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Lives Across The Pond: Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse

Each month we feature a person included in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography who was either born in the United States, and made their name in the UK, or came to the US from the British Isles. This month we highlight the novelist Pelham Grenville (or P. G.) Wodehouse—best known for that most English of pairings, Jeeves and Wooster—who spent much of his life in the United States, became an American citizen in the fifties, and died on Long Island on 14 February 1975.

Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse (1881–1975), writer, was born on 15 October 1881 at 1 Vale Place, 50 Epsom Road, Guildford, Surrey, the third of the four sons of Henry Ernest Wodehouse (1845–1929) and his wife, Eleanor, née Deane (1861–1941). The Wodehouse family traced its history back to the time of William the Conqueror. They were landed gentry, who had over the years accumulated eighteen knighthoods, a baronetcy, a barony, and an earldom.

… For Wodehouse the most important event of the First World War in professional terms was his work with Guy Bolton and Jerome Kern in the American theatre. The trio of Kern (composer), Bolton (playwright and librettist), and Wodehouse (lyricist) revolutionized American musical comedy in, for example, Kissing Time, Sitting Pretty, O! Kay, The Golden Moth, and Cabaret Girl, and moved it away from the tired formulas of Viennese operetta, injecting colloquial wit and vigour, and, in doing so, making fortunes for themselves.

… The best-known of Wodehouse’s characters, Bertie Wooster and his factotum Jeeves, first appeared at this time, although in 1917 Jeeves had only two lines in a short story entitled ‘Extricating Young Gussie’ in the book The Man with Two Left Feet. The master–servant relationship provided the framework for comedy: Bertie, good-hearted but weak-willed, ‘mentally negligible’, as Jeeves described him, and almost guaranteed to make a hash of any scheme he takes in hand; and Jeeves, omniscient, superbly efficient, and loyal to Bertie.

Continue reading the Oxford DNB biography of P.G. Wodehouse

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