A book blog has posted an article describing Evelyn Waugh’s role in the re-establishment of the reputation of P.G. Wodehouse. Waugh’s actions are compared with previous efforts of George Bernard Shaw on behalf of Henrik Ibsen and Walker Percy who promoted the posthumous publication of A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole:
Waugh had always been outspoken about [Wodehouse’s talent]. His praise ultimately reached its zenith in 1961 with the BBC radio address-turned essay, ‘An Act of Homage and Reparation.’ It is crucial to remember that the essay, which called for a more widespread readership for Wodehouse, was not just defending the comic maestro from creeping indifference, but from slander. The BBC had, apparently, accused Wodehouse of collaborating with the Nazis some twenty years prior to Waugh’s appeal.
The first road block to Wodehouse’s reacceptance into popular readership was thus to dispel any lingering hints of Wodehouse’s guilt. MI5 had by then cleared him of such charges, though he nevertheless stayed away from England for the remainder of his life. Having taken a moment to exonerate his literary idol, Waugh launched into his cultural appraisal of Wodehouse’s work. He remarked, “Three full generations have delighted in Mr. Wodehouse. As a young man he lightened the cares of office of Mr. Asquith. I see my children convulsed with laughter over the same books. He satisfies the most sophisticated taste and the simplest.”
Waugh’s essay on Wodehouse was broadcast on the BBC Home Service on 15 July 1961 and is reprinted in his Essays, Articles and Reviews, p. 561. Although the blog goes on to suggest that Wodehouse continues to be relatively neglected, they may not realize that a project to bring all of his books back into print was recently completed. See previous post.