P. G. Wodehouse on the Jews

P. G. Wodehouse on the Jews

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse (better known by his initials as P. G. Wodehouse) is one of the most famous of all English language writers. Wodehouse is considered by many to have been a master wordsmith: a man able to craft the English language in such a way as to convey the exact impression or feeling he wanted his audience to glean from reading his stories.

I must own that since I read Wodehouse’s corpus I have been a great fan of the man and his literary output (and I haven’t read a bad story of his) and as a nod to his genius I thought I would point out an under-rated element in his writing: his portrayal of the jews.

Now Wodehouse was not a politicized author by any means: he is in fact notorious for seemingly being unaffected by the extremely turbulent times in which he lived (the First and Second World Wars as well as the Bolshevik Revolution) in terms of his literary work and it is distinctly unusual when he does actually refer to the world events of his lifetime (for example his hilarious reference to Leon Trotsky in ‘Love Among the Chickens’).

In spite of this apolitical stance in his literary work Wodehouse did mention jews frequently and never in a positive way.

By way of an illustrative example: we find in Wodehouse’s collection of stories titled ‘A Man of Means’ one called ‘The Episode of the Theatrical Venture’. In this story a man named Montagu owns the worst theatre in London called the Windsor and it is referred to in terms, which leave the reader in no doubt that it is basically a glorified slum dwelling that isn’t worth anything to its owner other than its insurance money.

Wodehouse further elaborates by telling us that Montagu purchased the Windsor theatre in order to set fire to it himself, pretend it was an accident and claim the result insurance pay-out: but this scheme is foiled by the vigilance of the insurance companies involved and their investigators.

As to the rather dubious Mr. Montagu’s identity: Wodehouse makes it clear when he refers to the fact that Montagu is a former pedlar (which was a typically jewish occupation in Britain in the Victorian and Edwardian era) who is the ‘pride of his race’ (i.e. he isn’t British and is the pride of some other group).

The reference to different race of course directly suggests jewishness (as to what other race could Mr. Montagu belong in the context Wodehouse wrote other than the jews), the fact he is a former pedlar also suggests as much and the surname ‘Montagu’ confirms it (as it was a common adopted jewish surname [for an example from this era: the Marxist anthropologist Ashley Montagu’s birth name was Israel Ehrenberg]).

Other such examples of objectionable and untrustworthy jewish characters in Wodehouse’s novels and stories are Isidor (‘Izzy’) Behrman in ‘At Geisenheimer’s’. Behrman is the announcer in a seedy New York nightclub and Wodehouse styles him as being unable to feel any embarrassment about anything he says (which is a reference to the jewish cultural proclivities of schmoozing and chutzpah as well as implying that Behrman is a congenital liar).

Another is Epstein who is described as a dishonest and shady art dealer in ‘The Man Upstairs’.

A more developed instance is found in Wodehouse’s war novel ‘The Swoop’ where he introduces a character named Solly Quain: who we are told is a rising theatre agent and vaudeville entrepreneur. Quain’s pre-war business practices are questionable at best as he formerly contacted and employed notorious criminals (murderers/rapists/paedophiles etc) to go on the low-class vaudeville circuit describing their vile exploits to the paying public.

During the invasion and occupation of England Quain sees further opportunities to expand his low-brow entertainment business and make even more money by putting the commanders of the forces of occupation on the same stage and circuit. This, as Wodehouse informs us, was his betrayal of Great Britain to whatever was to his best monetary advantage (i.e. Quain is a traitor who is fully conscious as to what he is doing).

That Quain is a jew is revealed by Wodehouse when he points out that his father (formerly a major theatrical agent himself) is one Abraham Cohen, while Solly’s brothers (Abe Cohn, Benjamin Colhoun, Jack Coin and Barney Cohen) are all financiers in the city of London. Wodehouse also makes fun of Quain’s (very stereotypically jewish) tendency to gesticulate wildly and refers to him as a ‘human semaphore’.

In this we can see that Wodehouse is not only referring to jews as being objectionable and sordid, but rather as powerful materialistic foreign traitors who change their names in order to fit in and make even more money off of unsuspecting non-jews.

This can also be seen in ‘Jill the Reckless’ when the powerful theatre and musical proprietors of the piece are related to be the Kohn Brothers (with a similar individual named Mandelbaum being referred to in ‘The Making of Mac’s’) as well as in the ‘Indiscretions of Archie’ when Wodehouse refers to one of the most important and influential music magnates (with the power to make and break singers and songwriters) as being a man named Blumenthal.

Tellingly Wodehouse even uses anti-jewish humour in his ‘Not George Washington’ when he refers to writing pot-boiler articles for literary magazines as ‘raking in the shekels’.

Thus we can see that as far as Wodehouse in his novels and short stories was concerned the jews were an objectionable, shady, traitorous, money-obsessed lot who exercised an inordinate amount of influence in the city of London and had the entire British and American industry in their hands.