P.G. Wodehouse and Me by Heather Haven

I was about nineteen years old when I read my first P.G. Wodehouse book. I will never forget it. It was called Right ho, Jeeves and it opened up a new world for me. Until that time, I hadn’t realized books could be funny, were meant to be funny, that their only job was to make you laugh instead of cry. And through it all, the books were well-written, worth reading for their entertainment value alone.

Right Ho, Jeeves started me down a long path of P.G. Wodehouse books that took me years and years to read. This is because he wrote over ninety of them. This is also because I would go back and reread certain ones, especially the Bertie Wooster and Jeeves collection, again and again.

Even though he was writing about the mores of the 1930’s upper English class, his style, his wit, his ability to evoke hilarious images, make outlandish situations seem almost real, heavily influenced my own writing. He was my hero, my idol, someone I aspired to becoming: a writer whose words alone could make you forget your troubles.

Then one day I found out he apparently had been a Nazi sympathizer. Or maybe his wife was and he went along with it. It was never made clear how it started with him, what drew him in. But I was crushed. Everything good and noble I thought he was came crashing down. My hero not only had feet of clay, he stood for everything I considered to be cruel and evil.

I stopped reading P.G. Wodehouse. And as I look back, on some level my world was the lesser for it. His writing had given me a sense of frivolity, a carefree and colorful look at the lighter aspects of life. But I was done with him. Sometimes you can’t get past things.

Recently, a friend of mine was moving and needed to clear out her book collection. She had a huge stash of Wodehouse books. She knew I write mostly funny novels and asked me if I wanted them. I found myself saying yes. In fact, yes, yes, yes.

It wasn’t just that we were in the middle of a pandemic and my life was closed off and scary. It was more that as I entered old age, I had to admit that while he was seriously flawed in his private life, he was still a mighty fine writer. A writer whose words I’d been missing. Somewhere through the years, maybe I even forgave him. Or maybe I’m working on it. Because as much as I laugh, it’s now tinged with a certain amount of sadness. Sadness that the world is not always what it seems. Sadness that sometimes those we admire are not always worthy of it.

4 thoughts on “P.G. Wodehouse and Me by Heather Haven

  1. Susan, thank you so much for understanding how I felt and feel. But I have welcomed him back into my life. I think you’re right. He was more Bertie than Jeeves. And as you mention, not entirely of this world.

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  2. I had a family who did home schooling when I worked for the Extension Service as a 4-H Program Assistant who loved his books. I wonder if they knew about his affiliation? Interesting perspective.

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    1. Heather, your heartfelt look back at Wodehouse touched me. I too loved his books and was appalled and saddened when I read that while in an internment camp in France he made at least one radio interview for the Germans. I later read that some who knew him believed that he didn’t understand what he was doing–he was more Bertie than Jeeves. As I learned more about his life, I found that easy to believe. Still, it was painful to see him in that world. I’m glad you have been able to again enjoy his work. He was truly brilliant and definitely not entirely of this world.

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    2. Interesting perspective, for sure. I have discovered that people often believe what they want to believe despite any facts being offered them. It is an interesting human condition, with often disastrous results.

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