Wednesday, November 16, 2016

A. A. Milne vs. P. G. Wodehouse

So, I've long known about the bad feeling between A. A. Milne and P. G. Wodehouse,* stemming from Milne's accusing Wodehouse of treason for some stiff-upper-lip broadcasts PGW made about the lighter side of being in a German detention camp in the early days of World War II.** Told he'd have to face a tribunal and explain himself when he returned to England, Wodehouse went to New York instead and didn't return to England until thirty years later, when he was invited by the Queen to come and accept a knighthood.

I'd known that Wodehouse, who was famous for his sunny disposition, had let the matter pass aside from writing one short story that created a Milne analogue in order to mock his poetry.

What I had not known until tonight/yesterday is that Wodehouse took a few more digs at Milne, the best of which took the form of a joke that goes something like this:

Wodehouse was once reported to have said 
that he had started a “Try to Like A.A. Milne 
Club.” There were no takers, until one man 
joined, only to resign a week later. “Since 
joining the association,” he explained, “I have 
met Mr. Milne.”

For more details about the two men's uneasy relationship, see

For a much more detailed account of Wodehouse's wartime broadcasts, see the book WODEHOUSE AT WAR, which I think (it's been a long time since I read it) includes at least some of the actual broadcasts in the interest of letting those curious read and decide for themselves.

--John R.
current reading: WOULD I FIGHT, ed. Keith Briant & Lyall Wilkes (1938)

*author of the Winnie-the-Pooh and Bertie-and-Jeeves stories, respectively

**most people don't think creating the rough equivalent of HOGAN'S HEROES is a war crime. Milne however had a job to do at the propaganda department and wanted to make an example of Wodehouse.


Magister said...

Brief side note. Milne worked with Lord Dunsany at MI7b(ii) during WWI.

Jeff_Grubb said...

George Orwell offered a defense of Wodehouse's actions during the war, saying the Plum was a bit thick in the head and didn't realize that his broadcasts would be used by the Germans for propaganda purposes.

Also, remind me never to hire George Orwell as my lawyer.

John D. Rateliff said...

Jeff G. wrote
"George Orwell offered a defense of Wodehouse's actions"

Yes; so did Sax Rohmer and Dorothy L. Sayer.

--John R.

John D. Rateliff said...

Magister wrote
" Milne worked with Lord Dunsany at MI7b(ii) during WWI."

Yes indeed: two volumes of stories Dunsany wrote as part of his war-work were published under the titles TALES OF WAR and UNHAPPY FAR OFF-THINGS. They're probably the worst things Dunsany ever wrote and I think played a part in his decline as a writer -- though even so there's one or two good stories in there. I particularly like the story about the man who wakes up in No Man's Land and can't tell which side is his: they both look the same from out there.

Dunsany tried hard to get some kind of war-work when WW II rolled around but was too old, so he went out nightly from his house in Kent with his shotgun, hoping to shoot down a German plane as it flew home after its bombing run.

--John R

Magister said...

They were written incredibly rapidly. I have seen the original manuscripts, which have all been date-stamped by MI7B(ii); for example, in February 1918 Dunsany wrote more than 20 stories and articles. You can tell that they were written to order and not by inspiration.

Colin said...

Wodehouse's wartime broadcasts do include the unforgettable gem:

"There is a flat dullness about the countryside which has led many a visitor to say, 'If this is Upper Silesia, what must Lower Silesia be like?'".

John D. Rateliff said...

Dear Colin:

Yes, I know the quote but wasn't certain that originated from the broadcasts, so I hadn't mentioned it in my post.
Thanks for confirming that.

--John R.