10 November 2011
The letters of his final years are calmer, offering a view into the endearing routine of his domestic life – the round of dog-walking, cocktails and daily soap operas. Ultimately, writing, and his beloved Ethel, were his greatest loves, with the rest of the world kept at bay. In an open letter to some admirers, he admits that his fiction was never intended to fit the criteria of "relevance": "The world I write about, always a small one – one of the smallest I ever met, as Bertie Wooster would say – is now not even small, it is nonexistent. It has gone with the wind and is one with Nineveh and Tyre. In a word, it has had it. But I have not altogether lost hope of a revival."
The beauty of this sentence is that it enacts what it says. In a superlative run of clichés – "gone with the wind", "one with Nineveh", "in a word" – Wodehouse revels in, and revives, the contained sphere of an exhausted language (a "small world" of its own) and makes it a little larger. So it is with the worlds of his fiction. Almost lyric in their perfection, sometimes escapist, but never small-minded, they offer what Adorno called "the dream of a world where things could be otherwise". Right until the end, Wodehouse wrote to preserve the world of innocence he never quite grew out of – and to resist a world he never quite grew into – a ghost of Gladys by his side.
Read the rest at The Guardian.
P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters is here.