Peter Davison: Correspondence Between Orwell and P. G. Wodehouse

This editorial note is taken from The Complete Works of George Orwell, Volume 17: I Belong to the Left (1945), edited by Peter Davison and reproduced by his kind permission.

Among Orwell’s papers were two letters P. G. Wodehouse wrote to him, on 25 July and 1 August 1945, from his flat at 78 Ave Paul Doumer, Paris XVI. He thanked Orwell very warmly for writing about him in the way he had in ‘In Defence of P. G. Wodehouse’.

In the first of these letters he wrote: ‘I don’t think I have ever read a better bit of criticism. You were absolutely right in everything you said about my work. It was uncanny.’

In the second letter, he said: ‘I want to thank you again for that article. It was extraordinarily kind of you to write like that when you did not know me, and I shall never forget it…. I have been re-reading the article a number of times and am more than ever struck by the excellence of its criticism. It was a masterly bit of work and I agree with every word of it.’

Orwell had evidently taken the Wodehouses for a meal in a restaurant near Les Halles when he was in Paris for The Observer. He had, presumably, wished to follow up the writing of his article with a small, direct, gesture of kindness. The Wodehouses had not been to a restaurant since, but P. G. Wodehouse was anxious to reciprocate if Orwell returned to Paris, for he felt he owed him ‘a Grade A lunch.’

It seems that Orwell replied to Wodehouse’s letter of 25 July and told Wodehouse of Eileen’s death, for in his letter of 1 August Wodehouse wrote with warm sympathy of Orwell’s loss: ‘I am afraid there is nothing much one can say at a time like this that will be any good, but my wife and I are feeling for you with all our hearts, the more so as a year ago we lost our daughter and so can understand what it must be for you.’

In a letter to his friend William Townend, of 29 April 1945, he said that Orwell’s ‘criticism of my stuff was masterly’ and he praised Orwell for writing such an article ‘at a time when it was taking a very unpopular view. He really is a good chap.’ This seems to indicate that Orwell had sent Wodehouse an advance copy of his article, in typescript or proof. After Orwell’s death, Wodehouse wrote to Denis Mackail (biographer of J. M. Barrie) on 11 August 1951 in rather different terms. He described the essay as ‘practically one long roast of your correspondent. Don’t you hate the way these critics falsify the facts in order to make a point?’ His complaint was directed particularly at what Orwell had described as Wodehouse’s out-of-touchness. This, Wodehouse claimed, was caused by his living in America where he couldn’t write American stories and ‘the only English characters the American public would read about were exaggerated dudes.’ These two letters were published in a special feature ‘Yours, Plum,’ Sunday Telegraph Review, 19 August 1990.