The sex life of PG Wodehouse
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PG Wodehouse, the author of the Jeeves and Castle Blandings stories was one of the greatest English comic writers of the last century.  Thirty years after his death over 100 of his books remain in print, for the simple reason that they are tremendously funny. 

However, his work is also extraordinary to modern readers for its lack of any smutty jokes.  Although most of his plots centre on romantic entanglements, there are no direct references to sex. 

His personal life seems to have been similarly arid in that direction.  His autobiography and correspondence make almost no mention of sex[1].  This is not just Victorian reticence - Wodehouse appears also to have been almost completely asexual.  Nevertheless his life has some interest for those interested in the range of human sexual behaviour. 

He does not appear to have been homosexual, although he had opportunities.  He lived half his life in New York, presumably a good place to meet gays then as now.   Working in the theatre world he was friendly with many openly gay men such as his collaborator, the bisexual Cole Porter.  In the 1920s he frequently stayed at Hunstanton Hall in Norfolk as the guest of the flamboyantly homosexual Charles le Strange, a distant cousin.   (Some aspects of the fictional Blandings Castle are based on features of Hunstanton Hall.)  In 1936, on his second long visit to Hollywood, he stayed in the house of Gaylord Hauser the homosexual confidante of Greta Garbo.  Nevertheless, there is no record that he ever had sex with men.  

Any repressed homosexual urges must remain pure speculation. At the impressionable age of 14 he would have read about Oscar Wilde’s sentence to two years hard labour for his homosexual activities, which must have put a dampener on any budding homosexual enthusiasms for boys of Wodehouse’s generation. 

Nor was he much of a heterosexual.  He had girlfriends in his youth but not many, and there is no evidence of sexual activity in any of these relationships.  

He married Ethel Newton in 1914, having met her on a blind date.  She had been married and widowed twice before she met Wodehouse.  Her first husband had died of mysterious tropical illness and the second committed suicide after bankruptcy.  She was Wodehouse’s complete opposite in sexual matters, highly strung, extrovert and flirtatious.  They remained together till separated by Wodehouse's death.

However, they never had children and may not have had much sex.   They had separate bedrooms from the start of the marriage, and often lived apart.  Even when they both stayed in the same hotel they typically took separate suites, often on different floors.  One possible explanation is an attack of mumps orchitis in 1901 which may have rendered Wodehouse infertile and possibly impotent, although again this is speculation.  No medical records have come to light.

Wodehouse’s most recent biographer Robert McCrum suggests that Ethel took many lovers and tells the intriguing story of the US Army captain Bobby Denby who quite openly joined their household in 1921.   McCrum suggests that Wodehouse may have tolerated a fairly open affair between Ethel and Bobby.    

If this is true, I salute him.  It shows Wodehouse at his best.  Ethel was a good wife to him in all other ways and he was a good husband.  If he, for whatever reason, did not need sex and Ethel and Bobby did, then why should he not turn a blind eye?  Good for all three of them. 

Jim Thornton 12 November 2005


[1] This mildly prurient private comment about a scandal concerning the English actor Henry Daniell and his wife, is almost unique. 

 “Apparently they go down to Los Angeles and either (a) indulge in or (b) witness orgies – probably both … there’s something pleasantly domestic about a husband and wife sitting side by side with their eyes glued to peepholes, watching the baser elements whoop it up.  And what I want to know is – where are these orgies?  I feel I’ve been missing something." 

 

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Last modified: February 11, 2006