PG Wodehouse: a life in letters

From Guardian:

PG-Wodehouse-A-Life-in-LetteIn 1928, the American magazine Liberty published what was to become one of PG Wodehouse's best-loved stories: “Lord Emsworth and the Girl Friend”. All the usual Wodehousean suspects are here – the fierce aunt, the overbearing gardener, the uncomfortably stiff collar – and the plot hangs on a characteristically slight thread. Even so, this tale of friendship between a tremulous peer and a 12-year-old East Ender named Gladys has tremendous power. Emsworth is a character known for his benign indifference. Absent-minded, cowed by those around him, he lives for his prize pig in a world of his own. But when Gladys has a bad afternoon at the Castle, we see a whole different side to the oft-oppressed peer. “Something happened, and the whole aspect of the situation changed.” “It was, in itself, quite a trivial thing, but it had an astoundingly stimulating effect on Lord Emsworth's morale. What happened was that Gladys, seeking further protection, slipped at this moment a small hot hand into his.” Contained but viscerally alive, there is a poignant reserve about this “mute vote of confidence” – the pace and rhythm of the sentences are as subtle as the emotions they convey. It is, Kipling argued, “one of the most perfect short stories ever written”.

Countless readers of Wodehouse have testified to the way his novels have their own “stimulating effect” on morale, providing not just comic, but almost medicinal effects: the exiled Kaiser Wilhelm, after his defeat in the first world war, consoled himself by reading Wodehouse to his “mystified” staff; the late Queen Mother allegedly read “The Master” on a nightly basis, to set aside the “strains of the day”; more recently, news reports tell of the imprisoned Burmese comedian Zargana finding comfort in Wodehouse during solitary confinement. “Books are my best friends”, he confided. “I liked the PG Wodehouse best. Joy in the Morning – Jeeves, Wooster and the fearsome Aunt Agatha. It's difficult to understand, but I've read it three times at least. And I used it as a pillow too.”

More here.