118 years of Trust Fact File THE TRIBUNE
Saturday Plus
Saturday, December 26, 1998




P.G. Wodehouse
By Illa Vij

BRITISH author Pelham Grenville Wodehouse is well known all over the world. In addition to writing almost a hundred novels, he has authored 36 plays, of which some were musical. He was also involved in the making of 24 films.

His friends and relatives called him Plum because as a child he would say Plum instead of Pelham. He was born in 1881 in Guildford, England. Wodehouse first worked as a junior clerk in the London branch of Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, where he earned Rs 972 annually.

His father lived on a pension and could barely afford to educate his four sons. Plum began writing stories for boys’ magazines. After six of his stories were well received, he resigned from his job at the bank and entered the field of adult fiction. In 1914, he married Ethel Rowley. They both loved animals and their house was usually full of pets. As a drama critic, he churned out lively, humorous articles. The tall, well-built P.G.Wodehouse had an impressive personality and was also very good-natured. He had an abiding faith in the goodness of man.

One day while sitting on the top floor of a mansion (hired for supervising rehearsals), Plum dropped a letter, due to be posted, out of the window. Quite alarmed, his friend asked him to explain that act. Plum replied that he couldn’t make the effort to go and post the letter, so he expected some good soul to post it for him.

Not convinced, the friend asked Wodehouse to ‘post’ him a letter in the same manner. Two days later, the friend received a letter through a man who had picked it up in the street. When the friend called up Plum to give him the news, the happy sender explained that he had tossed it out of the window only 20 minutes back. Such was his faith in humanity.

Unfortunately, the man who loved and respected mankind had to suffer in the hands of the Nazis. The animals he and his wife loved became a cause of his arrest and imprisonment.

Ethel and Plum lived happily in a household full of pets at Le Touquet in Northern France. With the war coming up, the couple was advised to leave and take a flight across the Channel. But the flight meant parting with the animals and keeping them in a six-month quarantine. Neither of them was willing to leave these animals in confinement devoid of love. Instead, they decided to drive down to Portugal with the animals and then sail with the animals from Lisbon to America. But, before they could even leave France, the Nazis had reached. Initially, the Nazis were convinced that the Wodehouses were harmless, because Plum had no military or political affiliation.

They were allowed to live in their home, provided Plum made a daily appearance at the commandant’s office.

But suddenly, one day he was asked to pack his bags and leave with the Nazis. Ethel was allowed to live in occupied France, while Plum was taken from one prison to another and finally brought to Tost, Poland.

While in prison, Plum maintained a diary, recording the rigours faced by the 800 prisoners. His writings in the prison too were marked with a touch of humour and gaiety. Later, a friend of his addressed a petition to the German Prison Authority, seeking the release of the author. The petition was also signed by the editors of the magazines Plum had worked for and also by a number of Senators.

Eventually, Plum was released and sent to Berlin where he lived in a hotel, for which he paid from the amount that came to him as royalties of the European editions of his books. While in custody, he was asked by the Germans to set up a broadcast schedule through which he could reassure his friends and the Americans. Plum handled the broadcast in a light-hearted vein, which unintentionally conveyed a feeling that the Nazis were not so bad after all.

The people in England resented this and he was even hurt in savage attacks. People began considering him a traitor. Finally P.G. Wodehouse moved to New York City in 1947 and became its citizen in 1956.

In 1975, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. The very same year he died. The world might have lost him but he has left behind the unforgettable scatterbrained Bertie Wooster and her valet Jeeves. Most of the stories are set in England of the early 1900s. His humour and wit still remain unmatched..back

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