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Wodehouse: A Life

3.86  ·  Rating Details ·  361 Ratings  ·  46 Reviews
To Evelyn Waugh he was simply "the Master." He wrote ninety novels and story collections, and among his immortal characters are Jeeves, Psmith, and the Empress of Blandings (who is, of course, a pig). Equally impressive is the range of his devotees: Dorothy Parker, John Updike, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Salman Rushdie, John le Carre, and Seamus Heaney. Wodehouse had an extraord ...more
Hardcover, 544 pages
Published September 2nd 2004 by Viking
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,194)
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Sketchbook
Another famous writer in a sexless marriage, and it worked beautifully for 60 years. At 32, PG, who had no interest in sex, but needed someone to organize his overloaded life as fame increased yearly, married Brit Ethel Wayman in 1914 in NYC, where she'd gone to find a husband. Her resume already included 2 dead husbands and a daughter in boarding school. He wasnt even certain of her last name. But Ethel was a commanding figure -- and also fun. She needed an affluent husband, quickly. He needed ...more
K.A. Laity
Jul 26, 2014 K.A. Laity rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is never a time that reading Wodehouse is not a delight, although somehow summer seems particularly perfect. There’s such a lightness of touch to his humour that feels so effortless that you want to pick up this hefty doorstop tome and find that ah ha! He did indeed sell his soul to the devil to achieve that perfect élan. There are moments in this biography where you despair that McCrum has hidden the truth because after two years struggling as a banker by day and writer by night, Wodehous ...more
Cecily
Jul 15, 2008 Cecily rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Doesn't come to life, so suffers in comparison to the works of Wodehouse himself. It's a diligent and comprehensive but rather flat essay, rattling off facts in an efficient chronology, but lacking in passion, or even original insights about its subject. There are numerous 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. He also contradicts himself, eg emphasising that PGW was a loner but t ...more
Kay
I'd always meant to read a biography of Wodehouse, and in many ways this is an excellent one, particularly good at coming to grips with what made Wodehouse tick. However, I can't say that at the end of it all that I actually appreciate Wodehouse more than I did previously. This is probably my fault rather than the biographer's, but "ignorance was bliss" when it came to the creator of such immortal characters as Jeeves and Lord Emsworth. Finding out that Wodehouse was a sexless, naive workaholic ...more
F.R.
Feb 24, 2010 F.R. rated it liked it
The problem with writing a biography of Wodehouse is that he didn’t participate in the Spanish Civil War, or hunt down great elephants in Africa, or even engage in vitriolic correspondence with peers. In fact he was almost the perfect embodiment of Flaubert’s maxim about how the best atmosphere for writing is a mundane one. The only stand-out bit of drama and excitement in his life were the events of the Second World War and they are covered in great detail in McCrum’s book, but I’m not sure the ...more
Brian Steed
Almost didn’t pick this up, since I’ve already read Frances Donaldson’s Wodehouse biography, but I’m glad I did. Noticed a few contradiction in McCrum’s take on Wodehouse’s character (eg. he sometimes implies that PGW was colorless and drab company, but then later refers to his huge personal charm), but this is probably the bane of any biographer of a man as elusive as Wodehouse. What an odd and interesting man.
Harker US Library
20th-century humorist P. G. Wodehouse may have lived a life in which, by his own admission, “nothing really interesting happened, just meals and taking the dog for a walk,” but he still managed to leave behind countless thousands of pages of letters, articles, interviews, and fiction when he passed away in the 1970s—and it’s clear that dedicated biographer Robert McCrum has sifted through almost this entire mountain of material. Wodehouse: A Life is a tough read, not least because its quintessen ...more
Josh
Jun 05, 2013 Josh rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I probably won't finish this one. I got the thrill of his early work and his time on Broadway. Weird to think of him as socializing occasionally with Scott Fitzgerald. This probably just shows how few biographies I've read, but I'm consistently annoyed by biographers' need to speculate about trivial, unconfirmable stuff. It's interesting (I guess) that Wodehouse might have been sterile, and boring to constantly be reminded that this or that might be an indication that he was relatively uninteres ...more
William Alberque
Mar 29, 2008 William Alberque rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: no one at all.
Shockingly poorly written for such a comprehensive account. Let me say upfront, that I adore Wodehouse. He was one of the great English writers. "Code of the Woosters" is a complete and utter classic, and a big "fuck you" to anyone who has read it and doesn't think so. And if you haven't read it, go dunk your head in a bucket of cold water. Idiots.

This account, while staggeringly complete, is in good need of an editor. It appears that each paragraph was written in serial, ironically enough, for
...more
Josh
Apr 18, 2016 Josh rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
One mark of a great biography is that, by the end, you feel a measure of sadness at the death of the subject. McCrum's biography of PG Wodehouse fits that bill. I knew nothing about Wodehouse beyond the delightful world of Wooster and Jeeves, but by the end of this biography I felt like I knew him, and liked him. Even though most writers live somewhat predictable lives that make biographies a bit dull (a biographer can only describe typewriting manuscripts and editing proofs so many times), Wode ...more
Todd Martin
Aug 08, 2011 Todd Martin rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
I've always enjoyed P.G. Wodehouse's writing. Although his plots are all the same, Wodehouse writes with such a clever wit that this is easy to overlook. After reading Robert McCrum's biography Wodehouse: A Life, I'd have to say that a far more appropriate subtitle for the book would have been An Incredibly Uninteresting Life.

Wodehouse spent a lot of his time writing, and when not writing preferred to follow a comfortable routine. McCrum tries to make the best of this by describing some of the
...more
Chris
Jan 10, 2009 Chris rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
About 30 pages into this new biography, I realized that I had already read a biography of Wodehouse a few years ago, 'P.G. Wodehouse - A Biography' by Frances Donaldson. Does one really need to read two separate biographies of an author, even if that author is one of his favorites, one whom he turns to for light, escapist entertainment? Even if the author has never let him down, and always fills him with 'sweetness and light' (to snatch a phrase from Plum himself)? McCrum's book is very readable ...more
V
Oct 20, 2011 V rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: z2011, zaud11
I have never gotten a lot out of biographies, largely because there are so many people that are important in a person's life and it is very difficult to keep track of them (life is complicated, unlike a novel). Also, because the character of a person doesn't often change dramatically through his lifetime, his actions tend to be repetitive and it gets boring to read about the same old stuff being said and done for decades. It makes me shudder to think about how dull my own bio would be...

In any c
...more
Eleanore
This book proved somewhat disappointing, the author failing to bring the same lightness, precision and detail to his own prose with which Wodehouse habitually approached his own. Wodehouse, of course, presents a difficult figure to write about: emotionally constrained, introverted, and surprisingly single-minded - with precious little capable of breaking his daily writing ritual once established, not the experience of Broadway and Hollywood in the teens and 20s, not international success and fam ...more
Bookmarks Magazine

When reviewer Christopher Buckley respectfully restrains his frenetic pen, it's clear we're in the presence of a master. Acclaim for Wodehouse as a prose stylist, a humorist, a writerly model of Davidian proportions is effusive. The critics extend that praise to his biographer as well. McCrum wisely and dramatically scrutinizes Wodehouse's international embarrassment while captive to the Nazis. This retelling also allows the author to clean off history's grime and present a sympathetic picture o

...more
Joseph
Feb 07, 2014 Joseph rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The man was a comic (and literary) genius, and yet he flubbed it in life. This is a solid look at the man and his accomplishments, but it left me feeling underwhelmed and still ignorant about how all the facts made the man.

Here's an idea: write a bio in the tone of the subject's work. Imagine Jeeves Does Wodehouse, or Psmith and the Author's Papers.
Dixie
Dec 01, 2014 Dixie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Three stars mostly because I like Wodehouse so much. But this is not a great read. Wodehouse loved his routines and was certainly a creature of habit, and so the story of his life is pretty mundane--with the exception of WWII and his mess there. I'm glad I read it, but I don't know if I would recommend it very strongly.
Beatrice Gormley
Jul 18, 2014 Beatrice Gormley rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography
P.G. Wodehouse, who wrote his masterpieces of silliness in the first half of the 20th century, is still beloved for his tales about the empty-headed young man-about-London Bertie Wooster and his devoted valet, Jeeves. Jeeves is both practical and highly cultured, pulling the hapless Bertie out of one scrape after another while tossing off quotations from Shakespeare and other classiscs. During his lifetime Wodehouse, in the best British public school tradition, managed to avoid revealing his inn ...more
Holly
Jan 07, 2015 Holly rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Well done biography about Pelham Graham Wodehouse, a man who wrote to live, and who lived to write. McCrumb attempted to portray his subject honestly, and he did it with compassion -- and sometimes an almost reverence.
Although I was somewhat familiar with Wodehouse, the man, as well as his books, I found information in this book that I had not previously known, and some parts were much more interesting than expected.
It took me over a year to read this book. Sometimes I'd stop and read one of
...more
Reinhardt2 Reinhardt
I enjoyed the beginning of this book very much. Interesting to read about Wodehouse's early years and how he got his start, where the ideas for some of his characters came from, etc.

He had a very long career, so the book sort of bogs down in the middle with a lot of repetition, since he did churn out the books every year. Interesting to read about his involvement with Broadway shows and Hollywood.

I think that the author belabors the part about Wodehouse's internment by the Nazis during WW2. I u
...more
Jamie
Jul 27, 2012 Jamie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Rather matter-of-fact bio. Wodehouse the writer is a comic genius. Wodehouse the man comes off as the prototypical upper class twit: emotionally repressed, oblivious, devoted to dogs, his old school, and his daily routine.

Given such an opaque figure to work with, the author might have done a better job on the big picture: the world Wodehouse came from the world he thrived in.

As other readers suggest, Wodehouse led a quiet and largely uneventful life. The centrepiece of the book (inevitably) is
...more
Susan
Oct 18, 2014 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Read a million of his books (yes, it turns out there ARE a million) but I knew absolutely nothing about him. When he was a kid Victoria was on the throne. And he wrote allllll the time.I didn't know he was a musical comedy lyrircst. I didn't know he tried his hand at screenwriting. He knew everybody.
Samuel
Jul 09, 2015 Samuel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography, blurbed
A sweetly affectionate biography, rightly thought of now as the definitive Wodehistory (apologies for that) and easily the best text to recommend to anyone newly interested in a STILL criminally under-acknowledged author. McCrum makes a wonderful case for Wodehouse, for all his narrowness and insistence on keeping his characters (to steal a phrase from Waugh) in their palatial Edens, as one of the great writers of the 20th century, unacknowledged critically for the airiness of his approach but b ...more
Hannah
Dec 29, 2008 Hannah rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have loved Wodehouse since I was old enough to remember watching BBC's versions of the books and reading them myself. The biography was extremely thorough in most senses, but it's so difficult to get a good picture of who Wodehouse actually was. He's so darn good at keeping any real emotion or reflective thought from being made public (with a few notable exceptions). The book was interesting and well put together, but I had a hard time getting through some of the "write, tea, sleep, write, tea ...more
Angela
Jul 10, 2016 Angela rated it it was amazing
Excellent biography.
Jack
Mar 06, 2014 Jack rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
A fairly compelling look at a man who, on the surface, wasn't terribly compelling himself. The book takes a while to get off the ground, focusing mostly on what Wodehouse wrote when and where, but it really starts to grip you when you read about his internment during WWII and the subsequent fallout. I found myself relating to Wodehouse as a writer and his desire to be shut up in his room with his writing and reading. A pretty remarkable story about a quiet, humble man.
Hardy
Apr 16, 2016 Hardy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Having read portions of Wodehouse's work over the years, I was interested in learning more about him. Robert McCrum's biography fills the bill splendidly, weaving Wodehouse's literary chronology into the fascinating tale of a life filled with ups and some notable downs. Fans of P.G. Wodehouse will find some new nuggets, while those unfamiliar with the man or his work will be inspired to see what all the fuss is about. "Wodehouse: A Life" is a rewarding read.
Bev
Dec 10, 2015 Bev rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
One of the most readable biographies I have ever encountered. It is thorough and honest in its assessment of the work and the life of this wonderful man, who has given the world so many unforgettable characters (Bertie Wooster, Jeeves, the Empress of Blandings, Psmith...) and so many jolly experiences in his books, plays, musicals, poetry and short stories. I learned so much from this biography that explains and extends my "relationship" with Plummie's legacy.
Dr
Jun 11, 2012 Dr rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am not normally a reader of biographies but this was part of my new immersion in PGW whom I've not read until this year. His story is intriguing and I'm surprised it's not been made into a play. Was he a Nazi collaborator or merely a naive dupe almost autistically self-absorbed? It's also beautifully written and researched with an acameic thoroughness.
Wens Tan
Jun 27, 2009 Wens Tan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It's cool because it's about Wodehouse.

The man is fascinating, and admirable in his utmost dedication to his writing. No matter the circumstance, he writes. And he takes pains to edit and re-edit to bring out the humour, sometimes sacrificing the truth for entertainment even in his personal biographies.
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Robert McCrum is an associate editor of the Observer. He was born and educated in Cambridge. For nearly 20 years he was editor-in-chief of the publishers Faber & Faber. He is the co-author of The Story of English (1986), and has written six novels. He was the literary editor of the Observer from 1996 to 2008, and has been a regular contributor to the Guardian since 1990
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