P.G. Wodehouse: Sturm und Drang

William Connor on P G Wodehouse
Cassandra

In July 1941, P G Wodehouse gave five talks on Nazi radio, from Berlin. In this country and in the United States, he was denounced as a traitor, a coward, a collaborator and a Nazi sympathizer. His most virulent attacker was William Connor, ‘Cassandra’ of the Daily Mirror. There has been endless debate about PGW in this respect and the verdict is divided between those who felt he was a traitor and those who felt that he was trying to cheer people up by being his usual entertaining, inconsequential eccentric self.

P G Wodehouse was also very shy and lived in a world of his own, limited by his study, his writing, Ethel and the dogs. Frankie was at school with his daughter Leonora and one day she said, ‘There’s an extraordinary man down at the end of the drive’. Leonora replied, ‘That’s my father. He hides in the bushes and I meet him down there. He’s frightened of the head-mistress’.

P G Wodehouse before the second world war
Plummy

 

Stephen Glover summed up in the Spectator in 2004: Malcolm Muggeridge, was sent to interview Wodehouse in Paris after its liberation. Arriving as a sceptic, Muggeridge was soon enchanted, and became a lifelong defender of the writer. Then, in the spring of 1945, George Orwell published his famous essay on Wodehouse.

Evelyn Waugh’s famous 1961 radio broadcast marking the writer’s 80th birthday did not concede any fault at all. He addressed himself to Wodehouse thus: ‘You tell me that you have met and conceived a great liking for a man who 20 years ago did you so grave an injury [William Connor]. Will you please extend your forgiveness to everyone who ever spoke or thought ill of you?’

*It was alway said that, when referring to the First World War, P G Wodehouse had referred to it as ‘a craze, like Mah Jong’.

7/7/41   I wrote an awfully stupid letter to Leonora about Plummy.  I wrote 6 different letters and tore them all up, and all the time I was writing I had a picture of old Mrs Cazalet being patronisingly nice to Leonora about it; and I got more and more furious with her (Mrs C). I tried jokes, but it is obviously not a joking matter. By this time I was in despair and also in tears about poor Leonora and also about poor Plummy. After all, the real thing is it should never happen to him to get into such a position. Everyone who knows him knows he is not fitted to deal with it. The whole thing was inevitable given Plummy’s sort of detachment from real life and also that mixture of tolerance (they seemed nice fellers to me) and selfishness *(a craze like Mah Jong). Anyway I finally ended by writing a far too melodramatic and far too protestingly affectionate and loyal letter and I know Leonora will think I have gone dotty. So now I am miserable about that, I find something to be miserable about every day.

11/7/41   Here is a good example of the sort of thing I invent to be miserable about, when I am alone. This morning I got a letter from Leonora beginning “Thank you for the sweetest letter I ever had in my life”. I was pleased.

It is all this being alone. No-one to talk to and nothing good to think about. And I think, from a psychoanalyst’s point of view, I behave too well. I am so practical and vigorous and forceful (apparently) and I go off and buy farms and bring the children up really quite well and write books and goodness knows what and I don’t grumble much and I’m not particularly a bore to be with. But all the time I’m wondering how long it’s going to be and how on earth I’m going to go on sticking it. And so I just take it out by inventing idiocies to be miserable about. The book has become more or less a torture to me. I wriggle when people talk about it, and am terrified that someone will find something shaming in it.

The Russians seem to be doing far better than anyone could have imagined and the papers say the German people are aghast at the trains of wounded which keep on rolling in.

12/7/41   There was a thunder storm last night and to-night another, in which I was caught in the building feeding the pigs. The whole farm was deserted except for me and the pigs. It was rather eerie. One is not exactly frightened but there is something odd about it and the animals are uneasy too.

14/7/41   There is a possibility that I did something to my inside threshing in the spring. Anni thinks I’d better see a gynaecologist, I don’t think it will be more than a bore, two days in a nursing home and having my inside twisted round. It may account for my appalling and perpetual tiredness and depression. Apart from this it is really pretty bloody here in a hot summer.

One thing, one never gets away from the children and tho’ they are sweet they are also odious. They yell and bawl and ask questions and always want to help when you don’t want them to and trip over everything and put their blasted little sticky fingers all over my papers and take my face cream, nowadays unprocurable, and squeeze it all over my dressing-table and fret and irritate me till I could cheerfully murder them.

Sometimes I really have to leave Rose because if I didn’t I should beat her up. This house is really awful in hot weather. There isn’t any shade anywhere and the house itself is like a cook-house. Whenever I want to write to you or do the books there are always 14 wirelesses playing in every direction. I don’t really mind all that, but it gets me down from time to time and I feel better for a good grumble.

17/7/41   Lovelands    The woman doctor was unable to find out anything but wants to see me again in 2 or 3 days. I was tired and depressed, and Anni, who, as you know, lives here with Twinks, persuaded me to spend the 2 or 3 days here instead of going home and coming up again. So here I am, spending the whole morning in bed and writing to you. I feel much better already. I don’t want you to get  the impression that there is anything seriously wrong with me — there isn’t.

Robert Laycock, general WWII
Bob Laycock. Jack worked for him at one stage in his war service, but he is mostly famous for leading the commandos

London was pretty awful. All the girls have gone dotty. They are determined to get men to take them out if they bust but as there are so few men left this is a bit difficult. Bob (Laycock) had just arrived back bringing word that all the rest of the Commando would be coming too. This was the occasion for a sort of orgy of idiocy. Without much sour grapes it was obviously impossible for me to join in this, so that wasn’t much fun.

Poor Leonora. People, or at least some people, are being absolutely vicious about Plummy. An awful man who writes under the name of Cassandra in the Mirror broadcast about him on Sunday. It was real blood and thunder, just the sort of thing that agitators are supposed to spout on street corners but usually don’t. It can’t be very pleasant for Leonora. She wrote to me thanking me for my letter and saying she would always be grateful and that she was very miserable underneath. Thank God I wrote to her ….

Be sure to be loyal to Plummy if only for her sake. The Daily Mail published one of the articles which have caused the trouble yesterday. It is very witty indeed and very brave actually in that it makes fun of the Concentration Camp and is not a bit self-pitying, but of course it is hopeless from the point of view of all these blood thirsty people who are looking for a scape-goat.

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A Woman's War