Literary History Gets Corrected

Back on September 12, 2015, within a post on the controversial sexual abuse charges against science-fiction writer Marion Zimmer Bradley, I mentioned that there have been other writers who have been adjudged to be disreputable, even despicable, human beings.  Among those I mentioned was the British humor writer P.G. Wodehouse, whose late years were stained by accusations that he was a Nazi collaborator because he agreed to speak on German radio broadcasts in France after being interned there when the war began.

Now, I believe I can say–and I believe I should say–that I was wrong in my perception of Wodehouse.  Robert Crumb has written a most vigorous (and utterly delightful) defense of Wodehouse to mark the occasion of the acquisition of Wodehouse’s papers by the British Museum.  It is worth your time to read it.

Crumb’s essay fills me with a sense of relief.  I did not wish to believe that the man who created Jeeves and Bertie Wooster and a whole gallery of dotty British aunts and uncles, doctors and lawyers, could have openly (or even secretly) been a Nazi.  Knowing, however, that even good human beings are capable of doing very bad things, I held in my mind the possibility that Wodehouse the man was quite different from Wodehouse the writer.  In contrast, on this side of the Atlantic, in the same time period, we had the poet Ezra Pound, imprisoned for doing broadcasts for the Fascists.  Robert Frost, among others, was instrumental in getting the broken down Pound set free, which was a fine humanitarian thing to do, but at least in Pound’s case, his genuine fascism was apparent in his writings:  “Real education must be limited to men who insist on knowing,” Pound wrote in his journals.  “The rest is mere sheepherding.”  That proposition may be true in some strict sense, but I believe there would be a lot more men (and women) who would insist on knowing if they were given the opportunity to do so.

The case of Wodehouse appeared to be more doubtful, with “evidence” pointing in both directions.  Crumb’s reading of that evidence, and his explanation of Wodehouse’s behavior, goes a long way toward correcting a sad bit of literary history, and I am grateful for the correction.



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