Posted by Jo in Book Reviews
I love reading collections of letters as I feel it gives you such a good insight into a person, and it also feels quite nosy as you know they didn’t really intend for you to be reading these! PG Wodehouse’s letters are fascinating, and I like and admire him even more than I did before. I hadn’t realised what a prolific writer he was and how many books he’d written (as well as diligently replying to every fan letter), or how he was so involved in musical lyrics for theatre productions. I was full of admiration for his work ethic; he rigidly sat down every day and wrote for several hours even if he didn’t feel like it, and his work and success bears out this dedication.
I also admire his ability to stay positive and look on the bright side of things and not complain (and he had things he was justified in complaining about, such as not being able to achieve his dream of studying at Oxford due to lack of family money, and being held captive by the Germans during the war, and the suspicions of his loyalty to England that followed this).
I felt he was treated very unfairly being accused of broadcasting propaganda supporting Germany during the war, so that he felt unable to return to England again as well as the potential damage this did to his career and the hurt and upset this caused him. I’m aware I am only reading Wodehouse’s version of events, but to my mind the poor man was taken away by the Germans to a concentration camp enduring severe marches and cramped trains and extremely harsh conditions to get there, then he followed his personal code (like Bertie Wooster) of ‘stiff upper lip’ and was determined during his imprisonment never to complain and to be positive and cheerful for the other inmates around him and for the family and friends and fans who were worried about him, and even continued his regime of writing on his novel every day. I feel this displays him as a brave and courageous man and a strong example of how to behave in adversity – therefore how he could be accused of these things by his own country is incomprehensible to me. I thought it seemed obvious it was his desperation to acknowledge the fan mail he’d received while imprisoned, as he’d always diligently done while free, that prompted him to agree to the broadcasts and in his mind he was just relaying to his fans his experiences in the camp with a very positive outlook and trying to relieve people’s worry about him. It sounded to me like he was deliberately misled by the German ‘friends’ he’d known and trusted in Hollywood who had engineered to ‘accidently’ meet with him on his release and suggest the broadcast idea to him. I felt extremely sorry that he went through this dreadful experience, and still feel quite defensive on his behalf.
I loved his views on other authors and his friendships with them, and I have noted down several books that I want to read after he mentions and admires them in his letters (I especially feel fondly of Evelyn Waugh after he campaigned on Wodehouse’s behalf after the war). I was disappointed he didn’t like Dickens or Austen however (my favourites). And also, of course, I want to re-read all the books Wodehouse has written.
All the information about Wodehouse’s life that Ratcliffe provided was very interesting and complimented the letters well, giving valuable background information. Her admiration and enthusiasm of his books and of him came shining through. I view this as a treasure of a book to read; I feel that I have learnt so much about this remarkable man and that his books will be even more enriched for me as a result.
P. G. Wodehouse. A Life In Letters