WHERE THE GOOD SONGS GO – Lyrics and Poetry of P.G. Wodehouse
“On the other side of the moon,
Ever so far, beyond the last little star,
There’s a land, I know, where the good songs go”
Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, better known as P.G. Wodehouse (and ‘Plum’ to friends and family), was a literary comic genius recognized in his lifetime as a classic and now widely regarded as the greatest 20th-century writer of humor in the English language. He wrote poetry, limericks, more than ninety novels, some three hundred short stories and as a playwright & lyricist, supplied songs for Broadway and Hollywood.
It is now abundantly clear that Wodehouse is one of the funniest and most productive men who ever wrote in English. He is far from being a mere joke smith: he is an authentic craftsman, a wit and humorist of the first water, the inventor of a prose style which is a kind of comic poetry. It is all too often forgotten that Wodehouse was a famous lyricist and playwright as well as a successful author. Had he died in 1918, he would have been remembered not as a British novelist but as the first great lyricist of the American musical, thanks to his collaborations with the leading music composers of the Golden Era of Musicals; Jerome Kern, Cole Porter, George Gershwin!
For Wodehouse, the 1920’s were a period of continual movement. As soon as he settled down to write a novel or a short story, he was interrupted to plan a musical with Guy Bolton and Jerome Kern, or summoned to America to rescue a flagging show. Life was full of partings at Paddington and parties in Palm Beach, punctuated by frenzied periods of writing on the top deck of ocean liners.
“Everybody wants me to do a play” – and the demands were hard to refuse. Theatrical impresario Florenz Ziegfeld was known to send ten-page telegrams press ganging his favorite author into service. Wodehouse found himself frantically trying to keep all demands as bay – attempting to complete one novel, twenty eight short stories and a musical over the course of just a few months.
Although most of Wodehouse’s fiction is set in England, he spent much of his life in the USA and used New York and Hollywood as settings for some of his novels and short stories. While summoning the frantic atmosphere of city life, as he conjures “New York’s vast body with its hurrying mortals, released from a thousand offices, jostling newsboys’ and men popping in and out of the subway entrances like rabbits”, it is not surprising to find him drawn back, nostalgically to the stability of his Edwardian fictional world. With the publication of the short story collections MY MAN JEEVES in 1919 and THE INIMITABLE JEEVES in 1923, the 1920’s could be seen as the point at which Wodehouse’s long standing relationship with Reginald Jeeves and his negligibly intelligent employer Bertie Wooster, took a firmer shape.
In 1936 he P.G. Wodehouse was awarded the Mark Twain Prize for ‘having made an outstanding and lasting contribution to the happiness of the world’. He was made a Doctor of Letters by Oxford University in 1939 and in 1975, aged 93, he was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. He died shortly afterwards, on St Valentine’s Day.
Performance: Monday, May 7 at 20:00 hrs in MERLIN