Friday, December 30, 2011

Tragical farcical ...

... P. G. Wodehouse, the writing-machine with a tragic twist | TLS.

... it was in Hollywood that there was the first major manifestation of Wodehouse’s besetting fault as a human being.
How does one define this? Tactlessness on a monumental scale? Innocent tactlessness? A breezy unconsciousness of the way the world works, or the way his words and actions would appear to that world? However you define the quality, you can see that it is the dark side of the coin which made him such a successful writer – that is, his capacity to see the world entirely on his own infantile terms, without realizing how those terms would impact on grown-ups. To this extent, he seems no more grown-up than Just William (in those Richmal Crompton stories which owe so much of their comedy to following Wodehousian formulas). The Hollywood blunder, endearing and comic as it was, was a foreshadowing of the major blunder which would overshadow the second half of Wodehouse’s life. While in Hollywood, he gave an interview to a journalist from the Los Angeles Times, in which he cheerfully admitted, “I have been paid $104,000 for loafing”. While on the MGM payroll, he had written “a novel and nine short stories . . . brushing up my golf, getting an attractive suntan and perfecting my Australian crawl”.


  1. "Most striking of all is a letter of 1939, in which “a feeling is gradually stealing over me that the world has never been farther from a war than it is at present”.

    The mathematician Adam Ulam wrote in his memoirs that before he set off for the US in 1939 he checked in with his reserve unit. The officer he checked with said that there were no objections to Ulam going: nothing was going to happen.

    As for Hollywood, S.J. Perelman's memoirs mention George Kelly returning from a six-month absence in the east to find out that he had been on payroll all along, and a noted lady playwright who had left behind paper dolls as the only product of a comparable stay.

  2. (Oops: the Ulam was Stanislaw Ulam; Adam is the younger brother. Both Ulams got out of Poland only just in time.)

  3. Hi George,
    A couple of interesting things in what you say.
    The first is that I once had dinner with George Kelly, who actually lived up to what you might expect: He was genuinely, spontaneously (or so itt seed) witty.
    As for what you say about people not expecting a war, that is the most interesting thing about Nassim Nicholas Taleb's The Black Swan: If you want to really understand the past, you will have to reconstruct its ignorance.