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Wodehouse: A Life
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Wodehouse: A Life

3.82 of 5 stars 3.82  ·  rating details  ·  290 ratings  ·  44 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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(showing 1-30 of 933)
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K.A. Laity
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
F.R.
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
Cecily
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
Josh
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 2 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
Chris
I think a knowledge of the lives of many authors of fiction may be interesting but is generally not particularly illuminating. Hemingway, who led a very interesting life, comes to mind as someone whose fiction it not enhanced by the knowledge of it. P.G. Wodehouse, except for one rather dramatic episode, led quite a quiet life and his biography is not exactly a page turner. HIs biography gives the reader, and only an avid reader I think would read it, an understanding of his life long, and was a ...more
Todd Martin
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
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
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
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
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
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
Cat Bennett
It's a tad long for a biography of a man who didn't do much in his life but write the same story over and over on a daily basis though with incredible wit and good humor. But I liked it for what I learned about Wodehouse. He was incredibly disciplined and single-minded about both his writing and being good humored. He knew the range of his gift and stuck to it even when the kind of light humor he wrote faded from fashion and he struggled to make ends meet. He was not deterred nor did he try to b ...more
Holly
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
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
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
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
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
Jack
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.
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.
Jill Minor
Nov 04, 2014 Jill Minor marked it as to-read  ·  review of another edition
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Dr
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
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.
Sherie
About as entertaining as a biography can be. The author explains why so many of PGW's characters are without parents or spouses. The book was peppered with quotes from his books or the lyrics he wrote. I am more in awe of Wodehouse's genius than ever.
Scott Thrift
A ho-hum biography about one of my favorite authors. Turns out Wodehouse wasn't nearly as interesting a person as he was a writer. The biography is almost just a list of events. There is a lot of quoting from the books which made it a nice read.
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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
More about Robert McCrum...
The Story of English Globish: How the English Language Became the World's Language My Year Off In the Secret State On Reading: Notes on the literary landscape, 1995-2012

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