Other literary forms

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In addition to writing more than ninety novels, P. G. Wodehouse (WOOD-hows) wrote hundreds of short stories, some eighteen plays (of which ten were published), the lyrics for thirty-three theatrical musicals, and a vast, uncollected body of essays, reviews, poems, and sketches. So much of Wodehouse’s early work has been lost that it is impossible to measure his total literary output, and collections of his stories published under titles such as “Uncollected Wodehouse” are likely to appear with some frequency for the next twenty years. He also wrote two comic autobiographies, Performing Flea: A Self-Portrait in Letters (1953; revised as Author! Author!, 1962) and America, I Like You (1956; revised as Over Seventy: An Autobiography with Digressions, 1957).

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Achievements

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P. G. Wodehouse has always been regarded as a “popular” writer. The designation is just. “Every schoolboy,” wrote Ogden Nash, “knows that no one can hold a candle to P. G. Wodehouse.” His novels and short stories were among the best-selling works of their generation, but it should be remembered that Wodehouse’s appeal transcended his popular audience. Many of the major writers of the twentieth century have professed a deep admiration for the art of “Plum,” as Wodehouse was known to his friends and family. T. S. Eliot, W. H. Auden, Bertrand Russell—all were fanatic enthusiasts of Wodehouse. Hilaire Belloc said that Wodehouse was the greatest writer of the twentieth century, and Evelyn Waugh offered the following tribute to his genius: “Mr. Wodehouse’s idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own.” It is unfortunately true that critics and readers who expect high seriousness from their literary pleasures will never quite approve of one who makes a lighthearted mockery of most of England’s and America’s most sacred cows. F. R. Leavis, the celebrated English scholar, pointed to the awarding of an honorary doctorate to Wodehouse as proof of declining literary standards. Other critics have been even more emphatic in their deprecation of Wodehouse’s lack of seriousness. For sheer enjoyment, however, or what Dr. Johnson called “innocent recreation,” no one can touch P. G. Wodehouse.

Discussion Topics

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Why was the essentially English P. G. Wodehouse better appreciated in the United States than in his native country?

Was the British forgiveness of Wodehouse after World War II justified?

What does the phrase “musical comedy without the music” mean?

Characterize Wodehouse’s unusual metaphors.

How was Wodehouse influenced by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle?

Did elements of early Hollywood films also influence Wodehouse?

Bibliography

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 418

Green, Benny. P. G. Wodehouse: A Literary Biography. New York: Rutledge Press, 1981. This very useful study, arranged chronologically, traces the connections between Wodehouse’s personal experiences and his fictional creations. Illustrations, a chronology, notes, a bibliography, and an index are included.

Hall, Robert A., Jr. The Comic Style of P. G. Wodehouse. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1974. Provides a discussion of three types of Wodehouse’s stories, including school tales and juvenilia, romances and farces, and the various sagas. The analysis of Wodehouse’s narrative techniques and linguistic characteristics is indispensable for anyone interested in understanding his style. Contains an index and a bibliography.

Phelps, Barry. P. G. Wodehouse: Man and Myth. London: Constable, 1992. In this sympathetic biography, Phelps provides an unusual number of useful appendices, including a Wodehouse chronology, family tree, and bibliography.

Sproat, Iain. Wodehouse at War. New Haven, Conn.: Ticknor & Fields, 1981. This volume is necessary to those studying the sad war events that clouded Wodehouse’s life and to those interested in exploring the individual psychology that produced such comic delight. Sproat, a politician as well as a fan, vindicates Wodehouse in the infamous Nazi broadcasts, which are reprinted here. Includes appendices of documents in the case.

Usborne, Richard. After Hours with P. G. Wodehouse. London: Hutchinson, 1991. A collection of entertaining pieces on Wodehouse’s life and death, written somewhat in the spirit of Wodehouse himself.

Usborne, Richard. Wodehouse at Work to the End. 1961. Rev. ed. London: Barrie and Jenkins, 1976. Includes individual chapters on Wodehouse’s major series characters, helpful appendices of lists of his books, plays, and films, and an index. For the diehard fan, each chapter is followed by a brief section called “Images,” with humorous quotations from the works. The introduction refers to other secondary sources.

Voorhees, Richard J. P. G. Wodehouse. New York: Twayne, 1966. An excellent introductory volume on Wodehouse, with chapters on his life, his public school stories, his early novels, the development of his romantic and comic novels, a description of the Wodehouse world, and a discussion of the place of that world in British literature. A chronology, notes and references, and a bibliography of primary and secondary sources are provided.

Wodehouse, P. G. Yours, Plum: The Letters of P. G. Wodehouse. New York: James H. Heineman, 1993. Mainly addressed to a small group of close friends and Wodehouse’s stepdaughter Leonora, the letters cover all aspects of Wodehouse’s life and career. The long section in which he discusses his writing gives fascinating insight into an author at work

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Critical Essays