Paperback review: P G Wodehouse: A Life in Letters, Edited by Sophie Ratcliffe

Why Twitter would have suited Wodehouse

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The Independent Culture

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse didn’t always have the best or clearest judgement. He thought Kingsley Amis was just another one “of those clever young men whom I dislike so much.

They seldom amount to anything in the long run”. In 1939, he thought “the world has never been farther from a war than it is at present”. Invited to do so by the Nazis, he made radio broadcasts from Germany in 1941 and wrote to a friend about his internment there during the war, that “camp was really great fun”. He felt that with women, “one’s real friendships are never with them”, and yet he married a woman who was clearly also his best friend.

This isn’t to suggest Wodehouse was a foolish man, exactly. And the huge following of Jeeves and Wooster fans will forgive him these lapses in judgement; he was a comic writer, not a government advisor, they will argue. But there are some intriguing gaps – he and his wife, Ethel May Wayman, married after knowing each other only a few weeks and they never had children. She had a racy past which involved a hurried marriage because she was pregnant – that first husband died but Wodehouse became devoted to her daughter, Leonora, whom Ratcliffe suggests was a “muse” to him. His letters to her are innocent and fun, but the muse-artist relationship is a complex one and might suggest otherwise. He wrote letters every day, about money and work mostly, and one also wonders what isn’t said in all the noise? The Twitter age, one suspects, would have suited him perfectly.