January 08, 2013
Wodehouse and Fitzgerald – emblems of a lost age
From The Guardian:
English literature is full of likely encounters one would love to know more about. Marlowe bumping into Shakespeare, perhaps, or Oscar Wilde at dinner with Henry James. In the department of lost meetings, one near-miss that's always fascinated me is the on-off friendship between F Scott Fitzgerald and PG Wodehouse, both of whom came to prominence in America at the end of the Great War. Wodehouse shared a literary agent (Paul Reynolds) with Fitzgerald, a connection that strengthened when Wodehouse moved to Great Neck on Long Island in 1923. At that point the author of post-war bestseller The Inimitable Jeeves was riding high on Broadway. Indeed, if he had been run over by a bus in the 1920s (he was, in fact, knocked down by a car but remained miraculously unscathed), he would have been noted as much for his musical lyrics as for Bertie Wooster, or indeed for Lord Emsworth and the Empress of Blandings. Fitzgerald was out there in Great Neck, too, riding high on the success of This Side of Paradise (1920) and The Beautiful and Damned (1922), and beginning to work on his masterpiece, The Great Gatsby, a novel set in Manhattan and Long Island.
We know the two men met, but that's about it. Wodehouse writes to his daughter Leonora about seeing "Scott" on the train to the city: "I believe those stories you hear about his drinking are exaggerated," he wrote. "He [FSF] seems quite normal, and is a very nice chap indeed. You would like him. The only thing is, he does go into New York with a scrubby chin, looking perfectly foul. I suppose he gets a shave when he arrives there, but it doesn't show him at his best in Great Neck. I would like to see more of him." And there, tantalisingly, the scene fades. If they did "see more" of each other, Wodehouse does not mention it. All we know is that, towards the end of his life, Wodehouse occasionally wrote about Fitzgerald's work, in rather disparaging terms, I regret to say. Certainly, he never vouchsafed any biographical snippet to interest posterity. Too bad. Now, almost a hundred years later, the respective worlds of Wodehouse and Fitzgerald are coming back into view with the imminent launch of the BBC TV series, Blandings, and the forthcoming spring premiere of Baz Luhrmann's re-make of The Great Gatsby. Each, in different ways, represent archetypal visions of Britain and America.
Posted by Azra Raza at 09:36 AM | Permalink