Speaker – David Leal, Nuffield College, Oxford
P.G. Wodehouse was England’s greatest comic writer. His new memorial at Westminster Abbey celebrates his achievements as “Humorist, Novelist, Playwright, Lyricist.” He continues to be widely read and written about. Wodehouse is best known for creating sunny fictional worlds into which we can escape, yet he found himself embroiled in a dark real-world controversy for making five radio broadcasts from Berlin, at the behest of the Nazi government, in 1941. Friends such as George Orwell commented at the time that he was politically ignorant and unaware of the implications of his actions. Others in Britain called for his execution as a traitor. But what were the facts? Could he be accused of anything more damning than gross naïveté? What did Wodehouse actually know about politics, and what does that knowledge, or lack thereof, mean for his legacy?
David Leal is Professor of Government and an Associate Member of Nuffield College, Oxford. His research interests include Latino politics, religion and politics, and immigration policy as well as Sherlock Holmes and Arthur Conan Doyle. His works include over forty journal articles, including a recent one in the Baker Street Journal. He is the co-editor of the Oxford Handbook of Racial and Ethnic Politics in the United States (in progress) and Migration in an Era of Restriction and Recession (2016). In the Government Department, he teaches a course on British government and politics.
- Wm. Roger LouisDirector of British Studies Lecture Series
Well, this is a great way to begin the semester and this is a rather special
week because there were two major articles
in the tailless this week about Woodhouse.
So this is really unusual.
It’s what should I say other than Sam Baker is going to introduce our speaker?
Well, I’m delighted honored to introduce David Lee out. I’m going to,
you know, expressively read his short bio in the not expressively read
his is twenty three page CV, but instead, I’d just say a few
warm words about his presence in the British
studies community. David is a professor of government I hear at UTI and an associate
member of Nuffield College at Oxford and a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution
at Stanford. His primary academic interest is Latino politics, and
his work explores the political implications of demographic change in the United States.
He teaches classes, Latino politics, immigration, politics, politics, religion,
the U.S. Congress. And most recently, as we’ve been hearing about British politics, it’s become a
an area for his teaching, which we’ve been really excited about. He’s been a
Fulbright distinguished lecturer in Japan, was named a distinguished alumni scholar by Stanford
and was recently elected to a three year term on the Council of American Political Science Association.
He was an undergraduate Stanford and a pastry at Harvard. In addition
to his book, The Nine Volumes he’s edited and the dozens of articles
in the local science or the social science journals that he’s published and his work.
Grant funded collaborative research with the Carnegie Corporation. The National
Academy of Education is also the proud author of three articles
in the Baker Street Journal published by the Baker Street Irregulars. The American Sherlock Holmes
Society has included members such as Franklin Roosevelt and Isaac Asimov. I think of
him as a member of the English department irregulars across campus.
The people who know we actually I count on to keep it real for us about
that, the pleasures. And as I think we’ll hear about today, also the perils
of literature in the round. And
you know, who remind us of their tremendous resource
for a scholarship, that the ongoing curation of knowledge
about beloved figures like Arthur CONAN Doyle or P.G. Wodehouse
provides for us, then know more broadly as really,
you know, one of our key in-house political scientists here, British studies. David’s been
a rock of sanity for us in the he’s had a troubled
political times. Yeah, he has. You know, you all well know him, for
that matter of fact, calmly intellectual men that he brings, that is of
really the furthest thing imaginable from the character of any word has, you know, any avoid
houses, you know, familiar cast. So it’s this sort of a funny
when you when you talk about Sherlock Holmes, you know, I see you as like a you know, a forensic,
you know, thinker and investigator after your own fashion. But you’re here. It’s you know,
it’s a bit of an opposites attract kind of thing. I feel like. But we’re just
always so delighted to to hear from you on your politics
or in literature and especially on politics and literature. David Layal.
All right. Well, thank you very much. Just to be a Woodhouse in character, maybe
I’ll try to sing later today. I’ve actually got a place here where I may try to put some lyrics into this.
So we all know that PDG Woodhouse was a political. He knew nothing about politics.
He had no partisan allegiances. He held no opinions on the issues of the day. We research
his books in vain for political lessons. He escaped from such unpleasantness into his literary worlds,
where the shenanigans of politicians and parties rarely intrude. This is the conventional wisdom.
And most readers would not have it any other way. Politics means the real world, which Woodhouse readers
are glad to avoid. In this talk, I’ll reconsider this perspective in light of Woodhouse,
his fictional references to the politics and political parties of his day. The meaning of these mentions
is not always clear, as the political context of Victorian and Edwardian Britain have receded into
the mists of time. And my sense is that Woodhouse readers glide right over these political
references as our focus is on the clever language, historic settings and unique
characters. But as a political scientist reading his work, I could not help but notice
political knowledge casually but regularly interspersed. It’s easy to miss
because we are charmed by the deceptive ease of his writing and the seemingly effortless humor on every
page. He’s now recognised as England’s greatest comic writer, and his new memorial
at Westminster Abbey reads Humorist, novelist,
playwright, lyricist, not pundit. But this does not mean that Woodhouse
was unaware of politics or that it played no role in his stories.
Here are a couple quotes that I think represent the conventional wisdom about Woodhouse. The first is with Jeeves
and Worcester. What do ties matter, Jeeves? At a time like this, there is no time served
at which ties do not matter. Teams in the impending doom. And while this is undoubtedly
true, it does suggest an avoidance of the weighty issues of the day. Woodhouse was also a
famous lyricist. And here are some lyrics. I don’t know how to put this to song, so I won’t. But it was put
all your troubles in a great big box and lock it up with a great big key. And I think this suggests
that Woodhouse sought to flee from reality and not try to address it head on. But
even if politics is president, his writing did Woodhouse express any opinions while we read his
work in vain for any overt endorsement of parties, politicians or ideologies? A
curious pattern does emerge. As I will discuss. Woodhouse gratuitously criticizes
one side of the political spectrum in several books and short stories across multiple decades.
This may not quite constitute a sustained political attack, but for a writer with no reputation for
an interest in politics, it is remarkable. More specifically, he appears to have something
against the conservatives and unionists. While he rarely discusses them in any depth
at any length, one important fact is that these references are rarely essential to his plots. As
a._p Murphy suggested any names, events and places and Woodhouse stories that are superfluous
out of place or just don’t sound right are probably drawn from his real life.
These partisan references may therefore represent Woodhouse his own views to the degree he had any.
Why does any of this matter? Because Woodhouse made one major mistake in his life a series of five
radio broadcasts from Berlin in 1941. As I will discuss, it created a storm of
controversy in Britain. He was denounced by some as a traitor, and his friends could only respond
that he was stupid and naive. After the war, he moved to a more forgiving America
and never returned to Britain. In order to defend Woodhouse, people like George Orwell claimed
he was politically ignorant. The question of his political awareness and knowledge is therefore intertwined
with the issue of his culpability for broadcasting on enemy radio. I do not believe this should be
so. I think we can recover a Woodhouse who knew something about politics while at the same time
not leaving him open to charges of acting as a comedy version of Lord haha. We need
not pretend that politics never appears in his work when it clearly does. My argument is
that Woodhouse did know quite a bit about politics, but it was a knowledge unwillingly obtained
to explain how I will adapt a term for media studies the inadvertent audience. This was developed
to describe Americans who watch TV news in the broadcast era, not because they wanted to, but because
nothing else was on in the evening timeslots. They learned about politics, although they did not
want to. In a related way, Woodhouse learned about politics because his first newspaper job
required it. He wrote a column in the early Nineteen Hundreds for the Globe, a paper that supported
the Conservatives, and he was required to read the daily papers in order to find ammunition to humorously
criticize the Liberal Party and its politicians.
Here’s The Globe. My theory is that this job forced him to learn about late
Victorian and Edwardian politics, and this knowledge eventually found its way into his stories,
just as so many things did from his real life. However, he almost certainly disliked writing
partisan dribble and he got a light hearted revenge by criticizing in his subsequent fiction, the conservatives
and unionists he had previously been forced to support. He also neglected to update his stock
of political information. After leaving the paper, his references are almost exclusively
in the Edwardian late Victorian era. And this suggests a lack of interest, combined with a newfound
lack of necessity for learning anything about politics. After the 1910s.
So this talk will therefore examine the political references in his fiction. One caveat is that Woodhouse
wrote almost 100 books and short story collections, and I’ve maybe read a third of them.
Maybe so. These findings in my paper reflect my own quirky reading as well as some
searching online through his out of copyright texts. But it does cover much of what is generally considered
to be his most popular works. Blandings Castle. Uncle Fred You cringe.
Mike Smith The Drones Club Stories and of course, Jeeves and Wooster. In
addition, I’ll only discuss his fiction. He wrote quite a bit for newspapers, some of it unsigned.
And there is a Woodhouse reclamation project that is uncovering this unsigned work. But this is
nonfiction and would have been written under the eye of an editor, so I’m not sure how much we can
say it represents his own knowledge and interests. By contrast, his fiction is
clearly his own. So any political characters and plot elements best represent the state of his knowledge
and views. Who was Woodhouse? Pelham Grenville Woodhouse was
a member of a prominent English family led by the Earls of Kimberley. His father, Henry, was a
colonial magistrate in Hong Kong who received the CMG and his mother, ELEANOR Dean,
was the daughter of a minister. Many of these highly respectable wood houses and Dean served Britain and
its empire as members of Parliament. Generals and admirals. Members of the clergy and colonial
officials at Woodhouse Ancestor fought at the Battle of Agincourt, and a more contemporary
relative was Assistant Commissioner of the London Metropolitan Police Force and a cousin.
The second Earl of Kimberley was the first Labor member of the House of Lords. Plum, as
he was known to his family, was born in Hong Kong, but sent at a very young age to live with relatives in
England. A common practice among colonial families because of health worries. He spent
years living with aunts and uncles and what we might call a lower middle upper class
life with social status, but maybe somewhat less ready cash than they might have wanted.
With these older relatives, he called on prominent persons in their country houses as a boy. But he
preferred to spend time visiting the servants below the stairs. He spent six idealic
years at the English mid-tier public school Dulwich College, whose tie I am wearing.
Other famous Delage old boys include Raymond Chandler, who gave us the hard boiled detective Philip Marlowe,
and Nigel farraj, who gave us Brexit.
Plum was editor of a school paper. He was an excellent cricket bowler. He played rugby
and he began writing stories for magazines with a public schoolboy readership.
Here is one of them, Chums magazine. Here we can see public school students,
sports equipment, some kind of British naval officers fighting, maybe some kind of
a pirate. The British and English flags waving. It’s like the cover of Brexit Quarterly
magazine. He was planning to join his older brother at Oxford with a family
crisis struck. As a retired colonial official, his father’s pension was paid in rupees.
With plum on the threshold of Oriel College, a currency devaluation left his family in temporarily
straitened circumstances. His father could not afford to send two sons to Oxford.
So he pulled strings and found him a position as a clerk in a bank, which is now called HSBC
for the young Woodhouse. The bottom had fallen out of his world rather than living in I’dlike life, playing cricket
and writing at Oxford. He found himself a clerk in a dreary city bank with the dreaded prospect
of being sent to a colonial branch in three years. If you want to understand his distress, you could read
his thinly veiled autobiographical account in Smith in the city. And this is Smith and Mike,
a continuation of characters from his schoolboy stories. And they’re working at a bank in the city, just
like Woodhouse had to do. And he characterizes them and all the other clerks. It’s not a very happy
sort of pro banking story. In order to in order to leave the bank
before the inevitable overseas posting, he began to write and maybe almost literally every spare
minute available. His roommates and friends would later recall that after dinner he would go straight to
the bathroom, close the door and write. His goal was to earn enough
from writing so that he could quit the bank before being sent abroad. His big break
came when a former Delage master offered him a temporary job on the. By the way, column of the Globe,
which after some mergers became today’s Evening Standard. He took this risk, quit the bank and
never looked back. If you want to know what he thought during this period, you could read his thinly veiled autobiographical
account of a young man who works for a newspaper and a column in Not George Washington.
That’s a cleric rollerskating, by the way. The scene in his story,
he would eventually work full time for the newspaper and become a prolific and increasingly successful fiction writer.
It’s highly likely that he learned about politics then, as Murphy noted, that his column, quote, normally
began with some satirical comment on speeches made by liberal politicians.
Woodhouse began to visit America live there through World War One, began writing lyrics
for musicals on both sides of the Atlantic, spent time as a Hollywood script writer and
began living in France for tax reasons. He was there when the Germans invaded in 1940.
He delayed returning to England, ostensibly because he did not want his dogs to go through quarantine,
but more likely because he misunderstood and missed and underestimated the danger. He
was captured and interned as an enemy alien after the war. He moved to America
and never returned to England for reasons I will explain shortly. Woodhouse love
dogs. Dogs appear wild with cats to a much lesser degree and many of his stories. This
is a picture of him with some of his dogs and this is another picture of him with his peak.
He love peaks. They appear in many short stories and novels, and he actually founded
an animal shelter on Long Island that still exists as a result of these voluntary
and involuntary travels. The Edwardian era was frozen in amber in his memory.
He was too young to fully experience the Victorian era, and he was not present in England for much
of any subsequent era. For him, the only England he personally knew and experienced
was the country house said of the lady teen hundreds as a boy, and London of the early nineteen, hundreds
as a young man. Even with living in Long Island in the 1970s, his mind was
in the Edwardian era. Much of this world was lost after the Great War,
and any Oxford visitor will notice the many college memorials to students and old boys lost in the conflict.
Here’s one from Christchurch. This is just one small part of a very large set of monuments there
to the lost students and to some degree, the faculty
of Christchurch. Now, the names here include in just this one picture here we have one URL, one baronet
to honorables and a grandson of William Gladstone. By the 1920s,
however, Woodhouse was only intermittently in England and he last set foot there in 1939,
the same year he received an honorary degree from Oxford. Because of this absence,
we have almost 100 novels and short story collections that capture this era as no boring history
book ever could. As subsequent research has shown, Woodhouse wrote about
what he knew and almost all of his locations and characters were taken from his real life
experiences. Names of people, places and institutions appear like the Ghosts
of England past the Gaiety Theater, Wonderland Boxing Hall, Romano’s Restaurant,
Socialist’s Agitators, impatient bookies, the Bachelors Club, the Piccadilly Palace
Hotel and many others known only to social historians and Woodhouse fans.
anti-Roe would Jeeves and Wooster stories for decades.
And he’s also known for many other series, too, although I think they’re less well known than Jeeves and Wooster. So, for example, we have
the the multiple volumes of Blandings Castle. We have the golf stories
of the old dismembered. We have the tall tales of Molinar.
We have Uncle Fred, the happy troublemaker. And we have the story, is
it started at all? Mike Smith The School Boys School tales that were basically
again autobiographical from Woodhouse, his own time at Delage. By the time World War 2 began,
Woodhouse was famous in the US and the UK for his humorous fiction and musical lyrics.
At one point five Broadway plays were running where he wrote all or some of the lyrics.
We can see some more of his stories. We can see some of his his well,
his fame through looking at some of this. So we see him with Cole Porter here in anything goes. As the lyricist,
we see him with George and IRA Gershwin in OK, and we see him with his famous
partners, Bolton and Current in. Oh, boy. He was
so financially successful that he engaged in a series of federal court battles with the IRS on the taxing
of his double taxing of his transatlantic income, going all the way to the Supreme Court, which
helped to shape subsequent tax law and policy. And there is a whole book about this. You simply hit them
with an ax, which is a quote from a Woodhouse letter about how he dealt with the IRS, sending his lawyers to
deal with the extraordinary true story of the tax turmoils of p.g Woodhouse.
One author argued that the show’s written by Guy Bolton, Biji Woodhouse and Jerome Kern
were, quote, the first real steps toward a truly American theater, even if two of them were British.
One writer pointed out that if Plum had died in 1920, he would have been known as a lyricist who was crucial to the development
of the Great American Songbook, but not as an author. The success of Oh Lady
Lady in 1918 at the Princess Theater in New York inspired a critic from The New York
Times to Anonymous quite the following ditty adapted from a baseball song, which I will somewhat attempt to put a song
here. So please forgive me for this, but I think you just can’t read it. So in short, so it goes.
Oh. The alien
invasion has started. Well, I don’t know what we can do about that. So.
Well, I’ll sing anyway. So in the meantime, well, the musical accompaniment to this technology in a fix.
So this is the trio of musical fame, Bolton and Woodhouse and Kern,
better than anyone else you can name. Bolton and Woodhouse and Kern. Nobody
knows what on earth they’ve been bitten by. All I can say is, I mean to get litten by
orchestra seats for the next one that’s written by Bolton and Woodhouse and Kern.
So not the sort of thing New York Times theater critics typically write as part of their
excellence. But I think this goes to show you his place in musical theater and how enthusiastic and
popular his plays were. Where we see it not just because he was a brilliant lyricist, but also
just the way that they were changing all of musical theater from rather kind of boring and stereotype kind of plots that
didn’t make any sense at all to all the sudden things that you might actually go would want to listen to
and experience. And that actually made sense as stories today. The key
fact about Woodhouse is that his writing has stood the test of time. And Wilson, the critic and writer,
provocatively contrasted Woodhouse to all other 20th century writers.
It’s worth quoting him in full, especially as we are at the HRC, which is very interested, after
all, in 20th century English writers. So Wilson’s quote is that popular English fiction
of the 20th century did not have much of a shelf life. Priestley third goal of dipping Sayer’s.
It’s hard to think of anyone reading them now except for curiosity value. Bring the list up
to date with John Foul’s or Kingsley Amos and you’ll see the same thing happening there, crumbling
before your eyes. Like Exuma Bones exposed to Ultraviolet not-so
P.G. Wodehouse, who is now bought and read more than ever. Something we might discuss later.
And Woodhouse is indeed read across the globe by millions. His books are in print. New biographies are
written about him when just came out last year. Woodhouse, he is exist in many nations
and his estate recently authorized new pastie stories that were well-reviewed and probably
found under many Christmas trees last month. Sounds like the HRC might want to expand
its Woodhouse collection, which from what I can tell online currently consists of two boxes of material.
What else is life almost came crashing down during World War 2. Not because of his interment by the Germans,
of which a TV series was banned by the BBC but by his talks on German
radio. He made five broadcasts from June to August of 1941.
He thought the audience would be America, which had not yet entered the war, but they would be heard
in Britain and caused outrage. Woodhouse intended his broadcasts to be lighthearted
descriptions of British internees, keeping their chin up under difficult circumstances.
But the subjects intended to be humorous like, quote, how to be an internee without previous training.
But it created a storm of controversy in Britain, with some accusing him of receiving early release
in a quid pro quo or otherwise acting in an unpatriotic or even treasonous manner.
Someone suspected of Nazi sympathies or anti-Semitic feelings, charges heard even today.
The public attacks on Woodhouse, which were a little over the top in retrospect, came from people ranging from
Winnie the Pooh author A.A. Milne, who Woodhouse, in a letter said that he thought was jealous of him
to the poet Sean Casey, who does come across as one of those literary types who dismiss Woodhouse
as a middle brow author. Casey wrote The harm done to England’s cause
and England’s dignity is not the poor man’s dabble in Berlin, but acceptance of him by
the childish part of the people and the academic government of Oxford dead from the
chin up as a person of any importance in English literature. So
editorials denounced him in newspapers as diverse as The Daily Telegraph and The Daily Worker.
Some friends did come to his defense, such as George Orwell, who wrote, quote, It is important to realize
that the events of 1941 do not convict Woodhouse of anything worse than stupidity.
So with friends like that. But that was the. But that was. But that was the best defense they could come up with, was
that he was ignorant or stupid or naive or all of them together.
The most damaging attack was the remarkable broadcast by the journalist William O’Connor, that
minister of information. Well, the article that William O’Connor, then Minister of Information
Duff Cooper, forced the BBC to broadcast despite the advice of BBC governors
that its claims were slanderous. Here are some excerpts I have come to tell you tonight
of the story of a rich man trying to seek his last and greatest sale, that of his own country,
of honor and decency, being pawned to the Nazis for the price of a soft bed in a luxury hotel.
Woodhouse was steadily being groomed for stardom, the most disreputable stardom in the world. The limelight
of quislings. On the last day of June this year, Doctor Gribbles was ready.
So, too, was. Woodhouse He was eager and he was willing when they offered him liberty in a country
which has killed liberty. He leapt at it. And Dr. Goebbels, taking him high into the mountains,
showed him all the kingdoms of the world and said into him, All this power, will I give you
if you worship the Führer? Pelham Woodhouse fell to his knees. Philip Ziegler
wrote that Duff Cooper was never mean or ignoble. But I guess you can judge for yourself
the best retort to this. mean-spirited hysteria and personal score settling was written
in the New York Times Book Review in the course of reviewing in nineteen forty six, his first
postwar publication, Joy in the Morning. It said There is, of course, the question of Mr. Whitehouse’s
war guilt upon mature postwar reflection. It turned out to be about equal
to the war guilt of the doctson, which were stoned by superheated patriots during World War One.
Woodhouse became an American citizen in nineteen fifty five that was belatedly knighted in nineteen seventy five
month and a half before his death. Some say it was thanks to Harold Wilson. All the weather stories credit
the Queen Mother. It had been opposed previously by two British ambassadors to the US.
This award, which is almost always described as long overdue, would be seen as an official end to
this estrangement between Britain and one of its greatest writers and cultural ambassadors.
Nevertheless, we can see it even today. Varying perspectives on this episode in The Guardian,
the paper for what remains, so to speak, of the left in Britain. In the digested read section
or digested read section, you can find a review of Sophie Radcliffe’s PDG Woodhouse The Life
and letters that consists of this illustration and a mocking parody
of Whitehouse’s writing style. On the other hand, The Guardian
also lists his 1938 book, The Code of the Worcester’s AD Under Books of
Defiance and called it A Guide to Fighting Fascism and said, quote, Forget about the author’s
wartime mistakes. The way Birdee tackles Mosley esq thug rodricks Spode
is a great lesson in sending up would be dictators.
Was Woodhouse aware of politics? George Orwell was fairly typical when he argued for, quote,
Woodhouse is complete lack so far as one can judge from his printed works of political awareness.
This was written to defend Woodhouse in the context of the radio broadcast criticism. I think fans
of Woodhouse have adopted this view because it conveniently sidesteps any potential culpability
for what The Times of London would ultimately call an indiscretion. And it is consistent with a
key reason that people read Woodhouse to escape from the real world. Nevertheless,
his formative work in journalism undoubtedly familiarized him with the political figures, parties
and controversies of the time. As Murphy noted, the by the way column often included
humorous political commentary and the globe as a paper with definite partisan views. If
Woodhouse learned about politics and occasionally incorporated it into his subsequent stories, we should
not be surprised. Well, these are all stories set in the UK. Woodhouse also showed
an awareness of American politics, particularly the urban political machines of New York City in the early nineteen
hundreds. He even wrote what might be called a crusading anti-corruption novel Smith Journalist.
This is a picture of the audio book by Jonathan Seselj. If you haven’t listened to Jonathan Sessoms audio books, then
you haven’t lived. So in the following paragraphs, I’ll discuss some of the more prominent
political content of his stories. Because this review is based on my own reading and some online
searching. I probably missed a few things. So we’ll leave it to Smith 1923.
The members of the senior conservative club are described as looking like they had, quote, dropped in after
conferring with the prime minister at Downing Street. As to the prospects that the coming by election in
the little wobbly division. So this could not have been written by someone who was completely clueless about politics.
The short story, The Long ARM of Looney Coote 1923 revolves around a parliamentary campaign
and it shows knowledge of canvasing political meetings and parliamentary voting. It even features
a Kenyan journalist, clearly autobiographical, who is interested in earning money by writing a story
about political campaigns for the newspaper column. Interesting bits. This is a thinly disguised tidbits.
The mass circulation magazine that published Woodhouse its first humorous short story. Men who have missed their
own weddings in pigs have wings. 1952. We read of,
quote, an earnest young man with political ambitions given to reading white papers and studying
social conditions. So as you know, a white paper is a government document that discusses possible future legislation,
not the sort of thing a politically ignorant writer would just slip into a character description
in The Gem Collector 1989. We read of the main character’s uncle John, who has a career realistically
portrayed as, quote, proceeding from strength to strength. Now head partner next chairman
of the company into which the business had been converted. And finally, a member of parliament silent as
a wax figure, but a great comfort to the party by virtue of liberal contributions to its funds.
And leave it to Smith 1923. We see in the senior conservative club, quote, little groups of serious
thinkers who are discussing what Gladstone had said in 78. This is a remarkably Inforum
political allusion, a reference to the start of the Midlothian campaign in a set of speeches that historians see
as constituting the first modern political campaign. It led to Gladstone’s liberals defeating Disraeli’s
conservatives in the 1880 election and therefore to his second premiership. We might
also recall Woodhouse parodies of the pre-war invasion literature. This lucrative and alarmist genre
designed, depending on your perspective, to warn England about German aggression or to stir
up anti-German feeling. His books The Swoop 19 0 9 and the Adjusted
Version for America The Military Invasion of America 1915 are underrated and not very
well known stories, but they nevertheless took some courage to write in those pre-war times.
His most famous venture into politics was his mocking of a thinly disguised Oswald Mosley to
the character of Roderick Spode to the Worcester’s 1938. We learned this vote
as an amateur dictator who leads a group called These Saviors of Britain, known as the Black Shorts,
because all the shirt colors had been taken by other groups.
Here is his portrayal by John Turner in the TV series Jeeves and Wooster.
He’s actually wearing shorts, though. The most political speech in all of Woodhouse is writing is the following,
which was given by Bertie Wooster when he was fed up with Spode. It is about time I proceeded
that some public spirited person came along and told you where you got off. The trouble with
you, Spode, is that just because you have succeeded in inducing a handful of halfwits to disfigured
the London scene by going about in black shorts, you think you are someone, you hear them shouting
HILES Spode. You imagine it is the voice of the people. That is where you make your Blumer
with the voice of the people is saying is look at that frightful ASBOs swinging about in foot or bags.
Did you ever in your Pepsis such a perfect perisher? Because this episode is so unusually political
for the Woodhouse canon. I think readers see it as sort of an exception that proves the rule.
But when taken together with the wide variety of other political and partisan references in his stories, some
of which I just mentioned, I see it as representing a little bit of continuity rather than being a complete break
in. The Spode character also makes it difficult to argue that Woodhouse baby somehow had fascist sympathies
that found expression through his Berlin radio broadcast in his 1958 short
story of the fat of the land, an uncle of a drones club members discussing his potential estrangement
to a woman from Pittsburgh. Their relationship had encountered a bump in the road, but the uncle looks forward
to the day when, quote, our talks would be resumed. And would politicians call an atmosphere of the utmost cordiality?
That phrase was new to me, but it sounded like it might be political. So after some Googling, I revealed that it was from international
diplomacy and therefore appropriately used by Woodhouse. In this context, it appears
to be an old fashioned construction with most usages from the early to mid 20th century.
What else also makes his highly sympathetic and much loved character, Rupert Smith, a socialist for no
clear reason from his school days to his young adulthood? Smith That’s Pete Smith. The
P is silent claims to be a socialist, not just to his best friends, but also to a series of very
consequential people ranging from a hostile bank boss who already wants to fire him to a woman who hopes
to marry. He does so with humor and perhaps not much understanding of socialism. But these views are a sustained
character trait across four novels published from 1989 to 1923
at a time of Ramaa, communist revolutions abroad and socialist agitation at home. This is a remarkable yet
in many ways superfluous introduction of politics into his comedy. There are also a few additional references
to socialism that you can find once you start looking in the intrusions of Jimmy 1910.
We read quote, We read that quote, A burglar is only a practical socialist. People talk a lot
about the redistribution of wealth. The burger goes out and does it. Socialism
also makes an appearance in other stories and something fresh. 1915, it appears in the context of
discussing how juries are biased in favor of plaintiffs in breach of promise cases because of, quote, all
this socialism rampant in the Molinar story. Archibold In the masses
we read of the temporary socialism of a nephew, Archibold Berliner. He is converted by his vallet,
who is a member of a socialist groups and hopes to hasten the revolution and bring about massacres and all that.
But socialism makes Archibold Bolander gloomy and he has trouble enjoying a party because,
quote, I don’t think a chap ought to be dancing at a time when the fundamental distribution of whatever it
is is so dashed. What do you call it? The nephew
also mentions that Stalin, James Maxton and Sidney Webb, three prominent figures of the times,
wouldn’t dance either. The nephew then tries to visit the quote unquote, martyred proletariat
in the East End to give bread to what he thinks is a needy child. But the child wants candy
and throws it back at him and, quote, strikes a vicious blow in the nape of his neck. After other misunderstandings,
Archibold loses his love of the masses and socialism. It even comes up
in descriptions of gardening in a damsel in distress, 1919. We hear that, quote, the
hatred which some of his order feel for socialists and demagogs Lord Marsh Morton
kept for rose slugs, rose beetles and the small yellowish white insect which is
so depraved and sinister a character that it goes through life with an alias being sometimes called
a rose hopper and sometimes a thrips. And lastly, we should see the
many ways in which the British Empire plays a role in his stories. These references seem so natural
and the awardee in context that we pay them little attention. Yet they certainly come under the heading of politics
and government. To take just one example, the opening line of the short story you cringe around the
nasty corner. 1924 describes a former colonial governor, the late
Sir Rupert Lakenheath case. CMG CB MVNO was one of those men
at whom their country’s point with pride. So this shows an understanding of the honor system
and specifically the types of awards a colonial governor might receive. There are many, many references
to Empire all throughout these stories and T. P. Murphy observed that quote, Empire builders occur
frequently in Woodhouse because they were part of his world in which he grew up. He was born
into an imperial. Only seven of Woodhouse, his immediate family, were colonial civil servants,
his father, his brother and five uncles, as were innumerable cousins. These included everyone from
a governor of Bombay to the last British resident commissioner in the kingdom of Hawaii.
His knowledge of empire may therefore have derived from his family background rather than an active interest
in current events. Again, we might see this as a knowledge he absorbed rather than the knowledge that he
sought. What about political parties during the years
when Woodhouse lived in England? The state of party politics was in some flux. One party was long
standing the Conservatives or Tories. Another had taken shape by the mid 19th century. The Liberals
and a third was emerging in the late 19th and early 20th centuries Labor. In addition,
a party alliance developed in the late 19th century. That was not technically a party, but was treated in everyday
commentary as when the unionists.
The unions came about because of Britain’s troubled relationship with Ireland, Woodhouse mentions them
numerous times and they represent a partisan alliance between the Liberal Unionist Party
and the Conservative Party. The Liberal Union has consisted of a group of Liberal Party politicians,
largely Whig aristocrats, but also some radicals who broke away over the issue of Irish home rule,
which they strongly opposed. They did not necessarily agree with the conservatives on other issues,
and many continued to share the policy views of their erstwhile colleagues in the Liberal Party.
The Conservatives and the Liberal Unionist Party ultimately merged in 1912 to form what is still officially
called the Conservative and Unionist Party, currently led by Boris Johnson. Before
the merger. This alliance was just commonly referred to as the Unionists. A well-known
liberal unionist was Arthur CONAN Doyle. I had to get him in somehow. He ran
twice for parliament under their banner because of the Irish home rule question. CONAN Doyle wrote in
his memories and adventures that, quote, I was what was called a liberal unionist. That is
a man whose general position was liberal but who could not see his way to supporting Gladstone’s Irish
policy. Perhaps we were wrong. However, that was my view at the time. According
to Ferris, candidates came to be identified in the press as unionists alone in many
modern sources simply conflate the liberal unionists and conservatives when it comes to electoral statistics.
He also noted. So when Woodhouse uses the term unionist, he is therefore using
a standard but somewhat vague journalistic term of the day, which undoubtedly followed
from his work on a newspaper. We meet multiple unionist and conservative political
candidates and figures and Woodhouse stories, and almost all, with one exception that I can find, are
thoroughly unpleasant people. They could have been identified by Woodhouse as members of any
political party or no political party. So these attributions are notable and potentially meaningful
in Smith in the city in 1910. We meet an altogether unsympathetic character who is a unionist candidate
for parliament. Smith denounces him and as a Bahji of the most pronounced type. Well,
Mr. Waller more discreetly describes Mr. Bega’s [INAUDIBLE] as not popular in the office,
a little inclined, perhaps, to be hard on the stakes. We also learned that Mr. Bickers died, previously
ran for office as a liberal and effort, which he hopes is long forgotten. But Smith discovers it,
and when Mike Smith read his prior speeches, they say that he lets himself go a bit and
is simply cursing the government and calls the royal family bloodsuckers. Now that
Mr. Bickers [INAUDIBLE] has moved up at the world, he has thrown overboard. His youthful idealism is running as a unionist
and a nativist and a jingoist to boot. He says some nasty things about free trade and the alien
immigrant, and because liberalism was closely associated with free trade, is therefore more likely
conservative than a liberal unionist. Benny Green calls because Dich not just a Tory,
but a Tory apostate Tory apostate who has arrived at his position through worldly advancement
and abandon his youthful ideas. Now, I do think this may be a trifle harsh as the hero. Smith does acknowledge
that a person with more taxable income may be forgiven for supporting the party that promises
to soften the bite. It is called voting for your interests, something the working class at that time was
trying hard to be allowed to do. Incidentally, Mr. Bickers [INAUDIBLE] has the distinction of being the great
great grandfather of former conservative Prime Minister David Cameron, the man who gained our eternal thanks
for calling the Brexit referendum in the madam, usually online annotations of the Woodhouse
canon. We read that quote because [INAUDIBLE] must be modeled on Sir Ewen Cameron, manager
of the London branch of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. When Woodhouse worked there, Murphy adds
that u._n.’s great great grandson is also a senior conservative. He is David Cameron, MP
in Summer Lightning nineteen twenty nine, Sir Gregory Parslow. Parslow is described as, quote, on the
eve of being accepted by the local Unionist committee as their accredited candidate for the forthcoming
byelection in the Bridge Fruit in Chifley Parliamentary Division of Shropshire. This is
no beloved character a who lured away the Earl of Ellsworth Pigman and
is suspected by the Earl of plotting to nobble his prized pig, the Empress of Blandings
in heavy weather 1933. Sir Gregory is still hoping to be a nominee of the Unionists for that same
by election. He feared the publication of the Honorable Galahad is scandalous reminiscences
because, quote, no one knew better than himself that unionist committees look askance at men
with Pass. He also plots with Lady Constance. Perhaps the most snobbish and mean-spirited
character of the Blandings Castle saga to steal and destroy the manuscripts,
we see an oblique reference to the parties in the long arm of Looney Coote 1923, when Stanley
Fanshawe Eucharist takes it upon himself to help old school friend Bookal Lauler in his run for Parliament.
While we do not clearly see the partisan order of battle, clues in the story show that his friend is the Liberal
Party candidate while his opponent is the conservative candidate. This campaign
also corresponds to the Real-Life parliamentary elections of 1922, in 1923
in Jeans in the Impending Doom 1926. We meet another unlikable character who must be a conservative.
The right Honorable Abe Filmer is a cabinet minister who is a guest of and Agatha at her country house.
We later learned that she is trying to induce this politician to ask Birdie to be his private secretary. An unlikely
job. But with the help of a revenge minded boy and an enraged swan, Bertie manages
to avoid the trap. The minister is described thusly by Aunt Agatha. Mr. Filmer
is a serious minded man of high character and purpose, and you are just the type of vapid and frivolous
wastrel against which he is most likely to be prejudiced. And the following exchange takes place
between and Agatha and Bertie in the first place. You will give up smoking during your visit.
Oh, I say Mr. Filmer is president of the Antitobacco League. Nor will you
drink alcoholic stimulants. Oh, dash it and you will kindly exclude from your conversation.
All that is suggestive of the bar, the billiard room, and the stage door. As the story
was published in twenty six, this rather stiff killjoy must have been a Conservative MP and member
of Stanley Baldwin’s cabinet in his second premiership. Woodhouse leader refers specifically
to the Conservative Party. He seems to have been a bit slow in acknowledging the formal Birger of the Conservatives
and the liberal unions in 1912, which I think speaks to his fundamental lack of interest in politics.
But by the 1950s, he’s caught on. Someone told him and his characters reflect the political reality
of a single conservative and unionist party. In Cocktail Time 1958,
Sir Raymond Bastable is expecting to run as a Conservative Party candidate in a by election.
Uncle Fred refers to him as a stinker and an overpowering dish pot and pompous, arrogant and far too
pleased with himself. So Uncle Fred knocks off his hat with a Brazil nut fired by a slingshot.
The outrage, Sir Raymond is at first deterred from identifying and revenging himself upon the miscreant
because he is worried that the voters will lose confidence in a man who gets his top or knocked off.
He also decides not to publish his subsequent novel of reckless youth cocktail time because, quote,
a man who is hoping for the conservative nomination at bottom, 10 East has to be cautious.
This novel also contains a variety of additional political and military references once you start looking
for them. Downing Street Talleyrand Home Guard juggernaut. They make their brief appearances
and those were just found by some quick skimming in a relatively short number of pages.
We also read what may be Woodhouse, his own view of the mother of parliaments put into the mouth of Lord.
It can him. Why do you want a political career? Have you ever been in the House of Commons and
taking a good square look at the inmates as weird a gaggle of freaks and subhumans
as was ever collected in one spot? I wouldn’t mix with them for any money you could offer me.
We see the conservatives getting it right in the neck, and one of his last novels in Much Obliged Jeeves published
in 1971 when Woodhouse was 90. The plot involves a parliamentary by election.
The conservative candidate does a drones club type Ginger Winship, who is more concerned about changing
fiancees than getting elected to parliament. When a former butler attempts to blackmail
him, Ginger tries to get the local newspaper to print the charges in order to sabotage his own campaign.
Most importantly, Woodhouse has Roderic Spode, the thinly veiled Oswald Mosley, giving speeches
on his behalf. Spode is now a member of the House of Lords and he’s clearly on the Tory bench.
This therefore tyhe is a former fascist leader to the Conservative Party. A remarkable plot point that
is easy to ignore if you’re focusing on the human relations rather than the politics.
The only positive portrayal of a conservative politician I’ve found so far is in the Whitefeather 6:41.
Sir William Bruce is not an important character, but his parliamentary campaign is the excuse for the fight that
our hero evades us. The title The Whitefeather. Sir William is described as, quote, an old right
Kinison. That’s the school he governor of the school, a man who was always watching school
matches and the donor of the Bruce Challenged Cup for the school mile in find one of the best.
But that’s it as far as looking for positive conservatives in the canon.
What about the senior conservative club? One might point out that the Earl of Ellsworth, in addition to four
other characters, was a member of the senior conservative club. This is a lightly disguised constitutional
club. Which was affiliated with the Conservative Party.
It was also one of the six London clubs to which Woodhouse belonged at some point and he was a member
of the constitutional club. Much longer than anywhere else, possibly joining in 1983 or 1984.
Does this membership suggest he had some sympathy with the Conservatives after all? To
answer this, we need to know why Woodhouse joined. He may have liked the food and anonymity, which is
consistent with the club’s description and leave it to Smith in 1923. But he may. But that was two
decades after he probably joined, and he may have initially joined for reasons more about career expediency.
As noted above, Woodhouse is first real journalism job, the job those absolutely critical to him leaving
the bank and establishing a career as a writer so we can’t underestimate how important this job was to him
was what the globe’s, by the way, call him. He started in nineteen oh two. And he may have joined the senior conservative
club the next year. Maybe Woodhouse joined the club at this time
because it was the least political way to signal an affiliation with the Conservative Party.
The newspaper, the conservative paper may not have wanted him to run for parliament as a Tory, but maybe,
possibly it might have been reassured by some indication that he was part of the conservative world.
So we might not interpret his membership and the club’s appearance in his fiction as indicative of his
political views. It may just represent a club that he joined for expediency, but came to appreciate
for its food and ambience. I do admit this may be a bit of a stretch, but I kind of like this argument.
What about the Liberal and Labor parties? In contrast to the conservatives and unionists,
there are not many characters that represent the Liberal and Labor parties in the Whitefeather 6:41,
one of the political candidates is Mr. petyr, an energetic radical, which undoubtedly means in this context,
Liberal Party candidates. But he’s not presented as positive or negative, just a just a person
in the intrusions of Jimmy 1910. We see a joking reference to a living politician.
The narrator complains how wagering has declined from these spacious days of the Regency because
of Liberal Prime Minister Asquith. The narrator continues that when Mr. Asquith is dethroned,
it is improbable that any Briton will allow his beard to remain unshaved until the Liberal Party
returns to office and leave it to Jeeves. We read of a Mr. Digby, this Wilton
maid who did so well by selling a hair growth tonic that he was, quote, shortly afterwards elevated
to the peerages for services to the Liberal Party. As a side note,
this hair growth tonic was undoubtedly as genuine a medicinal product as other tonics that appear in the Woodhouse stories
like Pipo and Buck you upo, which if you know, are probably filled with alcohol because
they send everyone from parents to curate’s into a frenzy after being consumed.
The Labor Party makes a brief appearance in love among the Chickens 1921,
when the narrator, Jeremy Garnett, encounters a small boy named Albert on the train to the UK rich chicken
farm. Albert annoys our hero by showing, quote, a skill in loga Markee
that marked him out as a future Labor member. This description is not in the earlier nineteen
the rudest boy on earth. A proud title, honestly one. This change not only reflects
what else is growing writing skill, but also shows awareness of the emergence of the Labor Party as an organized
political movement. This awareness may have had some limits. However, the lowercase L
in the story recalls an earlier time when the labor movement was coordinating with the Liberal Party
to elect candidates rather than competing as an equal against all parties.
So in conclusion, the evidence is clear. Woodhouse did have some familiarity with politics.
He included political details and many stories and always in ways that revealed accurate and even
sophisticated understandings of it. Furthermore, a few plots revolve around parliamentary elections.
One caveat is that these political references are primarily those he would have learned in his young adulthood
and since his stories mostly take place in the Edwardian world. This makes sense. While some
elements of his writing advance chronologically see the nineteen sixty five story bingo bands The Bomb.
His characters remain spiritually in the world of Jeeves and Worcester. In this way, he was
both political and apolitical. A young Woodhouse appeared to have inadvertently and in voluntarily
learned about politics as a columnist for a conservative newspaper because he was intelligent
and ambitious. He learned well when he left the Globe and wrote about London’s West End and the Country
House set. He sprinkled his political knowledge into his stories. He largely neglected
to update his stock of information and showed relatively little interest in the politics of subsequent decades,
although with one important exception the mocking of Roderick Spode and British fascism in the 99 in the
late 1930s. In addition, when Woodhouse created a disagreeable character and made him
a member of a political party, that person was almost always a conservative or unionist. In
my view, he did this not from any great partisan or ideological fervor, but maybe out of resentment
against the globe, which made him write partisan drivel in support of the Conservative Party and against the Liberal
Party. Only in early short story do we meet a good conservative. He is an incidental figure.
By contrast, the liberal and labor parties are not saddled with any Pigman steelers’ or
xenophobes. As far as aside from a very few minor mentions, these two parties are off
the hook. My conclusion is that Woodhouse was fundamentally uninterested in politics,
and in that sense his defenders such as Orwell had a point. Nevertheless, we should not go too far
in denying the knowledge that he did have, which he added to many stories in which enliven his
plots and characters. But none of this indicates that he was politically sophisticated at the time
of his internment, or that he held any political views in the 1930s beyond a general
anti-fascism Woodhouse with informed and sophisticated political views. Up until
his internment or Woodhouse with far-Right sympathies might be a different story.
After reviewing the political evidence, I see no other conclusion except that of his friends. He was only guilty
of cluelessness, poor judgment and stupidity for making those Berlin radio broadcasts.