Friday, October 26, 2018

Wodehouse in the Poets' Corner

From the London Times, October 13, 2018, "Wodehouse at Westminster Abbey":
“About seven feet in height, and swathed in a plaid ulster which made him look about six feet across, he caught the eye and arrested it. It was as if Nature had intended to make a gorilla, and had changed its mind at the last moment.”
Bertie Wooster’s first impressions (in The Code of the Woosters, 1937) of Roderick Spode, founder of the fascist Black Shorts movement, remain a matchless send-up of the vaulting ambition and attenuated intellectual powers of would-be dictators. Yet PG Wodehouse, creator of Bertie and his brilliant manservant Jeeves, was later inadvertently caught up in a wartime controversy that sullied his public reputation and drove him to voluntary exile in the United States. It was unfair, but the blow to Wodehouse is now at last being partially redressed. This peerless comic writer is to be justly immortalised close to his heroes in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey.

Wodehouse, then aged 58 and living in France, was incarcerated by the Nazis as an “enemy alien” in 1940. Politically naive and out of touch with British public opinion, he agreed to do a humorous broadcast on German radio in 1941 about this experience.

It was a crass and stupid decision, but it was not, contrary to allegations that dogged Wodehouse till his death in 1975, an act of treachery. As George Orwell bravely wrote in 1945: “I have striven to show how the wretched Wodehouse – just because success and expatriation had allowed him to remain mentally in the Edwardian age – became the corpus vile in a propaganda experiment, and I suggest that it is now time to regard the incident as closed.”

Officially, at last, it is. Wodehouse is a great figure of English letters and eminently deserves his place near Shakespeare, Wordsworth and Shelley. Rehab was never sweeter.
Kevin DeYoung on Wodehouse, and Joseph Epstein on the same.