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Found: the novel Wodehouse wrote twice
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Guardian 16 September 2001

Found: the novel Wodehouse wrote twice

Robert McCrum

P G Wodehouse, the comic author who created Wooster and Jeeves and whose genius is regularly championed by Tony Blair, was also 'rather spiffing' at indulging in a spot of his own commercial marketing, a newly rediscovered novel has proved.

Exactly how ruthless Wodehouse could be has come to light now, 26 years after his death, with the unveiling of a forgotten story called 'A Prince for Hire' - much of which seems strikingly familiar.

During his long and productive lifetime Wodehouse published more than 100 titles and was well-known in literary circles for recycling good material. Scenarios for plays became novels; short stories became Hollywood film-scripts; scenes from Broadway musicals were reworked into novels.

From 1909, Wodehouse established semi-permanent residence in New York and was particularly adept at exploiting both British and US magazine markets. He knew how to tailor his material to the needs of the American 'pulps', mass circulation magazines such as Ainslee's and Colliers .

The Observer has learnt that one of his pre-First World War American serials, The Prince and Betty, was later radically rewritten and then republished under another title in the 1930s, when the author was at the height of his fame and success.

Ignored for 70 years, this novel has been rediscovered by Tony Ring, a noted collector of Wodehouse memorabilia, in the course of research for his Wodehouse Concordance (Porpoise Books), an eight-volume guide to the many hundreds of characters in Wodehouse's novels, from Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge to Cyril 'Barmy' Fotheringay-Phipps. Ring says: 'It's a thrilling find, and it's important because the novel on which it's based was one of his least successful efforts. It shows him valiantly trying to make an early work into something more successful.'

The Prince and Betty, a run-of-the-mill commercial romance, probably written to fulfil a commission from a New York magazine editor, first appeared in the May 1912 issue of Ainslee's. Wodehouse, then an apprentice novelist who had still to create the comic world for which he is famous, subsequently sold a British version of the same story to The Strand Magazine. Wodehouse aficionados have traditionally scorned The Prince and Betty which, as a straight romantic novel, was also published by Mills & Boon in 1912. This edition enjoyed a modest commercial success, and appeared in hardback and paperback. In 1931, for reasons that are still mysterious, Wodehouse rewrote the text wholesale, renamed it A Prince For Hire , and sold it to an obscure American 'pulp', The Illustrated Love Magazine, as a five-part serial. The magazine was published by Tower magazines of New York, an organisation that produced magazines for sale through the Woolworth retail chain.

As far as is known, there are no references to this pot-boiling activity in any of the writer's surviving notes or letters. The timing of the rewrite is certainly odd. The year before, in 1930, Wodehouse had published Very Good Jeeves, one of his all-time bestsellers and among the most popular of all English inter-war fiction. Ring believes the explanation lies in Wodehouse's isolation in Hollywood. 'He had just left England and gone to Hollywood; he had nothing to do. He thought "why not rewrite this old thing". He may not even have told them it was a rewrite. He was a great re-cycler.'

The discovery of A Prince For Hire, claimed by Ring as a 'lost Wodehouse novel', does not affect the critical evaluation of the writer's literary significance. Although it is the only novel that Wodehouse is known to have completely rewritten after a gap of almost 20 years, it never appeared in book form, and remained forgotten between the covers of The Illustrated Love Magazine. Intriguingly, however, it does show how, as a professional writer, even at the height of his fame and success, he was not above earning an extra dollar or two with a few weeks' hack work.

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