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Wodehouse: A Life

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  412 Ratings  ·  53 Reviews
An affectionate portrait of the prolific twentieth-century comic writer (1881-1975) discusses his creation of such characters as Jeeves, Psmith, and the Empress of Blandings; describes his contributions to Broadway and the London stage; details his internment in Germany during WW II; and moves on to his life in Southampton, NY.
Hardcover, 530 pages
Published September 29th 2004 by W.W. Norton & Company (first published September 2nd 2004)
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Sep 21, 2016 rated it really liked it
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 rated it really liked it
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
May 30, 2008 rated it did not like it
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
Jul 29, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Feb 21, 2010 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Aug 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have only read 5 Wodehouse books (Mulliner Nights, Mike and Psmith, Psmith in the City, My Man Jeeves, and Cocktail Time), so I am no Wodehouse aficionado, but I always like to know a little about the authors I read. This book was a great survey of his life and work.

And work he did. Wodehouse had a life with very little passion or excitement, but gave his full energy to his writing.

Some of the things that interested me:

His childhood and youth were rather bleak. From the age of three to the ag
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.
Jun 05, 2013 rated it liked it
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 rated it it was ok
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
Apr 18, 2016 rated it it was amazing
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
Jun 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Well I mean it's certainly, well, whatsit. Plum or Plummie as his old school chums knew him was always a cove of the right sort. Good with the old cricket bat and not at all bad when it was time to put up the old gloved dukes. Evan better it was always stiff Manhattans for his chums and if a chappie happened to needed a fast fiver to round out the evening he always knew where to find an open hand. Now maybe he didn't always cast the fellows from the Drones club under the rosiest Tiffany lamp but ...more
May 11, 2017 rated it really liked it
There are definitely some slow spots in this book. At a certain point, it becomes just a list of what Wodehouse is writing with whom and where. That's fairly typical in my experience with an author's biography -- even though someone like Wodehouse was a prolific letter writer, he wasn't baring his soul about his inner thoughts and feelings a great deal. As McCrum notes, the one time Wodehouse really paused in all the letter writing was following the death of his stepdaughter. The things that rea ...more
Sep 14, 2017 rated it liked it
I was really impressed with this biography. I went into it knowing nothing about PG Wodehouse other than that I have enjoyed the handful of his books I've read. I was astounded to read about his experience as a prisoner during WWII and his hapless blunder during that time which caused his country to accuse him of being a traitor and conspirator.

I also had no idea how prolific he was and how involved he was in Broadway and Hollywood productions. Writing was literally his life and he worked until
Sep 19, 2017 rated it really liked it
As one might expect, an author who published 90+ books in his lifetime (along with plays, articles, lyrics etc.) didn't have much time for pursuits outside of writing. He was an unusually single-minded, almost compulsive, writer. Wodehouse is a tough subject for a biography - elusive and opaque - a "laureate of repression" in his fiction, as McCrum puts it. The most dramatic event in his life was his greatest public failing (the WWII broadcasts - a point where his single-mindedness led him serio ...more
Miles Carter
Aug 08, 2017 rated it really liked it
Felt a trifle thin.
Dec 29, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Jan 03, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: biography-memoir
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
Jun 08, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Todd Martin
Jul 31, 2011 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
Harker US Library
May 19, 2014 rated it liked it
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
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

Jun 15, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Beatrice Gormley
May 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
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
Dec 01, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Sep 04, 2008 rated it liked it
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
Jul 27, 2012 rated it it was ok
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
Aug 29, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jul 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
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.
Dec 03, 2012 rated it liked it
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.
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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...