P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters

I read Wodehouse when I was a kid, and he cracked me up. This collection of letters cracked me up too, and that’s the one element other reviewers assume you know and forget to mention– this guy was funny, and his letters are also funny.

What I liked best about the book was this: It was fascinating to live vicariously the life of a guy who was born in the early 1880s, who published over 100 books, knew some of the most fascinating folks of his era, influenced the world, and lived long enough to publish stories in Playboy. The editing and descriptive notes helped a lot by giving context to his words. His life would make a great movie, and this book would probably be the place to start researching a screenplay.

The only tiny negative I felt was this: early on, as he casually mentioned having Douglas Fairbanks over to dinner, or meeting Winston Churchill’s son, or playing cricket with Conan Doyle, or moving next door to HG Wells, or writing lyrics for the Gershwins, I kept thinking, wow, you could not invent the cast of this guy’s life. As this pattern continued over the next decades, I got the sense that either he loved to drop names or that this particular editor chose letters partly because of Wodehouse’s connection to other famous folk perhaps to make his life seem more relevant today. Nothing wrong with that, and he obviously knew so many people that was one legitimate way to make editorial decisions. Based on how many wisecracks he threw into these letters, I suspect one could compile a completely different book including only the funniest letters, and another based on his reaction to the way literature evolved over his lifetime. That being said, it did not detract from this book at all, I just noticed the pattern and began wondering about what other letters did not make the cut. The gentle slant of this volume was his connection to people who history remembers.

This book made me remember why I liked the author in the first place. It made me want to buy some of his books and read them again. He probably influenced my own writing without my even realizing it. I’m just not sure where to start. Some of the Kindle compilations contain a ton of his books, but no index so they might be hard to navigate. I’ll probably buy his first Jeeves book, because he’s most remembered for those. If I still like them, I can work my way through the others.

I also enjoyed the writing by the editor, Sophie Ratcliffe, so I’ll look for other things she puts out there.

Anyone who liked Wodehouse when they read him decades ago, will enjoy this book. It’s a visit with an old friend. People who’ve never read him could go either way. He’s from a different time and sensibility; he would be quite at home on Downton Abbey. You have to approach it with that in mind. For some new readers, this will be a wonderful introduction to a kindly and humorous old British uncle you wish you had. Perhaps he’ll seem stuffy to you, but that seems a small risk to take compared with the chance to meet your favorite uncle.


review by Kenn Amdahl

PG Wodehouse: A Life in Letters on Amazon.com

One reply

  1. Sue Leonard says:

    Kenn, Have you read The Good American by Alex George? One of the characters is a Wodehouse fan. It is a story about a immigrant family from Germany, and it also incorporates a lot of historical references to different eras of music. With your interest in music, you may enjoy this story. I did and I felt it was very well written. Check it out.

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