FFB — Wodehouse: A Life

”I never want to see anyone, and I never want to go anywhere or do anything. I just want to write.’

Before I get to my entry for Friday’s Forgotten Books, I want to point you to my interview with Ravello Magazine in Italy which came out this week, one I’m particularly happy with. If you are not quite up on your Romance languages, Kemberlee made a translated link here (my publishers are so great). It’s not often that an interview leads to discussing trepanning with Jamie Delano on Twitter, but that’s my life in a nutshell…

There is never a time that reading Wodehouse is not a delight, although somehow summer seems particularly perfect. There’s such a lightness of touch to his humour that feels so effortless that you want to pick up this hefty doorstop tome and find that ah ha! He did indeed sell his soul to the devil to achieve that perfect élan. There are moments in this biography where you despair that McCrum has hidden the truth because after two years struggling as a banker by day and writer by night, Wodehouse made a splash that ebbed at times but never really has subsided. It’s a bit discouraging for us mere mortals.

The truth of course is much more complicated; Wodehouse reacted to one of those remote sort of childhoods by shutting down an awful lot. If his carefree Edwardian bachelors provided wish-fulfillment and his terrifying aunts some sort of Freudian window, we can not really know because even with his best, life-long friend he rarely let slip the real feelings inside. Perhaps he did his best to never hear them himself. He loved his fictional worlds where everything went according to plan.

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When he did let himself go — tellingly, not so much in marriage but in loving his step-daughter — he did genuinely adore. When she died he seemed completely stunned, saying ‘I thought she was immortal.’ He retreated even further into his ordered life and non-stop writing routine. Even the war did not stop that — not when he was taken as a prisoner, not when he was released and living in Berlin and made those stupid radio appearances. The understandable (but also Daily Mail-fanned) flames of outrage raged back in Britain (especially amongst those who had not heard the broadcasts) and stunned the writer. He had been persuaded to do them to let his American readers know that he had indeed survived the war. Idiocy to not realise how he was being manipulated. While at times I wish I could be totally disengaged from the world around me, this is the cost that brings.

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He never went back to Britain, although it was often suggested. Even when he was knighted, the mountain came to Mohammed because he was too frail to travel from his Long Island home. By his death he was once more popular and celebrated. I first came to his work when PBS broadcast Wodehouse Playhouse (part of my oddly British-shaped youth, filled with Python, the Goons and of course Peter Cook). I loved the humour; as a writer I admire even more the exquisite ease of his writing. I know the work behind it now, but it makes the magic no less sparkling.

Reminds me: I have edits for the next Constance & Collier adventure to get to —

Check out the other Friday Forgotten Books over at Todd’s.