P. G. WodehouseSir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse (October 15, 1881 - February 14, 1975) was an English comic novelist, most famously described as "English literature's performing flea."
Best known for the Jeeves and Wooster short stories and novels, Wodehouse was also a talented lyricist, who worked with Cole Porter on the musical, Anything Goes. The surname is pronounced "Woodhouse", not "Woadhouse".
Wodehouse is one of the authors most frequently cited in the Oxford English Dictionary -- not surprising considering his dazzling use of language -- and he is second only to Charles Dickens in fecundity of character invention.
Nicknamed 'Plum', Wodehouse was educated at Dulwich College, and then worked for the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank for two years, though he was never really interested in banking as a career. Having taken up writing seriously, he went to Hollywood, where he was able to earn enormous amounts as a screenwriter. He married in 1914, gaining a stepdaughter.
After a failed attempt to escape from his home at Le Touquet, France, Wodehouse was taken prisoner in Germany during World War II. Encouraged by fellow prisoners to entertain with witty dialogues, he was persuaded by the Germans to make broadcasts from Berlin poking fun at his dilemma. Wartime England was in no mood for light-hearted banter, however, and the broadcasts led to accusations of treachery. Foremost among his critics was A. A. Milne, author of the "Winnie the Pooh" books; Wodehouse got some revenge by creating a ridiculous character named "Timothy Bobbin," who starred in hilarious parodies of some of Milne's children's poetry. Among his defenders was George Orwell (see links below).
The criticism led Wodehouse to move to America. He became an American citizen in 1955, and made only one more visit to his homeland. He was made a Knight of the British Empire (KBE) in 1975, shortly before his death. It is widely believed that the honor was not given earlier because of lingering resentment about the German broadcasts.
His characters were not always popular with the establishment, either, notably the foppish foolishness of Bertie Wooster. Papers released by the Public Record Office have disclosed that when Wodehouse was recommended for a Companion of Honour in 1967, Sir Patrick Dean, British ambassador in Washington, argued that it "would also give currency to a Bertie Wooster image of the British character which we are doing our best to eradicate."
His novels and stories fall into a number of series:
- The Blandings books are about the upper-class inhabitants of the fictional Blandings Castle, including the eccentric Earl of Emsworth, obsessed by his prize-winning pig, the "Empress of Blandings".
- The Ukridge books are about a scheming character of that name.
- Mr. Mulliner is a long-winded pub raconteur who tells outrageous stories about his family.
- Many stories were built around the sport of golf, which all characters take deadly seriously, ignoring everything else in life.
- The most famous series are the Jeeves and Wooster books, featuring the ever-optimistic Bertie Wooster, his fearsome aunts (Aunts Agatha and Dahlia), and his omniscient valet Jeeves. The raucous Drones Club, a parody of bachelor's clubs once common in London, features in many tales.
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Two books that are part of the Blanding Castle series but not listed above are "Blandings Castle and Elsewhere" (1935) and "Leave It To Psmith" (1923).
Both the Blandings and Jeeves stories have been adapted as BBC television series: the Jeeves series has been adapted twice, once in the 1960s (for the BBC) with Ian Carmichael as Bertie Wooster, and Dennis Price as Jeeves, and again in the 1990s (by Granada Television for ITV), with the title "Jeeves and Wooster," starring Hugh Laurie as Wooster and Stephen Fry as Jeeves. David Niven and Arthur Treacher also starred as Bertie and Jeeves, respectively, in a few films made in the thirties.
(U.S. title: Jeeves in the Morning)
(U.S. title: Jeeves and the Tie That Binds)
Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps (pronounced Barmy Fungy-Phipps),
Agatha Gregson (Aunt Agatha),
Dahlia Travers (Aunt Dahlia),
Earl of Blandings,
Beech the Butler,
From Pigs Have Wings:
Jeeves, Bertie Wooster, Gussie Fink-Nottle, Madeline Bassett, Bingo Little, Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps (pronounced Barmy Fungy-Phipps), Oofy Wegg-Prosser, Agatha Gregson (Aunt Agatha), Dahlia Travers (Aunt Dahlia), Earl of Blandings, Psmith, Beech the Butler, Lord Emsworth, Roderick Spode.
From Pigs Have Wings: