The Sun (New York, NY), April 29, 1916
WODEHOUSE, AN AMERICAN HUMORIST OUT OF ENGLAND
England is minus one entertaining young humorist and America is plus the same. His name is Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, but he now terms himself an American writer despite his name and his accent. For he lives on Central Park West and drives a Studebaker car and contributes exuberant serials to the Saturday Evening Post for large sums—than all of which what can be more American?
Also he finds it easier to win appreciation for his brand of humor from the American than from the English public; and the natural inference is that his brand is American brand. Mr. Wodehouse does not try to conceal his preference for the American variety.
“American humorists,” he said the other day, sitting in his study in his Central Park West apartment, “are so above English humorists that there is no comparison. The English humorist is what you’d call genteel—with his mind continually on what his grandmother will think when she reads his work and what the clergyman will think and his aunts and the university and the public school he attended.
“Over here one doesn’t have to be so careful. The American humorist is straightforward. He isn’t afraid to take a chance. He gives himself free play and feels that his readers will respond. He isn’t self-conscious.”
“Were you self-conscious when you conducted your column on the London Globe?” the visitor asked. Mr. Wodehouse began his career with this humorous column called “By the Way.”
“Rather!” (No, he isn’t entirely Americanized yet!) “I always had to send my proofs to a sub-editor for approval—can you imagine one of the colyumists here in New York doing that? And the sub-editor would send it back deleted—this ‘not suited to Old Subscriber’; that ‘too knockabout.’ I always had to keep in mind those Old Subscribers who never wanted to laugh out loud—just chuckle. That’s why there are few rowdy English humorists.
“And England has nothing to compare with the stuff turned out by the comic supplements here—stuff like Fontaine Fox’s and Briggs’s ‘Just Boy,’ the best humorous stuff in America.”
Neither does Mr. Wodehouse believe that the present day English novel is so superios to the American novel as most of us profess to believe.
“I can’t see why that stuff is so tremendously good—that ‘realism,’ ” he said. “But for some reason one has to write it in order to be recognized in England. The beauty of writing for American readers is that they won’t stand for a man’s writing three books just to record a hero’s uneventful life up to the time he’s 30 years old. They insist on stories. Some of the stories may be bad, but the chances are that if a writer tries long enough he’ll finally write a good one. And that, to me, seems a better thing for him to do than to spend his time studying himself, writing of all the petty details of his own youth, and so on.”
No one can deny that Mr. Wodehouse writes real “stories,” the kind that’s called “a rattling good yarn.” He gets ideas from the newspapers, and his wife finds short story plots for him. Often he begins with but one incident and then hammers away until he has worked out an entire plot.
“ ‘Uneasy Money,’ my new novel,” he said, “grew out of the idea that it would be a good situation to have a chap who had been drinking hard touched on the knee by a monkey. From that one situation the plot expanded backward and forward.”
Mr. Wodehouse is one of the writers who think their work out in detail before beginning the actual writing.
“I never start writing until every detail is thought out,” he said. “When I start writing I work very steadily and quickly. I seldom do less than 2,000 words a day. On my new story I did 20,000 words last week. Sometimes of course I have to sit at the typewriter an hour or so before the ‘inspiration’ comes. I think the typewriter is a wonderful aid to writing. One can see just what one’s writing; then there’s something stimulating about it too. I even am writing the lyrics for a musical comedy on the typewriter.”
Mr. Wodehouse’s first work, besides his humorous column on the London Globe, was a series of boys’ stories written around public school life in England. Then came, when he was 28 years old, what he terms the “great crisis.” He came to the United States for a two or three weeks holiday and sold his first grownup story to Collier’s. Instead of returning to England in two or three weeks he stayed here all that year. Since that time he has spent two or three months out of each year in this country, until 1914, when he came over on the last voyage of the Kronprinzessin Cecilie. Since he is disqualified for fighting service by defective eyesight, he has spent the time over here becoming a regular American writer.
From the New York Sun, April 29, 1916.
Original at Library of Congress.
Note: Thanks to Neil Midkiff for providing the transcription for this story.