This post of mine was published in The Hindu dated 15th June, titled Undistilled Wodehouse
I was reading a short story by P.G.Wodehouse on the train. These are the times when I most mistaken for a lunatic. My seat shudders with unconcealed mirth. I giggle, laugh and sometimes wipe away tears of laughter, while the world is going about the stern business of earning a living. He is one of my favorite authors, and after every few books that makes me mope around the world pondering on the wretchedness and seriousness of life, I turn to a P.G.W book to remind myself that tomfoolery is a virtue to be exalted and celebrated. His turn of phrase, his romping joy, is enough to set me straight.
When I read his autobiography ‘Over Seventy’ a few years ago, I could see that the septuagenarian viewed his own life pretty much the same way he came across in his writing: Sunny and delightful. In his own words, he simply lacked the life required for a gripping autobiography because one needs some level of suffering to bung into the thing. “My father was plain as rice pudding and everyone in school understood me perfectly.” he wrote.
So, it must have been particularly jarring to the man when he was treated as badly in his own country.
P.G.Wodehouse had his head in books and led a sheltered life. Whether it was Blandings Castle, or Jeeves rescuing his young master, his thoughts were almost always occupied with love and the stirrings of the idiotic. P.G.Wodehouse, known as ‘Plum’ to his friends, had a villa in Le Touquet, France where he and his wife Ethel often stayed. Plum and his wife were unfortunately there, when German troops stormed France, and he was taken prisoner at the beginning of the Second World War.
The Germans released him after 42 weeks, when he was nearing 60 as they seldom kept foreign internees beyond the age of 60. Through an old Hollywood friend of his, they sought to use him to make humorous broadcasts about his internment, and he naively did so. His was a trusting nature completely devoid of malice of any kind, and incapable of seeing political propaganda. Though he suffered immensely during his internment – he lost around 60 pounds, and ‘looked like something the carrion crow had brought in’, he did not quite realize the extent of evil and genocide that was happening inside War-time Germany. He simply intended to let his readers know that he was alive and well.
That back-fired, however, and the author went from beloved to detested in his native United Kingdom. People were looking for a scape-goat and he fitted the bill perfectly. He sadly became his own Bertie Wooster with no Jeeves to help.
Sometime after the Second World War ended, P.G.W was goaded by a journalist asking him whether he hated the Germans for what they put him through. To which the author supposedly replied, elegantly smoking his pipe, ‘I do not hate in the plural’.
A truly astounding statement. It was this statement of ‘not hating in the plural‘ that I sought out to find when I read the books below, but I could find no reference to the actual statement.
What I found instead was a man who was not only the world’s funniest author, but also the most hard-working, shy, kind and gentle person, who so magnanimously shared the gift of his sunny mind with the world.
I read all five of his broadcasts in entirety and to my equally naive mind, there is nothing in there that can be seen as treason. It shows how war, and malice can take any inane thing and wring it out of shape and proportion. What is real and what is fake when power is involved?
The piece written by George Orwell defending P.G.W’s innocence is well worth reading:
The article and the broadcasts dealt mainly with Wodehouse’s experiences in internment, but they did include a very few comments on the war. The following are fair samples:
“I never was interested in politics. I’m quite unable to work up any kind of belligerent feeling. Just as I’m about to feel belligerent about some country I meet a decent sort of chap. We go out together and lose any fighting thoughts or feelings.”
P.G.Wodehouse was finally knighted by the British Government in January 1975. He died the following month on 14th February 1975, aged 93.
I am immensely grateful to the dear author, even if that means the Prims & Propers of the world lift their eyebrows and look away uncomfortably when I laugh. I cannot say it better than Stephen Fry does on the personal influence of P.G.Wodehouse:
He taught me something about good nature. It is enough to be benign, to be gentle, to be funny, to be kind.
19 thoughts on “Do Not Hate In The Plural”
If only more people had the Wodehouse outlook on life, we’d have a fewer wars and other unpleasantries. A terrific piece — bravo!
I agree Honoria Plum – a world of such sunlit happiness and unblemished joy is possible. We only need to look to his books for inspiration.
Honoria Plum’s recent article (https://honoriaplum.wordpress.com/2017/06/25/on-this-day-george-orwell-who-wrote-in-defence-of-p-g-wodehouse-was-born-1903/) also pointed me to the transcripts of the broadcasts:
Reblogged this on Plumtopia and commented:
An excellent piece from Nourishncherish, who is always sound on Wodehouse.
Thanks Honoria Plum 🙂
I have to take my hat off to a man who can be self-deprecatingly humorous about the no doubt painful experience of being interned by the Nazis, and who (whatever negative consequences his naivety may have had) didn’t have it in him to hate as his country demanded.
Thanks for you comment Deobrah. I sometimes feel that self deprecating humor should be taught in Schools as core curriculum. We take ourselves far too seriously for our own good.
Heh heh. I’d love to be a fly on the wall at one of those classes!
The tone of this reflection is outstanding and the sentiment admirable and the appreciation of Plum perfectly sound but one very minor jarring factual note: Le Tourquet where Plum lived in 1940 is on the coast of the English Channel, hardly the South of France. He was a wealthy, tax-avoiding expatriate, true; but the “South of France” introduces a sybarite, or perhaps hedonistic suggestion or implication, that is inappropriate.
Ken : thanks for your comment. My bad, I should have looked up where Le Touquet was in France. It is indeed the North of France. (will update the article)
Brilliant writing, and good to know there are lots of P.G. fans around. I too have to return to a P.G. when any gloominess sets in. The man was and is a genius.
Thanks for your comment Susan. Humor is indeed a panacea to most ills of the mind.
Very nice piece. For my money, the best description of Wodehouse’s war broadcasts was written more than 20 years before, by Plum himself:
“When the news began to spread through the place that Grace was knitting this sweater there was a big sensation. The thing seemed to us practically to amount to a declaration.
“That was the view that James Todd and Peter Willard took of it, and they used to call on Grace, watch her knitting, and come away with their heads full of complicated calculations. The whole thing hung on one point—to wit, what size the sweater was going to be. If it was large, then it must be for Peter; if small, then James was the lucky man. Neither dared to make open inquiries, but it began to seem almost impossible to find out the truth without them. No masculine eye can reckon up purls and plains and estimate the size of chest which the garment is destined to cover. Moreover, with amateur knitters there must always be allowed a margin for involuntary error. There were many cases during the war where our girls sent sweaters to their sweethearts which would have induced strangulation in their young brothers. The amateur sweater of those days was, in fact, practically tantamount to German propaganda.”
What a preternaturally ebullient outlook he had – thank goodness he wrote comedy instead of going in for mystery novels. Happy reading Paul, and thanks for commenting.
http://www.ihr.org/jhr/v07/v07p345_Hall.html – this piece by Robert Hall Jr outlines the Lies and the Truths most succinctly.
I have just read this excellent piece of your reproduced in The Hindu by Saumya Balasubramanian:
https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/wodehouse-undistilled/article27951196.ece?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter Your blog doesn’t give your name so I very much hope that you are Saumya Balasubramanian (I would be distressed to learn that someone has pinched your good work).
Hi Honoria Plum – thank you so much. Yes, I am Saumya Balasubramanian
Wonderful news! I am so relieved (I can now go about sharing it with pleasure — and a clear conscience).
Also, thank you so much for remembering this piece, and commenting on it. I cannot tell you what a great honor I consider it 🙂