Why PG Wodehouse deserves his place among the literary greats – Telegraph.co.uk

In my university days reading English, I remember weeks of wading through thousand-page 18th-century tomes in black despair. To cheer me up, my mother gave me a set of collected PG Wodehouse novels for Christmas. Each night I’d pick a story, dive in and immediately feel the gloom lift. In the morning I’d wake up with three or four books poking me in the ribs under the duvet, urging me to get up, like Jeeves with a hangover cure.

At the time they were a guilty pleasure, an escape from the real work of proper literature. Now I’m not so sure. 

For decades, Wodehouse’s closest association with the mantle of literary greatness was that he once played cricket with Arthur Conan Doyle. But this Thursday, the British Library will welcome the collected writings of Wodehouse into its 20th-century archive holdings, alongside titans such as Virginia Woolf, Harold Pinter and JG Ballard.

It’s about time, too. Wodehouse’s farcical world of aristocratic Edwardian and interwar shenanigans has been loved ever since he first created it in the 1920s. But that hasn’t stopped him being dismissed as a “performing flea” of literature, a peddler of pleasant fluff, his reputation even tarnished by a perception of him as a Hitler sympathiser thanks to his participation in German radio broadcasts while interned by the Nazis in France.

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