The episode has almost been forgotten, yet during World War II, P.G. Wodehouse's captivity remained front-page news in both the United States and Britain. (Since then, of course, people have criticized The Times for its wartime coverage, particularly its decision to focus on stories like this instead of more serious ones. It's an issue that has been addressed in books, films, articles and the paper's own Op-Ed pages.)
Wodehouse's story may be a footnote in the history of 20th-century literature, but it's still fascinating to revisit.
May 26, 1940
The first hint of trouble came in late May, when Wodehouse's stepdaughter reported that her parents seemed to be stranded at their villa in Le Touquet, France, “cut off from England by the German advance.” Years later, in “Wodehouse: A Life,” Robert McCrum wrote that the author had “clung to the disastrous belief that the courageous thing to do was sit tight, have faith in the British Army and resist panic.” Returning to Britain would also have meant quarantining his dog, “which he could not bear to do.”
June 6, 1940
The Wodehouses were giving a cocktail party when “a French gendarme knocked and announced that the Germans were coming,” The Times reported. “Mr. Wodehouse and his friends did not take the warning seriously, however, and continued their party.” When German troops arrived at the house a short time later and took the writer into custody, he told his wife, “Maybe this will give me the material to write a serious book for once.”
Dec. 17, 1940
There was confusion about Wodehouse's whereabouts for months, but his stepdaughter, Leonora, finally received a letter from him in December. He had been sent to an internment camp in Central Europe.