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P.G. Wodehouse: A Biography

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There are not many characters in literature more famous or cherished than Jeeves and Bertie Wooster. They feature in nearly 100 tomes, which taken together, make their creator, Sir Pelham Greville Wodehouse, among the most eminent and best-loved writers of comedy in the English language. But what of the man himself? Frances Donaldson, who first met Wodehouse in 1921, was g There are not many characters in literature more famous or cherished than Jeeves and Bertie Wooster. They feature in nearly 100 tomes, which taken together, make their creator, Sir Pelham Greville Wodehouse, among the most eminent and best-loved writers of comedy in the English language. But what of the man himself? Frances Donaldson, who first met Wodehouse in 1921, was given unique access to his most important private papers. From his blissful school days and his love affair with Hollywood to his time as a prisoner of war and his final years in America, Donaldson's definitive biography paints a luminous and affectionate portrait of the man known to his friends as "Plum."


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There are not many characters in literature more famous or cherished than Jeeves and Bertie Wooster. They feature in nearly 100 tomes, which taken together, make their creator, Sir Pelham Greville Wodehouse, among the most eminent and best-loved writers of comedy in the English language. But what of the man himself? Frances Donaldson, who first met Wodehouse in 1921, was g There are not many characters in literature more famous or cherished than Jeeves and Bertie Wooster. They feature in nearly 100 tomes, which taken together, make their creator, Sir Pelham Greville Wodehouse, among the most eminent and best-loved writers of comedy in the English language. But what of the man himself? Frances Donaldson, who first met Wodehouse in 1921, was given unique access to his most important private papers. From his blissful school days and his love affair with Hollywood to his time as a prisoner of war and his final years in America, Donaldson's definitive biography paints a luminous and affectionate portrait of the man known to his friends as "Plum."

30 review for P.G. Wodehouse: A Biography

  1. 5 out of 5

    Emily

    I have enjoyed reading P.G. Wodehouse in the last few years so I thought getting to know him might be fun. I'm so glad I did because this book really humanized him, highlighted his humor, and addressed his faults with grace. The next time I pick up a Jeeves or Psmith book I think I will enjoy it even more now that I've learned so much about the man behind the characters. I have enjoyed reading P.G. Wodehouse in the last few years so I thought getting to know him might be fun. I'm so glad I did because this book really humanized him, highlighted his humor, and addressed his faults with grace. The next time I pick up a Jeeves or Psmith book I think I will enjoy it even more now that I've learned so much about the man behind the characters.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Spiros

    This is a very odd bit of Wodehouseana, written by a friend of Wodehouse's adopted daughter, Leonora. Mrs. Donaldson confesses not to have come around to reading Plum's output with any sense of enjoyment until her seventies: this she attributes to the "fact" that Wodehouse's humor is not suited to the feminine temperment. This is not the only example of her questionable critical judgment, but it is rather startling, and certainly begs the question whether women grow less feminine with age. Like This is a very odd bit of Wodehouseana, written by a friend of Wodehouse's adopted daughter, Leonora. Mrs. Donaldson confesses not to have come around to reading Plum's output with any sense of enjoyment until her seventies: this she attributes to the "fact" that Wodehouse's humor is not suited to the feminine temperment. This is not the only example of her questionable critical judgment, but it is rather startling, and certainly begs the question whether women grow less feminine with age. Like every other commentor on Wodehouse, she stresses his essential remoteness, coupled with his kindness; she stresses it to the point of otioseness. The book is redeemed somewhat by having the most in depth account of Plum's internment during WWII that I have come across, but Robert McCrum's stellar biography laps it when it comes to Wodehouse's sojourn in Nazi Germany, and the forces at work behind his imfamous wartime broadcasts from Berlin. All in all, a rather disappointing account of the life (admittedly, mostly quiet) of a great comic writer.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Lizzy

    Hideously outdated, and probably not great even in 1982. I know the author was a personal acquaintance, but she is an entirely inappropriate biographer. Wodehouse is a favorite, so I'll be trying the 2004 biography next. Glad I only paid 50 cents for this book. Hideously outdated, and probably not great even in 1982. I know the author was a personal acquaintance, but she is an entirely inappropriate biographer. Wodehouse is a favorite, so I'll be trying the 2004 biography next. Glad I only paid 50 cents for this book.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Richard Subber

    I happened on this 1982 review of a biography of P. G. Wodehouse, and I can't resist believing the reviewer is a hatefully well-bred person. Prof. Samuel Hynes very incautiously permits himself to label old P. G. as " . . . the greatest trivial novelist in literary history . . ." Egad. Is he talking about Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse (1881-1975), the remarkably gabby genius who created Bertie Wooster and Jeeves? Is he talking about the guy who makes us love the incurably erratic Wooster? who makes I happened on this 1982 review of a biography of P. G. Wodehouse, and I can't resist believing the reviewer is a hatefully well-bred person. Prof. Samuel Hynes very incautiously permits himself to label old P. G. as " . . . the greatest trivial novelist in literary history . . ." Egad. Is he talking about Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse (1881-1975), the remarkably gabby genius who created Bertie Wooster and Jeeves? Is he talking about the guy who makes us love the incurably erratic Wooster? who makes us worshipfully respect the very properly domineering Jeeves who can't hurt a fly, knows nearly everything and saves Bertie's bacon every time? who makes us stiffen, suppressing cries of delight, as we absorb the adjectival artistry of the whole bloody Wooster/Jeeves madhouse? Hynes goes so far as to declare that Wodehouse "created a world without real problems and without human depths." If you've read any of Wodehouse's work, you know that ain't true. There's a bit of Bertie's passion and despair in all of us, and Jeeves divinely makes it possible for everyone around him to be human. There's just one word too many in Hynes' summary of Sir P. G. Wodehouse: "the greatest trivial novelist." Now you know which one it is. If you want to, click here to read all of Hynes' comments about Frances Donaldson's 1982 biography, P. G. Wodehouse. https://newrepublic.com/article/11518... Read more of my book reviews on my website: http://richardsubber.com/

  5. 5 out of 5

    Jenny

    Requested this one from the library in preparation for teaching one of Wodehouse's novels. It had to come up from a university library in Oregon, so it didn't quite make it in time to be useful. After my last Wodehouse biography/literary criticism, I was hoping for something that stuck a bit more closely to the man rather than his fiction. And while it certainly did a better job at that than the previous book I read, it seems that biographers seem to have a hard time separating the author from h Requested this one from the library in preparation for teaching one of Wodehouse's novels. It had to come up from a university library in Oregon, so it didn't quite make it in time to be useful. After my last Wodehouse biography/literary criticism, I was hoping for something that stuck a bit more closely to the man rather than his fiction. And while it certainly did a better job at that than the previous book I read, it seems that biographers seem to have a hard time separating the author from his works. (Understandable, all things considered.) Ran out of time to finish it, but should I ever end up teaching Wodehouse's works again, this is likely the biography that I'll turn to.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Kim Symes

    A disappointingly dull account of the life of one of my favourite writers. There is very little in this biography on Wodehouse's early life and motivations, beyond the bare bones that you could pick up on Wikipedia. More than half of the book is taken up with the few short months that Wodehouse spent in a German prison camp during the war, and the subsequent broadcasts he made about his experiences there. While this episode would have to be covered in any biography, one chapter would be more bal A disappointingly dull account of the life of one of my favourite writers. There is very little in this biography on Wodehouse's early life and motivations, beyond the bare bones that you could pick up on Wikipedia. More than half of the book is taken up with the few short months that Wodehouse spent in a German prison camp during the war, and the subsequent broadcasts he made about his experiences there. While this episode would have to be covered in any biography, one chapter would be more balanced, considering Wodehouse's literary achievements during is long life.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Caroline

    I found this to be a very interesting, even-handed biography. Of course, it was first published in 1982 and felt to be to be a little old-fashioned. Sometimes, it's kind of stuffy and scholarly. At other times, it is also very personal, as the author had personally known her subject (being a friend of his daughter's). Kind of a weird mixture, but it mostly works. (I have to admit that I did skip a lot of the "literary analysis.") The best part were the quotations from his own letters and diaries, I found this to be a very interesting, even-handed biography. Of course, it was first published in 1982 and felt to be to be a little old-fashioned. Sometimes, it's kind of stuffy and scholarly. At other times, it is also very personal, as the author had personally known her subject (being a friend of his daughter's). Kind of a weird mixture, but it mostly works. (I have to admit that I did skip a lot of the "literary analysis.") The best part were the quotations from his own letters and diaries, especially those to his beloved wife and daughter. It includes a very balanced account of his controversial wartime broadcasts. The author, while clearly in his corner, also manages an fair-minded evaluation of the whole sorry mess. Sometimes, Donaldson makes references and does not explain them, assuming her audience is as savvy as she is. For instance she makes a statement and says "Kipling was an obvious example" in support of it. Or she says "they are not the aunts of Saki Munro," imagining her audience nodding along going "of course!" In fact, across the pond and 30-odd years later, I know little about Kipling and less about Saki, so the comparisons are not as striking as she meant them to be. But I'll take her word for it. But that said, it paints a very clear and affectionate picture of a beloved author, with all his eccentricities and foibles, and it doesn't shy away from his mistakes. Although slow-going at times, I enjoyed it in the end.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Morgan

    This is a rather fascinating biography for several reasons. From the introduction on, the reader is slightly confused at the authors' apparent dislike of much of P.G. Wodehouse's works and abjectly outdated views on gender roles and tastes... Much more interesting and relevant is the section on Wodehouse's internment during WWII, his subsequent release, and the international backlash which may have contributed to his low-key place in the English canon. The author's personal relationship is apt t This is a rather fascinating biography for several reasons. From the introduction on, the reader is slightly confused at the authors' apparent dislike of much of P.G. Wodehouse's works and abjectly outdated views on gender roles and tastes... Much more interesting and relevant is the section on Wodehouse's internment during WWII, his subsequent release, and the international backlash which may have contributed to his low-key place in the English canon. The author's personal relationship is apt to make her biased, but I am inclined to follow her fairly thorough dissection of the discussion surrounding Wodehouse's German broadcasts -- she, and others, largely chalk the broadcasts up to ignorance, naiveté, and a certain level of self-aggrandizement on Wodehouse's part.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    Fantastic! "He was not a saintly man because he could not love the human race. But he had many of the qualities of a saint. Kind, modest and simple, he was without malice or aggression. He gave happiness to others as few people are privileged to do, and he was happy himself." The "interlude," between chapter 7 and 8 is worth far more than the price of admission. A shooting star amid an epic spectacle. Fantastic! "He was not a saintly man because he could not love the human race. But he had many of the qualities of a saint. Kind, modest and simple, he was without malice or aggression. He gave happiness to others as few people are privileged to do, and he was happy himself." The "interlude," between chapter 7 and 8 is worth far more than the price of admission. A shooting star amid an epic spectacle.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Frederick

    This is the best biography of P. G. Wodehouse. Frances Donaldson does not mistake Wodehouse for a satirist. She doesn't mind the fact that he is a light humorist. It's why she likes him. This is a thorough life story, but it is not one of those clinical analyses, such have been done about another humorist, James Thurber, several times. This is the best biography of P. G. Wodehouse. Frances Donaldson does not mistake Wodehouse for a satirist. She doesn't mind the fact that he is a light humorist. It's why she likes him. This is a thorough life story, but it is not one of those clinical analyses, such have been done about another humorist, James Thurber, several times.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Kate

    The author evidently knew the family but still produced a balanced and detached picture of an enigmatic man. A fascinating read, not only into the character of Wodehouse himself but also a view of the times.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Eric

    Frederick Davidson's narration made it worth the listen even if the material had been miserable, which it definitely was not. A lifetime of writing seems to go by all too quickly, no matter what one may have thought of his POW status. Frederick Davidson's narration made it worth the listen even if the material had been miserable, which it definitely was not. A lifetime of writing seems to go by all too quickly, no matter what one may have thought of his POW status.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Douglas Wilson

    Very good.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Zan Jia

  15. 5 out of 5

    Margherita Morgante

  16. 5 out of 5

    Raj

  17. 4 out of 5

    Marnix Peeters

  18. 4 out of 5

    Erika

  19. 4 out of 5

    Evelyn

  20. 4 out of 5

    Shifty

  21. 4 out of 5

    Embla Veier

  22. 4 out of 5

    Mona

  23. 4 out of 5

    Toed Cramp

  24. 5 out of 5

    Paul

  25. 4 out of 5

    Jason

  26. 4 out of 5

    Miratell

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jo Olie

  28. 5 out of 5

    Mary

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jeffrey

  30. 4 out of 5

    Maryjo

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