a case of infantilism


Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse was not burdened (nor did he burden his characters) with the morbidities of introspection. Delight, not psychological insight, was his stock-in-trade. Yet had he read the letter in which Wodehouse described himself as ‘a writing machine’, Jeeves might have said, as he once said to Bertie Wooster, rem acu tetigisti – ‘You’ve put your finger on the nub!’ The shy, socially awkward Wodehouse burned at a low wattage. The librettist Guy Bolton, recalling an innocent dalliance with a chorus girl, spoke of Wodehouse ‘sowing his one wild oat’. Not for him the bonhomie of the Drones Club and the distractions of the bright life, big city. Wodehouse and his wife had separate bedrooms and, when they travelled, they often had hotel rooms on separate floors. Ethel, a former chorus girl herself, may have been, as Malcolm Muggeridge put it, a ‘mixture of Mistress Quickly and Florence Nightingale with a touch of Lady Macbeth thrown in’, but to Wodehouse she was the perfect mate, ‘an angel in human form’ who looked after him and didn’t make demands. What Wodehouse craved was quiet and the company of his pipe, his pets and, above all, his typewriter. In 1902, when he was twenty, he published his first book, The Pothunters. On Valentine’s Day, 1975, he was discovered next to all the usual accoutrements, along with the manuscript of his half-completed last novel, published as Sunset at Blandings a couple years thence. Like the gnu he wrote about in ‘Unpleasantness at Bludleigh Court’, he’d handed in his dinner pail, victim not of a crack shot but a heart attack.

more from Roger Kimball at Literary Review here.