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14 Pages

Introduction to Middlebrow Wodehouse

Both outrageously prolific and astoundingly popular (Donaldson xii), P.G. Wodehouse astutely gauged twentieth-century literary markets in periodicals and books to produce what agents, publishers and the reader – or, to him, ‘paying customer’ (Mooneyham 128) – demanded. 1 He searched for and found the formula upon which to ground magazine story series and multiple novels (McCrum 91) during a period when books were becoming cheaper and more readily available and the market in periodicals was bringing fiction to a wider reading public than ever before. In an era in which high modernists were inveigled upon to make all new, Wodehouse repeatedly dramatized the 1920s over the course of six decades; during this period of immense social change, he wrote apparently uninfluenced by the historical events around him, right up until his death in February 1975. In addition he wrote comedy, which as Cyril Connolly and Laura Mooneyham have argued was an anachronistic form against the backdrop of high modernism’s seriousness. Furthermore, instead of creating new formal structures, as many writers in this period did, he used existing literary conventions, albeit parodically (Kristin Thompson). Each of these characteristics alone would mark Wodehouse as the kind of writer despised by high modernists: highbrows disdained the marketplace and writing that courted readers, placing the value of their art beyond that of rubies, and if they gauged its economic worth they detracted attention from that fact. Yet for the last century Wodehouse has been the writer whom many – including the cultural mandarins – have read for pleasure, even while his work has erroneously, the contributors to this book will argue, been dismissed by critics as ‘light’.