Recently I’ve been reading, or more accurately listening on CD, to both Anthony Trollope and P.G. Wodehouse, two of my favourite authors. Until now I’d always thought of their works as belonging to totally different genres, but it dawned on me that there are pronounced similarities.
The particular Trollope novel I was listening to was one of his last, The Way We Live Now (BBC Audiobooks 2009, read by Timothy West). It’s set in the mid 1870s. I followed this with Wodehouse’s Uncle Fred in the Springtime (BBC Audiobooks 2009, read by Jonathan Cecil), first published in 1939.
I’ve always envisaged the world of Wodehouse, Jeeves, Wooster et al, as being set in the 1920s rather than later, perhaps because the author stubbornly ignores any mention of the events in Europe during the 1930s, which led to the outbreak of war.
Wodehouse commented in an interview (reported here) that he tried not to date his novels, as he was ‘bad at remembering things’.
If we allow Uncle Fred and his adventures to have taken place in the 1920s that gives only 50 years between the two works. They are remarkably similar, particularly considering that in the intervening time the world had been changed by the First World War.
Both deal with similar subjects, there is much talk of young men and their gambling debts, characters not being able to marry those they love because of financial and social considerations, elderly or powerful relatives who must be appeased. A young man, once he has agreed to become engaged to a girl, is a cad and a bounder if he breaks it off, and there is much plotting and scheming all round.
Obviously there are also differences, Trollope’s novel runs to 26 CDs and around 100 chapters, whereas Wodehouse’s is only 6 CDs. I think most people would consider Trollope’s work as satire, whereas Wodehouse’s is comedy with only the slightest edge to it.
There are similarities in the early lives and backgrounds of the two authors.
Trollope was born in 1815 and died in 1882. He went to Harrow and Winchester, but was unhappy at both. His father was ambitious for him, and had purchased a property in the right neighbourhood so that his son could go to Harrow as a day pupil. Due to his father’s later financial troubles, the whole family moved to Belgium in 1834 and lived off his mother’s earnings writing novels.
Trollope however returned to England after a short time and joined the General Post Office in London. Here he had some trouble with debt collectors, he started out owing his tailor 12 pounds, but the debt got passed to a moneylender and became 200 pounds. This experience is common to a number of characters in his books.
In 1841 Trollope took a post with the Post Office in Ireland, married, and started writing.
Wodehouse was born in 1881 in Guildford, Kent, although his parents at the time were living in Hong Kong where his father was a judge. Named Pelham Grenville, his great-grandfather was the second son of a baronet. The family returned to England when Wodehouse was three years old. He attended various boarding schools whilst his parents spent time abroad, and spent most of his holidays with various aunts. He completed his education at Dulwich College, where he edited the school magazine and took part in school theatricals. After school he went to work for the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank. He was not much interested in banking, started writing in his spare time, and eventually left to become a journalist. In 1909 he travelled to America, where he married in 1914, and spent much of the remainder of his life overseas, dying in America in 1975.
Both authors were born into middle class families, educated at English public schools, neither particularly happily, went into middle class jobs which they didn’t particularly enjoy, started writing, and went to live overseas at around 30 years of age.
OK, I admit this is a very sketchy outline of the lives of these two men, and I have probably looked for the similarities and ignored the differences. I find it interesting though, and who knows, maybe one day the topic of deeper research. In the meantime I shall enjoy reading both of them, and try to find some of their books I haven’t already read.