Early Life and Influences
After his schooling, Wodehouse started working as a journalist to pursue his passion for writing. In 1902, his first published novel, The Pothunters, appeared in print. Wodehouse went on to produce a prolific output of stories, novels, plays and poems for the remainder of his life.
Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, better known as P.G. Wodehouse, was an English author known for his humorous novels set in the early 20th century. Born in 1881 in Guildford, Surrey, Wodehouse had a lonely childhood as his mother was often absent. However, he found solace in reading and discovered a love of literature and theatre from a young age. Wodehouse was particularly inspired by the English humorist Jerome K. Jerome and his Three Men in a Boat. This early exposure to literary humor paved the way for Wodehouse’s future career.
The Jeeves and Wooster Stories
Wodehouse is best known for the Jeeves stories, which recount the adventures of the wealthy but dimwitted Bertie Wooster and his savvy valet Jeeves. These stories exemplify Wodehouse’s characteristic lighthearted humor and skill with wordplay and language. The first Jeeves story appeared in print in 1915, and Wodehouse continued writing them until his death in 1975.
Jeeves acts as the brains behind his bumbling employer Wooster, getting his master out of endless scrapes and tricky situations. Their relationship subverts traditional class roles, with Jeeves often taking charge over his ostensible superior. Wodehouse poked fun at the rigid English class system and delivered sharp satire on English society through the Jeeves and Wooster stories. They remain his most iconic and beloved works.
While living in France during World War II, Wodehouse was captured by German forces and interned for a year. Though cleared of wrongdoing, he caused great controversy after giving humorous radio broadcasts about his internment. Many in Britain accused Wodehouse of colluding with the enemy. The public backlash affected Wodehouse deeply. He moved permanently to the United States after the war, never returning to his home country again. The remainder of his life was marked by hurt from the wartime accusations.
Wodehouse was eventually honored with a knighthood just months before his death at the age of 93. Though tainted by controversy, his literary legacy lives on through his 90+ books and contribution to comedic writing.
Further Reading on P.G. Wodehouse:
P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters – edited collection of Wodehouse’s personal correspondence.
Wodehouse: A Life by Robert McCrum – definitive biography documenting Wodehouse’s life and writings.