P. G. WODEHOUSE: A Biography by Frances Donaldson

P. G. WODEHOUSE: A Biography

By
Email this review

KIRKUS REVIEW

The major attraction of this new Wodehouse book is that it draws on (and reprints) many previously unpublished letters; the biography itself, by a longtime Wodehouse friend (author of Edward VIII), is something of a disappointment--often charming or incisive, but ultimately spotty and lopsided. Donaldson's prime motive here is ""the need to establish the truth of the old, sad episode of his broadcasts from Germany during the war."" But, while offering some fresh documentation, Donaldson's minute treatment--nearly a third of the book--hardly differs in conclusion (PGW was a fool but no traitor) from other, recent discussions-in-detail (Iain Sproat's Wodehouse at War, Benny Green's P. G. Wodehouse). And the remainder of this biography, then, offers a surprisingly skimpy look at Wodehouse's career. Donaldson is strongest in her psychological portrait of Plum: like Saki, Maugham, and Kipling, he suffered childhood rejection; unlike them, in response, he ""simply detached himself from the cold and unrewarding world and retreated into fantasy""; he thus became ""socially incompetent,"" dependent on his more worldly wife, unable ""to feel strong emotions,"" and quite happy--especially in impersonal-group situations like prep-school. . . or internment camp. (Donaldson offers the fullest picture yet of PGW's relationship with beloved adopted daughter Leonora: ""in reality, she adopted him."") As for the books, Donaldson is a non-aficionado but does present a sturdy, graceful, unoriginal appreciation of his talents. . . along with the ""woman's point of view"" (""he represents masculine humour at its most unsympathetic',) and a few shrewd life/work parallels. But Donaldson seems unaware of US developments when covering PGW publishing history. And on Wodehouse's theater career, she is nothing less than irresponsible: virtually the entire contribution as musical-comedy lyricist/playwright--ably covered in the Green book--is dismissed in four misleading and grossly ignorant pages. Still, those letters, if not remarkable, are often endearing; and Donaldson's firsthand insights into the personal Plum are welcome. So, though uneven, imbalanced, and sometimes untrustworthy as a biography, this addition to the Wodehouse shelf can be enjoyably sampled by Plum connoisseurs--for the sharp psychology, the new at-home details, and some of the literary analysis. David A. Jasen's P. G. Wodehouse, though limited, remains the best all-around portrait.

Pub Date: May 27th, 1982
Publisher: Knopf