P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters

This is a book I’ve been waiting to read for months! I put a hold on it at my library when it was still on order, back in September of last year, and finally was able to borrow it yesterday.

It is a treat.

P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters, edited by Sophie Ratcliffe, contains several letters written by Wodehouse to family, friends, and great literary figures from back in the day such as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. It isn’t just strictly letters, though, as Sophie Ratcliffe has combined correspondence with biography, thereby providing context and insight. There are also footnotes, providing further context when need be such as social or historical references.

In light of this, I shall leave you, for now, with a quote from the introduction regarding his opinion said biographical context:

Wodehouse is also a writer whose works resist a certain sort of biographical approach. He disliked investigations into his personal life and circumstances, partly because he found them intrusive. [...] And he also intimated that biographical context was, to a degree, irrelevant to understanding a work of art. Writing about Shakespeare, he noted that “a thing I can never understand is why all the critics seem to assume that his plays are a reflection of his personal moods and dictated by the circumstances of his private life. You know the sort of thing I mean. They say, “Timon of Athens is a gloomy bit of work. That means Shakespeare was having a lousy time when he wrote it.” I can’t see it. Do you find that your private life affects your work? I don’t.”

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6 thoughts on “P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters

  1. I find letters and diaries fascinating. My late father-in-law shared my interest and I gave many such books to him over the years. Nothing from/about Wodehouse though. I even wrote a paper on the importance of letter writing when I was in college. With email and other online communication, it’s become a lost art and much history is lost, too. I still love sending and receiving a good letter though! Thanks for sharing your review, Zoe. I love that last part of his quote. Certainly some work is autobriographical or comes from one’s own experience, but there’s so much writing (e.g.,fantasy, sci fi) that largely cannot unless you consider character development being based on human characters.

    Shirley

    • I used to write letters when I was little and would send them in the mail. It was such fun and even more fun when I’d receive a letter back in the mail. There’s actually another good, funny quote re: correspondence in this book from one of the Wooster stories. Re: autobiographical elements, certainly. While learning about the context in which a work was written and provide insight, I think it can taint, or at least influence, one’s own views or impair enjoyment of a certain work. For example, F. Scott Fitzgerald is a fine writer but I’ve sometimes noticed reviews (even more recent ones) focus heavily on his personal life in context of a particular work and a great sense of tragedy generally permeates the whole thing. (This goes for even other artists, like musicians or actors.) In regards to P.G. Wodehouse, his writings and what was happening in his life at the time of writing do not always match up. During the war and his exile after those unfortunate radio broadcasts, he wrote Joy in the Morning: another Jeeves story, with barely a cloud on the horizon for the characters.

    • I’ve been a fan of P.G. Wodehouse’s writing for years, since I was a young teenager and read my first Jeeves book (it was Carry on Jeeves). I found out about this book, in a roundabout way, after watching a BBC documentary about him last year, which I will also be posting about soon.

    • Yes, I have been! In the interim, I read reviews of it and every single one was encouraging, in a way, as it confirmed for me that it was a good read as I’d hoped and made me look forward to reading it myself all the more.

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