To his blissed-out fans, no sunnier writer ever put pen to paper than P.G. Wodehouse. His nearly 100 books are filled with giddy clockwork plots, perfectly balanced...

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To his blissed-out fans, no sunnier writer ever put pen to paper than P.G. Wodehouse. His nearly 100 books are filled with giddy clockwork plots, perfectly balanced prose and daffy characters gamboling in a timeless world. His most famous creations, Jeeves and Wooster, are merely the cream of this crop.

Pelham Grenville (Plum) Wodehouse was born in 1881 and, like many English children of his era, was raised by nannies and boarding schools. He broke into publishing with humor pieces for London papers, and his early success enabled him to quit a hated bank job.

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Then came decades of shuttling between Europe and America, issuing a lucrative stream of novels, stories and (with Jerome Kern and Guy Bolton) musical comedy. Through it all, Wodehouse stubbornly but happily lived in his own world. Not much concerned him except writing, cricket, small dogs, his domineering but beloved wife, and their daughter, whose early death was one of the great tragedies in his life.



“Wodehouse: A Life”


by Robert McCrum

Knopf, 384 pp., $27.95



The other was a grave misstep the guileless writer made. As a German prisoner during WWII, he agreed to perform a series of humorous radio broadcasts, thinking simply to let people know he was alive and well. It never occurred to him that they might make useful propaganda. After the war, the bitter furor over this incident forced Wodehouse to take refuge in America, where he continued to author a stream of books (and was knighted in absentia) before his death in 1975.

A subject like Wodehouse must be hell for biographers. He was shy, even-keeled and good-natured, and his long, successful life had few major blips to mar it. Not much to work with, you might think; luckily, we’re in the confident hands of Robert McCrum, literary editor of The Observer. As a result, “Wodehouse: A Life” — the first full-length biography of the writer in more than 20 years — is a sympathetic but even-handed delight.