six-year-old (the me that was) who couldn't even tell you what a butler was could still holler to her father "Ho, Jeeves!"

Wodehouse was born in 1881, one year before Virginia Woolf. They could've gone to high school together if, you know, there weren't boy/girl boarding schools. His father was an ambassador-type in Hong Kong, so Wodehouse lived there for a little while before his parents shipped him off to England for learning purposes. (He seems to have gotten in the spirit of dorm living--his stories about school life feel very real in their hilarity and hierarchies.)

After school he struggled with everything because, well, he's a writer like us and we struggle with everything, right? Then he started writing in earnest and never, never, never stopped. Let me illustrate:

The anthology that I have in front of me is the Modern Library Edition The Best of P.G. Wodehouse. His allegedly 'best' work takes up 796 pages. That includes one novel, a bunch of short stories, and an extended essay on his writing life. The electronic edition of his works which I downloaded for my Nook is over four thousand pages. And guess what? That's not a complete collection. (In contrast, the complete works of Jane Austen don't take up 2,000--coming in at a weighty 1,553 pages.) The boy could turn it out.

He worked and lived both in the U.K. and the U.S. During WWII he was held in various internment camps by the Germans, and made some radio broadcasts about his experiences that did not go well with the Allied public. John Mortimer, who writes the introduction to the Modern Library edition, describes the broadcasts: "Their tone was, of course, far from serious. He spoke of his situation as a comic interlude in his busy life." When the war was over the British public was yelling 'traitor', and Wodehouse stayed in the U.S. for the rest of his life. Later, the public became more understanding. He was knighted.

Wodehouse died in 1975. Mortimer describes the scene in his intro: "He was found there one evening, dead in his armchair, with a pipe and tobacco on his lap and piece of manuscript within easy reach. He had never stopped writing."

Between the amount of writing that I get to wade through and the long, full life Wodehouse led...well, there's a lot to talk about.

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