Sir P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975), English playwright and author created the fictional characters Bertie Wooster and Reginald Jeeves, starring in such works as The Inimitable Jeeves (1923), Carry On Jeeves (1925), Right Ho Jeeves (1934), Thank You, Jeeves (1934), Ring For Jeeves (1953), How Right You Are Jeeves (1960), and My Man Jeeves (1919);
Jeeves--my man, you know--is really a most extraordinary chap. So capable. Honestly, I shouldn't know what to do without him. On broader lines he's like those chappies who sit peering sadly over the marble battlements at the Pennsylvania Station in the place marked "Inquiries." You know the Johnnies I mean. You go up to them and say: "When's the next train for Melonsquashville, Tennessee?" and they reply, without stopping to think, "Two-forty-three, track ten, change at San Francisco." And they're right every time. Well, Jeeves gives you just the same impression of omniscience.--Ch. 1
Wooster is the amiable and naive man-of-leisure, while Jeeves as quintessential British gentleman, older and wiser, is friend and valet to him. Their tales usually involve Wooster getting into some sort of "scrape" with a woman, an Aunt, or the Law. Jeeves always comes to the rescue in his inimitably modest, no-nonsense style. "He moves from point to point with as little uproar as a jelly fish." (Ch. 3, My Man Jeeves). The duo became popular literary icons, embodying the dry acerbic wit and humour of the English, "Jeeves lugged my purple socks out of the drawer as if he were a vegetarian fishing a caterpillar out of his salad." (The Inimitable Jeeves) and have gone on to inspire numerous adaptations for television, stage, and the screen. Their first appearance was in Wodehouse's short story "Extricating Young Gussie" printed in 1915 in The Saturday Evening Post.
Many of Wodehouse's stories were first published in such magazines as Punch, Cosmopolitan, Collier's, The New Yorker, The Strand, and Vanity Fair before being published as collections. Other popular characters of Wodehouse's are Wooster's Aunt Dahlia "My Aunt Dahlia has a carrying voice... If all other sources of income failed, she could make a good living calling the cattle home across the Sands of Dee". (Very Good, Jeeves (1930), his domineering Aunt Agatha "the curse of the Home Counties and a menace to one and all." (Right Ho, Jeeves), dandy Rupert Psmith, and the absent-minded Lord Emsworth of Wodehouse's "Blandings Castle" series. While Wodehouse is a master of parody and prose, he also worked as theatre critic, and collaborated on a number of musical comedies and their lyrics including Cole Porter's Anything Goes (1934).
Pelham "Plum" Grenville Wodehouse was born on 15 October 1881 in Guildford, Surrey, England, the third of four sons born to Eleanor and Henry Ernest Wodehouse (1845-1929), who at the time of his birth was working as a judge in Hong Kong. After living there with his parents for a time, young Plum was back in England to attend boarding school. In 1894 he entered Dulwich College, graduating in 1900. For the next two years he was employed with the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank in London, but soon realised he had little interest in the banking world and started to write. He would now spend much time between England the United States. While in New York, he obtained his first position as journalist. His first novel The Pothunters was published in 1902. It was followed by A Prefect's Uncle (1903), Love Among the Chickens (1906), The Swoop (1909), Psmith In The City (1910), Psmith, Journalist (1915), and The Prince and Betty (1914). While writing for various magazines, he also started to collaborate on musicals. Also while in New York, in 1914 Wodehouse married Ethel née Newton; the couple had no children of their own but Ethel had a daughter, Leonora.
In 1930 Wodehouse began his first stint as screenwriter with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in Hollywood, of which he is said to have joked about how much he got paid for doing so little. A few years later the Wodehouses settled in Le Touquet, France. During World War II they were interned by the Germans for just under a year; Wodehouse later spoke of his experience in radio broadcasts from Berlin to his fans in America. This caused a furore at the British Broadcasting Corporation, his books to be removed from shelves, and many false accusations to be landed against him including treason and collaborating with the Nazis. George Orwell wrote "In Defence of P. G. Wodehouse" (1946);
"In the desperate circumstances of the time, it was excusable to be angry at what Wodehouse did, but to go on denouncing him three or four years later--and more, to let an impression remain that he acted with conscious treachery--is not excusable."
Back in America and away from the controversy, Wodehouse continued to write and collaborate on plays. He and Ethel settled in Remsenburg, Long Island, New York State. In 1955 he became a US citizen and continued his prodigious output of stories and novels including Meet Mr. Milliner (1927), Doctor Sally (1932), Quick Service (1940), The Old Reliable (1951), Uneasy Money (1917), A Damsel In Distress (1919), Jill The Reckless (1920), The Adventures of Sally (1923), A Pelican at Blandings (1969), The Girl In Blue (1971), and his last novel Aunts Aren't Gentlemen (1974). Wodehouse's posthumous autobiographical publication Performing Flea: a self-portrait in letters (1953) is titled after Irish playwright Sean O'Casey's reference to Wodehouse as "English literature's performing flea"; the series of letters contained in it were revised in 1962 and re-titled Author! Author!
After years of being blocked by the British Foreign Office for his war time radio broadcasts and ensuing controversy, and mere weeks before his death, in 1975 Wodehouse was Knighted Commander of the Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II. P. G. Wodehouse died on 14 February 1975. Ethel died in 1984 and now rests with him in the Remsenberg Cemetery in New York State, USA.
"Precisely, sir," said Jeeves. "If I might make the suggestion, sir, I should not continue to wear your present tie. The green shade gives you a slightly bilious air. I should strongly advocate the blue with the red domino pattern instead, sir."
"All right, Jeeves." I said humbly. "You know!"--"The Aunt and the Sluggard", My Man Jeeves
Biography written by C. D. Merriman for Jalic Inc. Copyright Jalic Inc. 2008. All Rights Reserved.
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