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Wodehouse: A Life Hardcover – 2 Sep 2004

3.7 out of 5 stars 11 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 544 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; 1st Edition edition (2 Sept. 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670896926
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670896929
  • Product Dimensions: 15.7 x 4.7 x 24 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 364,285 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description


'Excellent biography...sensible, loving and well-written' -- Daily Mail

'Excellent...those who delight in Wodehouse will also delight in McCrum's biography.' -- John Mortimer

'Lucid, fair-minded and proper...No lover of Wodehouse will want to be without this masterly appraisal' -- Stephen Fry

'Wodehouse' is a lucid, scholarly and constantly engrossing biography of one of the greatest comic writers of the 20th century.' -- Guardian

‘Wonderful - one of those biographies that lives up to all one’s hopes and expectations...' -- John Le Carre --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

About the Author

Robert McCrum is the author of six novels and two works of non-fiction, The Story of English and My Year Off. He is literary editor of the Observer and lives in London.

Customer Reviews

3.7 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
This doesn't come to life, so suffers in comparison to the works of Wodehouse himself.
It's a diligent and comprehensive but rather dull dissertation, rattling off facts in an efficient chronology, but lacking in passion, or even original insights about its subject. When McCrum does dare to venture an opinion he tends to contradict himself a few pages later (e.g. giving conflicting summaries of PGW's academic success, and emphasising that he was a loner but then describing another situation as satisfying his need for companionship).
There are voluminous notes, but there is no superscript marker when reading the chapters, so you don't know when there is additional information, which is intensely irritating and makes the notes somewhat pointless.
For a far more enjoyable and informative read, see Barry Phelps' P G Wodehouse Man and Myth (out of print, but surely available from Amazon Marketplace and abebooks etc).
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By Donald Mitchell HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 27 Dec. 2004
Format: Hardcover
Should a dedicated fan of P.G. Wodehouse's writing read this book? Yes, I think so. Mr. McCrum's book is filled with information that will make reading Mr. Wodehouse's many comic offerings more rewarding. For instance, where did so many of those wonderful names come from? Many were drawn from people and places that Wodehouse knew as a youth. Why did he have such a jaundiced view of aunts and say so little about mothers? His own family history contained strained relationships with dictatorial aunts and a distant mother who ignored him. Where did the inspiration for Blandings Castle come from? It turns out to be based on actual experiences in an English country home. Simply from those perspectives, I felt that my understanding of Wodehouse plots, humor and references were vastly increased.
In addition, I knew that P.G. Wodehouse was very prolific, but I never quite understood how he did it. I was fascinated to see how disciplined he was to keep doing his daily quota of words. As someone who likes to write as well, this was a positive inspiration to keep to that discipline myself. I was also pleased to find out more about how he developed his plots and characters and did his rewriting. If you combine this book with Sunset at Blandings, you can get a quite helpful perspective on the details of his craft.
Next, I am always running into veiled and ambiguous references to P.G. Wodehouse having done some broadcasts for German radio during World War II while living in Germany. It was never clear to me what that was all about. Now, this book gives me enough information to have views on the subject. I hadn't realized that Wodehouse had been interned by German forces in prison environments for over a year before the broadcasts.
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Format: Hardcover
I disagree with those reviewers who found this book worthy but dull; personally, I found it fascinating. It's a thorough and absorbing account of Wodehouse's life and one of the most enjoyable biographies of any author I've read since Peter Ackroyd's "Dickens".

McCrum is clearly a Wodehouse fan with an encyclopedic knowledge of the Master's work but he avoids the mistakes that have bedevilled other biographers of Wodehouse, in that: (a) he doesn't try to write like PGW and (b) he maintains his objectivity when appraising Wodehouse's books. The problem he faces is that - the notorious wartime broadcasts apart - Wodehouse really didn't do very much with his life apart from travel (in the early years) and write. The world he created - the world of Jeeves and Wooster, Blandings Castle, Mr Mulliner and Uncle Fred - was the one in which he felt most at home and the one in which he evidently spent most of his time. His "real" world contained no scandals (the broadcasts apart), no politics, no messy family life; he was simply an amiable if slightly remote man and a ferociously hard-working writer.

But it is this second point that I find so interesting. The care, dedication and attention to detail that Wodehouse put into the creation of all those seemingly effortless, lighter-than-air confections is astonishing. Luckily, like many of his generation, he was a daily letter writer and left behind a mountain of correspondence which allows McCrum to detail the painstaking way in which he mapped out his plots, outlined his characters, drafted early scenarios and gritted his teeth through endless re-writes until the whole thing rose as magically as a souffle. This is the sort of stuff I want to read about in a biography of an author and this is where McCrum delivers the goods.
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Format: Hardcover
To someone who wrote a fan letter to "The Master" 33 years ago and received a hand-written postcard of thanks back, which he treasures still today, this book is a bit of a disappointment. It reads too much like a shopping list. It's full of details and information but it doesn't really have much soul. And in spite of the importance that homes had for Wodehouse there isn't a photo of even one of them in the book. I suppose an academic might find that McCrum has added to the known facts of P.G.'s life, but it wasn't obvious to me. And the fact that the last hundred pages (!) of the book are footnotes is in itself perhaps an indication of McCrum's attitude to his task. The basic problem is that loveable old P.G. was a writaholic, had a rather faceless personality and his vices were morning callisthenics, Pekinese dogs and cucumber sandwiches. It may be interesting, but it's not edge of your seat reading - though the picture of Wodehouse calmly writing away in a country mansion à la Blandings in deepest Germany during the war is perplexing, as is his sojourn with his Pekinese at the best hotel in 1941 Berlin. Apart from the war episode the book doesn't really make for gripping reading. One gets the impression that the real life to write about was Ethel Wodehouse's. Now there's an intriguing woman - with her hinted at affairs, her joie de vivre, her Mata Hari war years... But that book has to be written by someone with a little more humour and immediacy than Mr. McCrum who isn't even as funny as his name. There wasn't a laugh in the whole book.
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