Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, “Plum” (that is what his first name sounds like when vocalized quickly!) to his friends, is one of the (one and only, in my opinion) outstanding comic novelists of all time. He is best remembered for his creation, the inimitable Jeeves, the stately butler extraordinaire, unflappable, erudite and peerless “gentleman”s personal gentleman”! It will be unfair to omit a mention of his master, the irredeemably dim and unflaggingly affable Bertie Wooster (“It is generally believed that he fell on his head when he was born”!)
Wodehouse (pronounced “woodhouse”) depicted a peculiar fondness for butlers, especially English butlers (“tall, decorous and dignified”). Indeed, no Wodehouse novel can be complete without a butler bringing in a salver with a brimming glass on top of it containing some elixir of life, mostly despised by his masters, since the liquid would either be yoghurt or milk, understandably looked down upon as poison, as more heavenly beverages a la a cocktail or a stiff whiskey (or, one of those Jeeve”s specials!) would have been more agreeable to the tormented souls!
He was born in Surrey, England in 1881 (15th of October, for those finicky about details!). He was educated at Dulwich College, where he met gentry-folk who would serve as the main characters of many of his future books. Also he practised boxing there. For over 70 years Wodehouse was to entertain readers with his comic novels and stories set in an England that is forever Edwardian and featuring idiotic youths, feckless debutantes, redoubtable aunts, and stuffy businessmen.
At 21 (1902), he started writing the “By the Way” column in the Old Globe. Also he kept on sending his freelance stories and contributed a series of school stories to a magazine for boys, The Captain, (in one of which Psmith made his first appearance).
At the age of 28, not a long time before First World War, (1909), he went to America, (that was his second visit; his first had been in 1904) where he continued to write short stories and also critical reports for papers as theatrical critic. He made a serial for the Saturday Evening Post, (and for the next twenty-five years almost all his books make its first appearance in this magazine).
At that time Wodehouse met people close to musicals circles, and wrote lyrics and took part in the creation of musical shows. At the same time he did not abandon writing and wrote Psmith, Journalist (1912), Piccadilly Jim (1918).
During the next few years Plum travelled with his shows and chose as his country of residence, France. He lived alternately in the UK and the USA until 1934, when he started living in France. PGW rented a house near Cannes in March 1932 but he settled in Le Touquet in 1934
In 1939 for services to the English language he received a doctor’s degree from Oxford University.
In the beginning of World War Two he was pursued by the French government during spy hunts. And when Nazi troops occupied France he was captured and interned in Germany. This was a grey area of his life which haunted him for many years – not that he lost sleep over it anyway! But perhaps he was too much for ordinary minions who could not easily get behind his tongue-in-cheek and cryptic metaphor on Nazi Germany. They thought he was supporting Herr. Hitler! After the war Plum continued to write books and took part not only in creating lyrics for musical comedies but tried his hand as a producer, with differing degrees of luck.
In the early 1930s he was in the bad books of the Inland Revenue – they could even sue him for ΓΒ£25,000 – the kind of troubles that one Bertie’s uncles used to lament about! He didn’t have the advantage that young Bertie had! Too bad!! In 1955 at the age of 74 he took American citizenship and lived afterwards near New York. In 1975 he was knighted by the Queen of Great Britain, and died shortly afterwards – February 14, on St. Valentine day, 1975 at Southampton, N.Y., U.S. May his soul rest in peace!.
Here are a few of the Golden Nuggets from the inimitable Plum!
“She was undeniably an eyeful, being slim, svelte and bountifully equipped.. and all the fixings.”
From “Spring Fever”
“..whom he had engaged principally on the strength of the horn-rimmed spectacles he wore.”
- Stanwood…..was a mass of muscle and bone and it was Mr. Cobbalt’s opinion that the bone extended to his head.
- Called upon to provide an earl and a butler, she (the nature) had produced an earl who looked like a butler and a butler who looked like an earl.
- She was sitting at a table near two financiers with four chins.
- My lips are sealed. Clams take my correspondence course.
- His future wife, his future father-in-law and his future dog by marriage.
From “The Butler Did It” – A non-Jeeves Adventure!
Beside him lay a fine bulldog, sunk at the moment in sleep, but ready to become alert at the first signs of breakfast.
- the back of his neck overflowed his collar, and there had recently been published a second edition of his chin.
- George, the sixth Viscount, was a man built on generous lines. It was as though Nature had originally intended to make two viscounts, but had decided halfway to use all the material in one go….
- My sister Flossie does all the talking for the family.
From The Old Reliable – Another non-Jeeves Adventure!
- There is only one real cure for grey hair. It was invented by a Frenchman. He called it the guillotine.
- She had loved him twenty years ago when he was a young man with money and one chin. She loved him now, when he was a portly senior with no money and two chins. Women do these things.
- She can’t eat me. I don’t know so much. She’s not a vegetarian.
- and his stomach, always inclined to the policy of “Do It Now”, was sending up peremptory messages to the front office.
- feeling extreamly dubious of the whereabouts of the next meal
- He is as snug as a bug in a rug.
- and a third chin was added to his natural two by the limp sagging of his jaw.
- if you marry Topham, you”ll have half a dozen imbecile children saying, “Absolutely, what?”, all the time in Oxford accent.
- He looks much more like a lobster than most lobsters do.
From “Leave it to Psmith”
“Beach, the butler came in as a dignified procession of one.”
From “Doctor Sally”
“Did you ever hear the story of the ventriloquist who played solitaire? He used to annoy his wife by holding long conversations in his sleep. It became such a trial to the poor woman that she had serious thoughts of getting a divorce. And then one evening, by the greatest good luck, he caught himself cheating at solitaire and never spoke to himself again”
From “Ring for Jeeves”
“It was a confusion of ideas between him and one of the lions he was hunting in Kenya that had caused A.B.Spottsworth to make the obituary column. He thought the lion was dead and the lion thought it wasn’t.”
“Which is bigger, Mr Bigger or Mrs Bigger?
Mr Bigger, because he is father Bigger.
Which is bigger, Mr Bigger or his old maid aunt?
Old maid aunt, because whatever happens she is always Bigger.
Which is bigger, Mr Bigger or Master Bigger?
Master Bigger, because he is a little Bigger!”