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Wodehouse: A Life Hardcover – November 30, 2004

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In his authoritative biography of P.G. Wodehouse (1881–1975), British author McCrum (My Year Off), literary editor of the Observer, rightly identifies the crisis over the great, if naïve, English humorist's 1941 radio broadcasts from Germany (which led to accusations of his being a "Nazi stooge") as "the defining moment of Wodehouse's life." While the broadcasts and their aftermath get the most scrutiny, McCrum ably surveys a 75-year writing career that began in 1900 and ended only with Wodehouse's death at 93. He succinctly covers all the major topics—Wodehouse's creation of the immortal Jeeves and Wooster; his triumphs as a lyricist for the musical theater; his frustrating stints as a scriptwriter in Hollywood; his tax troubles; his love of animals; his post-WWII U.S. exile; his long and successful, if apparently sexless, marriage. McCrum is franker on this latter subject than previous biographers and also dispels a myth or two. While Wodehouse largely left his financial affairs to his wife, Ethel, "in important literary business Wodehouse was always clinically decisive." When his new literary agent, Paul Reynolds Jr., wasn't successful, he fired him. Earlier studies have tended to be partisan or personal and stronger on some aspects of Wodehouse's varied life than others. For balance and readability, this popular biography, like Jeeves, stands alone. 16 pages of illus. not seen by PW.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From The New Yorker

"His characters have never tasted the forbidden fruit" was Evelyn Waugh's assessment of P. G. Wodehouse, and, by all accounts, Wodehouse was the most undersexed and sweet-tempered of men, a stranger to the drunkenness and philandering that often enliven the biographies of English men of letters. McCrum tells the story judiciously, though he dithers around certain mysteries, such as the entanglements of Wodehouse's wife with various louche men. The dramatic center of the book is, quite properly, the broadcasts Wodehouse made on Nazi radio during the Second World War. McCrum shows how Wodehouse was bamboozled into making those broadcasts, and why he never quite understood the "global howl" they provoked. In his view, after all, he was showing British sang-froid in the face of dire circs. Total war and the creator of Blandings Castle were simply not cut out for each other.
Copyright © 2005 The New Yorker

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 530 pages
  • Publisher: W. W. Norton & Company; New Ed edition (November 30, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0393051595
  • ISBN-13: 978-0393051599
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.4 x 1.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (29 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #388,632 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

48 of 52 people found the following review helpful By Matthew Asnip on November 22, 2004
Format: Hardcover
The consensus about P. G. Wodehouse held by everyone who knew him was that he was very pleasant, sweet and good-natured, but also rather boring. He was never witty. His conversation centered around writing and sport.

Mr. McCrum has pulled off a tour-de-force and written a biography that is captivating. He has obviously done his research and he doesn't gloss over the unseemly events of World War II. But he also shows the generous side of a man who was notorious for watching his pennies.

This is truly an excellent biography that reveals much about late Victorian and Edwardian England. Wodehouse was the great comic writer of his day, and this book shows what it took for him to achieve his apparently effortless prose.

I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in writing.
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27 of 28 people found the following review helpful By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 26, 2004
Format: Hardcover
Should a dedicated fan of P.G. Wodehouse's writing read this book? Yes, I think so. Mr. McCrum's book is filled with information that will make reading Mr. Wodehouse's many comic offerings more rewarding. For instance, where did so many of those wonderful names come from? Many were drawn from people and places that Wodehouse knew as a youth. Why did he have such a jaundiced view of aunts and say so little about mothers? His own family history contained strained relationships with dictatorial aunts and a distant mother who ignored him. Where did the inspiration for Blandings Castle come from? It turns out to be based on actual experiences in an English country home. Simply from those perspectives, I felt that my understanding of Wodehouse plots, humor and references were vastly increased.

In addition, I knew that P.G. Wodehouse was very prolific, but I never quite understood how he did it. I was fascinated to see how disciplined he was to keep doing his daily quota of words. As someone who likes to write as well, this was a positive inspiration to keep to that discipline myself. I was also pleased to find out more about how he developed his plots and characters and did his rewriting. If you combine this book with Sunset at Blandings, you can get a quite helpful perspective on the details of his craft.

Next, I am always running into veiled and ambiguous references to P.G. Wodehouse having done some broadcasts for German radio during World War II while living in Germany. It was never clear to me what that was all about. Now, this book gives me enough information to have views on the subject. I hadn't realized that Wodehouse had been interned by German forces in prison environments for over a year before the broadcasts.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By FSheridan on December 30, 2011
Format: Paperback
I have read a number biographies of P.G. Wodehouse (those by David Jasen, Frances Donaldson, and Joseph Connolly, among others) and am a big fan of his work. This book adds NOTHING of value to existing biographies and has a smarmy tone that was, to me at least, quite off-putting. (I have also seen McCrum in person speaking about Wodehouse, and he's even worse in the flesh.)

If you are interested in knowing more about Wodehouse's life, read the excellent "P.G. Wodehouse, A Life in Letters" edited by Oxford don Sophie Ratcliffe and/or the David Jasen biography, "P.G. Wodehouse: A Portrait of a Master."

My advice is to give this one the miss-in-baulk, or, if you really feel you must read it (because it has gained the, in my opinion unearned, reputation of being the "definitive" biography) take it out of the library - don't waste your money on it.

I would have given it 0 stars if Amazon would allow it.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By diskojoe on June 7, 2006
Format: Hardcover
Whenever I see the commercials for House, M.D., starring Hugh Laurie, I always get the same feeling as when I see Johnny Damon clean-shaven and in pin-stripes, or how an old folkie who Believed saw Dylan enter his electric period. Because every time I see Hugh Laurie, I see Bertie Wooster. Whenever I see commercials for House, I always think, what in the heck is Bertie Wooster doing acting so morose? He's a Yank doctor? He's always yelling & screaming, getting into fistfights about trying to save people's lives (Bertie Wooster saving people's lives?). If Jeeves showed up & tried to remonstrate as to his behavior, he would probably pop him one in the face.

Anyway, ixnay on the rant and on to the latest biography of the man who created Bertie Wooster, as well as Jeeves and other brilliant characters, nay, one big, brillant comic world. P.G. Wodehouse was a literary genius in creating and more importantely, sustaining this world for nearly seventy years and one hundred books. With his popularity and constant traveling between England, Europe & America between the teens and thirties, he was the prototype of the late 20th Century Anglo-American rock star. Robert McCrum does an admirable and readable job in portraying Wodehouse's life and career through its many phases and how the circumstances of his upbringing informed and influcened his literary output. Although I have read several prior Wodehouse biographies, I did get the sense that I learned a bit more about portions of his career, especially his work on Broadway w/Guy Bolton & Jerome Kern and his Hollywood sojourn (ironically, Hugh Laurie is more successful there than Wodehouse was). Mr.
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