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on 28 October 2014
An excellent biography, giving a clear picture of Wodehouse and his passion for writing, the thing in his life which seems to have made him really happy. A believable picture of a man somewhat vague about how the world works .
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on 26 January 2015
Reads like a diary.
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on 3 September 2015
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on 21 February 2010
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.

He strikes a sympathetic, if exasperated, tone about the Berlin broadcasts, which is probably about right. As McCrum acknowledges, there were plenty of Americans making regular broadcasts from Berlin in 1941 to the (still neutral) USA and Wodehouse had, of course, lived so much of his adult like in the States that he regarded himself as much an American as he was an Englishman. If Wodehouse acted like a fool in misjudging British public reaction to his talks, McCrum makes the case that the capital of Nazi Germany in the middle of World War Two was hardly the time or place in which an elderly gentleman of Wodehouse's essentially trusting and naive nature was likely to come up smelling of roses.

McCrum is also very good on the nuts and bolts of Wodehouse's life; his domestic arrangements, his compulsive travel, his friendships and, above all, his endless battles with the taxman on both sides of the Atlantic - not a subject, on the face of it, that is rich in anecdotal material but the story of the British tax official quietly dropping a case against Wodehouse after discovering that they'd played rugby against each other as schoolboys is priceless.

So if you're a Wodehouse fan, I'd recommend you to get a copy of this book. It is rich in detail, warm-hearted without losing its objectivity and written by an author who knows his subject inside out. It gives what is probably the best window we're likely to get on a man who lived a mostly interior life.
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on 7 September 2017
I've read them all and I think this is by far and away the best biography of PGW there is, and ever likely to be.. The only criticism I'd make is that it concentrates too much on the whole ludicrous business of the war-time broadcasts, which in my opinion should have been dealt with quickly and dismissed as the storm in a teacup it really was.
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on 12 March 2010
Perhaps this wonderful book should carry a health warning to Wodehouse fans: prose - not jaunty; no funny asides; not too many references to The Master (thank God!). That's because this is a model literary biography; comprehensive, balanced and steeped in research and analysis. It provides an utterly absorbing picture of Wodehouse's life and work. It is especially good on the wartime broadcasts affair. I absolutely loved it and salute Robert McCrum for his achievement. Read it.
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VINE VOICEon 27 December 2004
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. In addition, he was released from internment before agreeing to do the broadcasts which turn out to have been very ill-considered but not a clear-cut case of selling out to the enemy.
Naturally, the ultimate question is also about how interesting Wodehouse must have been in person. That's a disappointment. He was a real bore in public who preferred solitude. On the other hand, I was fascinated to see how much of his personality can be found in the various characters in the stories.
I was aware of his famous quote about writing about life as though it is musical comedy, but I didn't realize that he actually helped write lyrics for musical comedies among his many successes.
Finally, there's a marvelous question of what-might-have-been. Wodehouse was about to go to university with bright prospects when he family pulled the financial plug to favor his older brother. P.G. spent two years working in a bank while writing furiously at every spare moment to establish himself in England, rather than being sent abroad as another bank trainee. You'll find yourself cheering for him!
Mr. Wodehouse lived so long that there's also the fascinating part of the tale about how his writing went from being cutting edge comedy to being historical fiction about the Edwardian era.
The less you have read of Mr. Wodehouse's work, the more you will probably enjoy this volume.
I found that the book's main weakness was that it gave me a great many more details about his personal life than I really wanted to know (such as all of his dogs and his relationships with them) and a little less on his writing than I would have liked to know.
But it's a solid effort, nevertheless, and one that will provide much pleasure to Wodehouse fans.
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on 17 September 2011
I knew Wodehouse only through his books with some idea of his being in disgrace after collusion with the Nazis during World War II. This well-researched and well-written biography takes us into his background,the formative influences in his life, and how he coped with fame and adversity.

The book reveals some interesting insights into life on Broadway and Hollywood in the 1930s. Wodehouse wrote lyrics for songs by Jerome Kern and Cole Porter. He was a man of his time, admired for his writing style and the carefully worked out plots in his novels,but with a limited emotional range. He seems to have been remarkably tolerant and modest through personal acclaim, disgrace and restitution.

It is a rewarding read.
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on 7 February 2005
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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on 20 May 2011
This is a thoroughly researched piece of work that is well written and full of all the factual information anyone interested in Wodehouse might need but it is too sympathetic to its subject to reveal the kind of man Wodehouse really was.

Was he the "silly ass" Englishman he appeared or was he a more devious character who spent the First World War in the United States writing lyrics for musicals and the Second World War interned under cozy conditions in Germany (for most of the time) in a way that led many people to regard him as a collaborator?

Wodehouse was also pretty smart when it came to money and was involved in long-running disputes with the American and British authorities over what they claimed were huge unpaid tax bills.

He was also pretty cynical about using and reusing plots for professional purposes and doctoring letters to remove or tone down embarrassing episodes from his personal life during WW2.

This highly crafted approach to writing is obvious in anything Wodehouse ever wrote. There is no suspended disbelief with him. The reader knows he is being led by the nose as the plot unfolds and a surprise ending pops up at the end of every chapter as it does at the end of every act of a farce.

Apparently, Wodehouse was also a friend of Scott Fitzgerald although McCrum makes little of this odd fellowship.

So how does this square with the "innocent" Plum who spend his life in an Eden with characters like Bertie Wooster, Lord Emsworth and, of course, the gentleman's gentleman, Jeeves?

These aspects of his long life have cast a long shadow and led him to spend decades in disgrace and the last 30 years in the US.

Overall, this is a good book and I would recommend it but there is too much detail - plots of stories and novels, lyrics that are unfunny by today's standards - and not enough investigation by the author about his life.

For example, did Wodehouse and his wife really have separate bedrooms from the beginning of their marriage? Was she really having affairs while he was upstairs struggling with the latest Jeeves plot and looking after his Pekinese that come over as surrogate children?

Wasn't this all a bit "rum" and shouldn't the biographer have made more of it?

Like Wodehouse himself, the author has overlooked or pretended not to see what was going on around him.

In over 400 pages, I found the following description by an editor at Vanity Fair the most revealing. He said Wodehouse was "a stodgy and colorless Englishman; silent, careful with his money, self-effacing, slow-witted and matter of fact ... I never heard him utter a clever, let alone brilliant, remark."
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