wodehouse endures


Popular English fiction of the twentieth century did not have much of a shelf life. J. B. Priestley, Angela Thirkell, Warwick Deeping, Dorothy L. Sayers. It is hard to think of anyone reading them now, except for curiosity value. Bring the list up to date – with John Fowles or Kingsley Amis – and you see the same thing happening; they are crumbling before your eyes, like exhumed bones exposed to ultraviolet. Not so P. G. Wodehouse, who is now bought and read more than ever. Wodehouse occupies a role in the history of twentieth-century literature that is more or less unique – though it bears points of comparison with the role of Agatha Christie. Both writers were “dated” almost before they were first published. Both were patient, hard-working, and humble enough to write what their public wanted. Both were occasionally tempted to write “something different”, but they knew that a cobbler should stick to his last. Having enjoyed some books by Dorothy L. Sayers, Wodehouse tried Five Red Herrings and pronounced it “a lousy story”. “Tick her off”, he wrote to the man who had sent it to him, “and make her get back to the old snappy stuff.” In another letter in this collection, written in 1932, Wodehouse tried to read Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. “Aren’t these stories of the future a bore. The whole point of Huxley is that he can write better about modern life than anybody else, so of course he goes and writes about the future.”

more from A. N. Wilson at the TLS here.