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P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters

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It is hard to feel happy about one's hero going on in this way – and there is evidence that his friends felt the same. On the other hand, Wodehouse was no "exponent of the one-way pocket," as one of his bespatted young men has put it. His sense of responsibility and generosity is very much evident throughout. Writing to a friend about his marriage to the twice-widowed Ethel, he says that "for the first time in my life I am absolutely happy. It is a curious thing about it that the anxieties seem to add to the happiness. The knowledge that it is up to me to support someone else has a stimulating effect." Beyond that, he sent untold amounts of cash to the struggling Bill Townend – gifts kept secret from Ethel, who had, as she did in all matters, strong views on the subject. These financial infusions were not motivated by charity alone but by the obligation the immensely successful Wodehouse felt for having encouraged this friend of his youth to take up what turned out to be a depressingly uncelebrated and unremunerative career as a writer.

Wodehouse's letters may not be the heady brew that his fiction is, but in them his kindness, modesty (in matters nonmonetary), and overall decency shine through, as does his invincible ignorance of the way of the world, a world he seemed to believe had as much aversion to "unpleasantness" as he did. Here we have him writing to Townend in April 1939 (a little over a month after Hitler invaded Czechoslovakia): "Do you know, a feeling is gradually stealing over me that the world has never been farther from a war than it is at present. It has just dawned on the civilians of all countries that the good old days of seeing the boys off in the troop ship are over and that the elderly statesmen who used to talk about giving sons to the country will now jolly well have to give themselves. I think if Hitler really thought there was any chance of a war, he would have nervous prostration."

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