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P.G. WODEHOUSE by P.G. Wodehouse Kirkus Star


A Life in Letters

by P.G. Wodehouse edited by Sophie Ratcliffe

Pub Date: Jan. 28th, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-393-08899-1
Publisher: Norton

The life and times of the creator of Bertie and Jeeves, as told to friends and family.

Although they don’t reveal him at his stylish, polished best, these letters by P.G. Wodehouse (1881–1975) are casual, funny and revealing asides from a prolific and successful career. Although he began his working life in a dull banking firm, it wasn’t long before writing would make him rich. By the 1920s, he was getting top dollar. “I have just signed a contract with the Cosmopolitan for eighteen stories at $6500 each (including English rights),” he wrote Ira Gershwin in 1928. “Also a serial for Collier’s for $40,000.” As one of the most popular writers (and Broadway lyricists) of his day, he kept up an indefatigable pace. (A typical progress report from 1932: “I’m writing like blazes. A novel and eight short stories in seven and a half months.”) Wodehouse was constantly on the lookout for stories, and he didn’t mind using retreads (“I have only got one plot and produce it once a year with variations”). Evelyn Waugh noted that Wodehouse characters live in a perpetual Eden; their creator was a similar case of arrested development. At the age of 51, he wrote, “I sometimes feel as if I were a case of infantilism.” Taken prisoner by the Nazis while living in France, he made broadcasts over German radio in hopes of letting his readers know he was OK; it took years of postwar damage control to convince them he had been a “Silly Ass,” not a Nazi stooge. To wife Ethel (“precious angel Bunny”) and stepdaughter Leonora (“Snorky”), he was affectionate; to fellow writers and readers—he always answered fan mail—he was instructive, gossipy and supportive, sometimes financially.

Editor Ratcliffe’s (On Sympathy, 2009) generous annotations and judicious edits give scope to a rich, brilliant, happy, oblivious life.