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P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters

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That last sentence sets forth the essential Wodehouse, the man whose overriding impulse was to defuse distressing matters with humor, in this case Hitler. Moreover, the passage as a whole displays the insistently irenic, not to say deluded, disposition that led him and his wife to stay on in their house in France even as German troops were crossing the French border. This, in turn, resulted in the fifty-nine-year-old Wodehouse being interned as an enemy civilian, out of which sprang the great misstep of his life: the notorious broadcasts from Berlin in the summer of 1941, aimed at America and disseminated in Britain, and where, once again, he turned to humor for deliverance.

It is abundantly clear from the letters just how oblivious Wodehouse had been to the implications of broadcasting under the auspices of an enemy power, and to how off-key his insouciance would sound to American listeners whose sympathies lay with England, to say nothing of the impression it would make on the English themselves, reeling from the Blitz. In light of what is to come, it is genuinely painful to read his telegram telling his pal actress Maureen O' Sullivan in America to "LISTEN IN TONIGHT…6.00 PM PACIFIC TIME." Though Wodehouse later admitted widely -- including in a letter to the Home Secretary -- that "it was criminally foolish of me to speak on the German radio," it is clear that he never saw the crime in making light of his captivity, believing that it was a demonstration of English doughtiness in the face of adversity.

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