Wednesday, 26 March 2008

P.G.Wodehouse A Life by Robert McCrum

How ironic that the comic genius whose writings encapsulated, indeed immortalised, a particular vision of Edwardian England was fated to be exiled from his home country and to spend the last 35 years of his life abroad.

At the onset of the Second World War, Wodehouse was living in France as a tax exile. Being profoundly uninterested in world affairs and politics, he failed to realise the danger of staying where he was until it was too late. In 1940, aged 60, he was interned, first in Belgium, then in Poland, in Upper Silesia. (His comment on this was: 'If this is Upper Silesia, I dread to think what Lower Silesia is like.')

After a year he was released and persuaded by the Nazis to make a series of broadcasts - light, witty reflections on his internment and his fellow-internees - which were aimed at his American public but, of course, broadcast in England as well, where they were not well-received. He was branded a collaborationist, even a traitor, and as a result was never able to return to England where he continued to be in bad odour politically. None of this, of course, prevented his books and plays from being hugely popular both here, in America and, indeed, worldwide.
Belatedly, at age 93 he was knighted and died, aged 95, at his home in Long Island in 1975.

There are several possible interpretations of Wodehouse's motives for making the war-time broadcasts, the most feasible being that he was 'an innocent abroad'. He was a profoundly un-political person and would probably not have understood the impact that simply making broadcasts under the aeigis of the Nazis, however apparently innocuous the content, would have had in war-time Britain. All his life, Wodehouse was obsessed, and possessed, entirely by his writing and the proof of this single-minded dedication is in his vast output in the form of novels, short stories, essays and plays.

Saturday, 15 March 2008

Blue Hills, or the Romantic Myth

Sometimes hills really ARE blue. These are not remembered, they're seen every day. You can even make a long journey to actually visit them. So, where does that leave memory and imagination? Well, if you travel to these distant hills, they don't look blue and there is nothing romantic about them. They are grey and rocky, covered in sheep and heather. But you can climb them, pant and sweat to the top-most cairn, stand and take in the panoramic view, echelons of hills and ranges stretching away endlessly to the west. Or turn to the east, and look back across the Firth to where you've come from, the blue and misty Lakeland fells standing sentinel on the horizon, mysterious and unattainable......

Thursday, 13 March 2008

The Primrose Path

Despite the recent storms and gales, I found primroses in bloom in Flimby woods today. That's early, for Cumbria. In my Cornish homeland, of course, they'll have been out in profusion for weeks now. These Northern plants are less prolific, more reticent, discreetly hiding beside the deepest, darkest paths, seen only by deer and rabbits - and by those who go searching for them. These sparse, hidden clumps are the modest evokers of all the springs I remember, primroses shining out from dark hollows, lining the edges of fields, carpeting the banks of streams. In the North, one learns to value such small living tokens of one's past.