P.G. Wodehouse – the Man and his Work

The P.G. Wodehouse exhibition at the British Library that I mentioned a few weeks ago is now happily in place, and Marion and I visited while in London earlier this week.

It is a fairly  small affair, in the Sir John Ritblat Treasures of the British Library room. The last exhibit I saw in that space was devoted to Karl Marx. The Wodehouse one is cheerier. It is a sample of the manuscripts and other items recently sent to the Library by the Cazalet family (on permanent loan, I think).

There are some photos and first editions, but the manuscripts are the interesting things.There is a chapter plan of Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen (my favourite Wodehouse title, though not his best novel) and some manuscript pages that show copious rewriting to get the light and informal tone just right. Anyone pondering a Ph.D. subject could do a lot worse than to follow a Wodehouse novel from plan to print, finding out exactly what he added at each stage.

There are letters, too.A charmingly devoted one to his wife, Ethel, and a 1921 letter to his step-daughter Leonora that shows quite how financially successful he had become by this time;

Mrs Westbrook has written to say that the Strand have raised my price from one hundred and fifty quid to two hundred per short story, which with the American rights will make about a snappy six hundred quid per s.s. – noticeably better than dab in the eye with a blunt stick.

The letter I liked best though is not by Wodehouse, but one sent him by his literary admirer Evelyn Waugh. Since they were on such friendly terms,  Wodehouse suggested that Waugh should call him ‘Plum’, as everyone else did. Waugh replied:

Dear Dr Wodehouse,

There was an awful moment about 25 years ago when Edith Sitwell leant towards me like a benevolent eagle and said, ‘Mr Waugh, you may call me Edith.’ I did not dare address her for four years….

This Wodehouse exhibition is small, but most worth seeing. The big show at the British Library is by contrast enormous. Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms: Art,Word, War is a true block-buster, with astonishing manuscripts lent from all over the world and collected together here to give a portrait of an age. It is immensely impressive, but left me feeling how little I know of the six centuries covered by the show. But one can’t know everything, and I’m not too bad on the years 1890-1930, I tell myself.

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5 Comments

  1. Posted December 8, 2018 at 2:14 pm | Permalink

    Poor Edith, were she to come across this nugget of information, might feel highly offended.

    Yours truly is somewhat green with envy that you could make it to the exhibition. Thank you for sharing your experience with us.

  2. Posted December 9, 2018 at 9:33 am | Permalink

    Reblogged this on Plumtopia.

  3. Posted December 9, 2018 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    Thank you so much for reporting on this (sadly, I won’t be able to get there).

  4. Posted December 9, 2018 at 10:50 am | Permalink

    I cannot believe dear Evelyn was ever humble. I guess the British Library exhibition and the impending stone at Westminster Abbey completes PGW’s rehabilitation in England for his wartime indiscretion, at least as far as the establishment is concerned. The catalogue of the Cazalet trove suggests there might be some interesting reading on that subject. Go for it, someone on the spot. Too hard from the other end of the earth.

  5. Connie Ruzich
    Posted December 10, 2018 at 12:51 am | Permalink

    Tweeted this today on the anniversary of Edith Sitwell’s death! @wherrypilgrim (behindtheirlines.blogspot.com)


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