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
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"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.
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