P. G. Wodehouse Additional Biography


(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

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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(Critical Guide to Censorship and Literature)

Before World War II Wodehouse made a fortune—largely in the United States—from genial stories about English upper- class dimwits, and from his writing for Broadway and Hollywood. In 1940 he happened to be living in France when it was occupied by the German army and was captured and interned as an enemy alien. After a campaign to release him was mounted in America, he was removed to a hotel in Berlin, Germany, where he naïvely agreed to make a series of broadcasts to America over German radio.

Wodehouse’s talks consisted of light-hearted descriptions of life in internment camps, but the mere fact of his consenting to broadcast under German auspices made him a traitor in British eyes. He was widely denounced in the British media, but a number of supporters also spoke out in his defense. The most prominent—and perhaps the most improbable—of these was the left-wing social critic and novelist George Orwell, who published an essay defending Wodehouse as a politically innocent dupe guilty of nothing worse than poor judgment.

After Germans released Wodehouse, he went to Paris. When France was liberated by the Allies, orders were issued to arrest him and return him to Britain for trial. He instead went to the United States, where he became an American citizen. He remained there for the rest of his life, continuing to write stories about England until the day of his death at age ninety-five. Despite wartime calls for Wodehouse’s punishment in Britain, his literary reputation there was soon rehabilitated. Shortly before he died, Wodehouse was formally forgiven for his mistake when he was knighted (in absentia) by Queen Elizabeth II.