Evelyn Waugh
and
P. G. Wodehouse

Evelyn Waugh is perhaps most known to Wodehouse fans as the person whose glowing review graces the back of the Penguin editions of the Wodehouse books. There he is quoted as saying ``Mr Wodehouse's idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in.'' Here are some more things that Mr Waugh said about Mr Wodehouse.

"No one is better qualified than Mr [Hilaire] Belloc to recognize distinction of writing. It would be an impertinence to add to his judicious and deliberate technical analysis [of Wodehouse's style]. The final passage of the introduction, however, seems to me unduly pessimistic. He is dealing with Mr Wodehouse's prospect of lasting renown. There are reasons fron uncertainty about this in the case of any humorous writer. Humour is the most ephemeral artistic quality. I never found anything really laughable in Aristophanes or Shakespeare; the kind of laugh which an audience gives to the classics is something quite different from the spontaneous, irresistible impulse that comes from even quite feeble comtemporary jokes; moreover much of Mr Wodehouse's humour is alusive in a particularly subtle way; it depends on the differences between contemporary spoken English and his own version of it. A later generation may take Mr Wodehouse literally and suppose that his was merely the language of his day. For these reasons I think it possible that he will never give quite the same intoxicating delight to any generation after our own." [1939]


"I am confident that Mr Wodehouse's characters will live. It is the half-real characters of the ordinary popular novelist who disappear. Literary characters may survive either through being so real and round that they are true of any age and race, or through being so stylized that they carry their own world with them. [...] of the second [group] are Mr Wodehouse's characters. They live in their own universe like the characters of a fairy story. [...] Mr Wodehouse's characters are purely and essentially literary characters. We do not concern ourselves with the economic implications of their position; we are not sceptical about their quite astonishing celibacy. We do not expect them to grow any older [...] We are not interested in how they would `react to changing social conditions' [...] The `Drones,' with its piano, swimming baths, sugar throwing, and borrowing and lending of fivers, has no conceivable resemblance to any London club; its Beans and Crumpets even wear a distinguishing archaic costume of spats [...]; their language has never been heard on human lips. Their desperate, transitory, romantic passions are unconnected with the hope or fear of procreation; age in their world is usually cantankerous, extreme youth, obnoxious; they all live, year after year, in their robust middle twenties; their only sickness is an occasional hangover. It is a world that cannot become dated because it has never existed." [1939]


"In a hundred years' time `the kind of man who reads P.G. Wodehouse for pleasure' may become synonymous with an extravagantly fastidious taste. And that indeed is as it should be." [1939]


"Twenty years ago on 15 July 1941 listeners to the BBC Home Service Postscript were shocked to hear a virulent denunciation of [Wodehouse] as a collaborator with the enemy. [...] Let it be said at once that no one connected with the BBC had any responsibility for this utterance. All the Governors formally protested against it; one of them, I believe, who was a friend of the Prime Minister of the time, went to him personally to ask him to override his Minister's judgment. They were rebuffed, and the incident provides a glaring example of the danger of allowing politicians to control public communications [...] I was elsewhere and otherwise engaged at the time [Waugh was stationed in Egypt with the Royal Commandos]. The impression I got later from my friends who had heard the broadcast outburst of 15 July was a sense of vicarious guilt that we had descended to the methods of our enemy in our official propaganda. [...] I take this opportunity to express the disgust that the BBC has always felt for the injustice of which they were guiltless and their complete repudiation of the charges so ignobly made through their medium." [1961]


"That being said, we can turn to the happier theme of greeting him on his approaching eightieth birthday. A man of my age, twenty-two years younger than Mr Wodehouse, has grown up in the light of his genius. By the time that I went to school his stories were established classics and in the nursery I was familiar with my elder brother's impersonations of Psmith. I have possessed a complete set of his works, now sadly depleted by theft. I still await with unappeasable appetite the publication of each addition to the oeuvre. And this is no recondite hobby, it is shared by thousands. "The first thing to remark about Mr Wodehouse's art is its universality, unique in this century. Except for political claptrap few forms of writing are as ephemeral as comedy. Three full generations have delighted in Mr Wodehouse. As a young man he lightened the cares of office of Mr Asquith. I see my children convulsed with laughter over the same books. He satisfies the most sophisticated taste and the simplest. [Hillaire] Belloc, to the consternation of Hugh Walpole, forthrightly declared him to be the best prose writer of the age; Ronald Knox, most fastidious of scholars and stylists, rejoiced in him. At the same time his translations are enormously popular among the Norwegians [... t]hey read him for his plots. The Americans are notoriously capricious in their laughter and change their style of joke as often as their style of interior decoration. But they still read Mr Wodehouse." [1961]

Compiled by Steve Casburn, UT Austin.

Last modified: Sun Jan 16 21:01:50 PST 2000