Guardian 16 September 2001
Found: the novel Wodehouse wrote twice
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
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
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.