Pelham Grenville Wodehouse was born in Guildford, Surrey, on October 15, 1881, the third of four sons born to Henry Ernest and Eleanor Deane Wodehouse. Wodehouse’s father was a member of the English civil service and spent most of his working years in Hong Kong; indeed, it was a mere chance that Wodehouse was not born in Hong Kong. Whether it was miscalculation or the event was premature, his birth occurred during one of his mother’s rare and rather brief visits to England.
Wodehouse was reared away from his parents; they were, he often remarked, like distant aunts and uncles rather than parents. Wodehouse entered Dulwich College at the age of twelve and remained there for the next six years. The school was not prominent in the sense that Harrow and Eton were prominent; it was simply a good middle-class school. The headmaster was the most impressive figure, and he may have served as the model for Wooster’s nemesis, the Reverend Aubrey Upjohn. The headmaster was not impressed with his student; he once wrote to Wodehouse’s parents: “He has the most distorted ideas about wit and humour.One is obliged to like him in spite of his vagaries.” The vagaries, apart from the student’s drawing stick figures in his classical texts, are unrecorded. In those final years at Dulwich, Wodehouse found his vocation. He was appointed editor of the school paper and sold his first story to a boys’ weekly, The Public School Magazine. The story won first prize for fiction in that year.
Following graduation in 1900, Wodehouse went to work for the London branch of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. His work there was not a complete disaster for the banking industry, but very nearly so. Wodehouse was no good at checks and balances and served only as an unpleasant distraction for those who were. At night, he continued to...
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Pelham Grenville Wodehouse (WOOD-hows) was born October 15, 1881, in Guildford, Surrey, England, the third of four sons of Henry Ernest and Eleanor Deane Wodehouse. His father spent his career in the Hong Kong civil service, rising to a judgeship. Wodehouse lived only one year in Hong Kong, spending the remainder of his childhood in England with friends and relatives, when not in school. This upbringing accounts for the inordinately large number of aunts and uncles in his fiction.
Wodehouse, known lifelong to his friends as “Plum,” followed his brother Armine to school at Dulwich and distinguished himself in Latin and Greek composition, football, and cricket and by writing comic verses for the school magazine, of which he was editor. Wodehouse’s school days were perhaps his happiest, the camaraderie of school being celebrated often in his fiction, where “old boys” never let each other down. Seven of his first dozen books are school novels inspired by his Dulwich experiences, most notably Mike: A Public School Story (1909; also known as Enter Psmith, Mike at Wrykyn, and Mike and Psmith), which examines the disadvantages of joining an older brother at school. More important, at Dulwich Wodehouse discovered writers, such as Charles Dickens, W. S. Gilbert, Rudyard Kipling, and Arthur Conan Doyle, who profoundly influenced his development as a literary artist.
Wodehouse had planned to continue his education at Oxford, but his father’s financial setbacks forced him to join the London office of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. In several Wodehouse novels, the possibility of having to work in a bank seems grim to the protagonists, and the author himself hated the routine of his job and was determined to leave the bank before being sent to a position in the Far East. After two years as a bank clerk, he was hired by the Globe, a London newspaper, through a former master at Dulwich, and he soon inherited the master’s column. During this period, he began publishing school novels as serials in boys’ magazines and more sophisticated stories in such magazines as Strand. The school serials were also published as books, beginning with The Pothunters (1902).
On a trip to the United States in 1909, Wodehouse sold stories to Cosmopolitan and Collier’s magazines for much more money than he had received in England. He resigned from the Globe, settled in Greenwich Village in New York City, and tested the American market further, writing detective stories for pulp magazines and serving as drama critic for Vanity Fair. In 1914, the Saturday Evening Post bought Something Fresh (1915; also known as Something New), the first of the series of novels set at Blandings...
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While the books that P. G. Wodehouse produced over his last decade do not match the earlier ones in vitality, his fiction was amazingly consistent in quality over much of his uniquely long career. Working so many variations on the same types of characters and situations is truly a remarkable achievement. Even if such an England as he presents never existed, Wodehouse convinces his readers that it should have. His is the sublimest of escapist literature.
Pelham Grenville Wodehouse (WOOD-hows) is a name that conjures up the most lighthearted and sunniest of comic worlds described by a master stylist of the English language. Born on October 15, 1881, in Guildford, England, he was the third son of a British civil servant serving in Hong Kong. To give their children an English education, his parents sent them to England; there they attended various boarding schools and visited relatives during the summer holidays. Wodehouse’s upbringing explains the relative scarcity of parental figures and the corresponding preponderance of aunts in his most popular works, especially in those featuring Bertie Wooster and Jeeves. Bertie is firmly ruled by the strength of will of his female relatives,...
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