Virginia Barton

Male writer with an unworldly innocence

Catholic Herald, 27 September 1990 

 

Review: Yours, Plum: The Letters of P G Wodehouse, ed. Frances Donaldson (Hutchinson, £16.99)

 

wodehouseThese Letters are for the man in your life. In my small experience, Wodehouse fans are almost exclusively male.

One hesitates to be sexist about something as ordinary as a sense of humour, but surely P.G. wrote about men, for men; and those females that grace his pages are incidental – though Aunt Dahlia might resent being edged out to the margin.

Quite honestly I have never found P.G.’s books remotely funny; they seem to me to have been hatched in some sixth-form study or golf club bar. But all the chaps of my acquaintance slap their thighs and roll about guffawing as they recall some high jinks at the Drones Club, or some hilarious scrape the inimitable Bertie has tumbled into, only to be rescued by that lugubrious and conceited valet of his.

Having got that off my chest, the Letters reveal a loveable man who apparently couldn’t stop writing. Wodehouse published nearly 100 books, plays, lyrics and libretti for musical comedies, about 300 short stories, to say nothing of film scripts.

His letter writing was equally phenomenal in output, 30 or 40 each month. Most of them include descriptions of work in hand, his response to criticism, discussion of plots, and a few good jokes. The Herculean task of sorting the letters has been tackled in masterly fashion by P.G.’s official biographer Frances Donaldson.

They are written to a few close friends and his beloved stepdaughter Leonora, and they span the years between 1920 and 1973. Those were momentous years, yet P.G. seems to have been almost cocooned from the real and dangerous world; an innocent immersed in his immediate family, his dogs, and above all, his work.

This book lays to rest the misunderstanding about Wodehouse’s so-called collaboration, yet another instance of his naiveté. The narrow concentration on the written word from which he occasionally escaped to enjoy cricket, bridge or racing, may account for his (in my taste) myopic viewpoint.

But these Letters will be welcomed rapturously by his myriad admirers. They will recognise within them the jolly, unspoilt, cheerful characteristics of the master of style they know and love. The shades of Waugh and Belloc, admirers both, may be heard chuckling in the wings.

 

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