Reprinted from P.G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters, edited by Sophie Ratcliffe ($35, WW Norton, published February 4th 2013). Copyright © 2011 by the Trustees of the Wodehouse Estate. With the permission of the publisher, W.W. Norton & Company, Inc. All rights reserved.
A great Wodehouse admirer, the novelist Lawrence Durrell went on to model his Antrobus stories on the Mulliner series.
May 19. 1948
2 East 86 St
Dear Mr. Durrell.
Thank you so much for your letter. […]
Yes, Jeeves certainly came quite by accident. His first appearance was in a Bertie Wooster story called ‘Disentangling Old Duggie’ and all he did was to appear in the doorway and announce ‘Mrs Travers, sir’. It never occurred to me at the time that he would ever do anything except appear at doors and announce people. Then – I don’t think it was the next Bertie story but the one after that – I had got Bertie’s friend into a bad tangle of some sort and I saw how to solve the problem but my artistic soul revolted at the idea of having Bertie suggest the solution.
It would have been absolutely out of character. Then who? For a long time I was baffled, and then I suddenly thought ‘Why not make Jeeves a man of brains and ingenuity and have him do it?’ After that, of course, it was all simple and the stories just rolled out one after the other. I only once did an actual Jeeves series. The earlier stories were dotted at long intervals over about five years. I now find it more congenial to use the long novel form. It gives so much more scope than the short story.
I couldn’t say that Jeeves ever had an actual model. I suppose I had the stage butler type in my mind when I started, and then, as always happens, he began to develop individuality.
Yes, I had always heard that Doyle grew to loathe Holmes. I have never had any feeling of that sort about Jeeves. I love him and all I ask is for a constant supply of ‘Jeeves’ ideas. Actually, I prefer my Blandings Castle stories to the Jeeves stories, but I have a very good time writing the latter. I think Lord Emsworth is my favourite character. But Jeeves runs him very close.
I wish you would send me one of your books. I am an old Faber and Faber man myself. (Louder and Funnier, published by them ages ago and now so emphatically out of print that I had to pay £5 to get a copy the other day.)
P. G. Wodehouse