Do we have to love the artist if we love the art? Does an artist have to be a ‘good’ person? Of course not. If they did the art galleries and the libraries and the concert halls would be silent and bare.
Womanisers (why is there no female equivalent for that word? Maniser just sounds silly), alcoholics, drug addicts, terrible parents, borrowers of money with no intention of paying it back. All part of the myth, and the attraction.
But how about traitor? Or fool?
I’m having a think about this in anticipation of The Court Theatre’s production of Plum. Apparently the play considers whether one of the great comic writers of the 20th century, P. G. Wodehouse, betrayed his country or merely poked fun at it at an inappropriate time.
During the Second World War Wodehouse was tardy in leaving France after it was invaded by Germany. It’s said that his wife wouldn’t leave her dog, Wonder. Good story. Good name for a dog.
Back to the facts. Wodehouse was interned by the Germans and after his release made five ‘non-political’ broadcasts from Berlin, aired in America and aimed at keeping it out of the war. Although few people in England heard them they engendered howls of rage, calls for Wodehouse to be charged as a traitor, questions in Parliament and worst of all saw his books stripped from library shelves.
Just as well the outrage didn’t spread to New Zealand, or he was reinstated by the time I was at school because he was one of the few readable writers in my school library and I loved him for it. “As a dancer I out-Fred the nimblest Astaire” seemed to me to be the height of wit. On reflection there may have been good reasons why I was haunting the library and not out living teenage life to the fullest.
So, fool or traitor? George Orwell said that “the events of 1941 do not convict Wodehouse of anything worse than stupidity”. He taught Stephen Fry, who memorably played Jeeves in the television series of Jeeves and Wooster, that it is “enough to be benign, to be gentle, to be funny, to be kind”. Is it? Perhaps Plum will tell us.
Plum opens at The Court on Saturday the 9th of August. After seeing the play (or before) we can read Wodehouse’s books and listen to them on audiobook, read his letters and the biographies about him and watch the Films and television series.
Then we can make up our own minds.