Wodehouse, P.G. (1881-1975), creator of Jeeves & Wooster
Milne, A.A. (1882-1956), creator of Winnie-the-Pooh
Britain, France, and the United States between the late-19th and mid-20th centuries.
English writers Alan Alexander Milne and Pelham Grenville Wodehouse were born three months apart. They both went to public schools in London - Milne to Westminster, Wodehouse to Dulwich - and they became close friends in the early 1920s. They joined financial forces to invest in Ian Hay's dramatization of Wodehouse's novel A Damsel in Distress in 1928, by which A.A. MILNE time they were both successful comic writers.
Milne and Wodehouse were both described as literary swells, high earners, kings of light entertainment - Wodehouse with his books and librettos, Milne with smash hit plays like Mr. Pim Passes By.
Milne was far more serious than Wodehouse. As time went on, Milne became highly regarded for his children's books, including Winnie-the-Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner. Wodehouse was esteemed for his steady stream of brilliant comic novels written in a style he had been honing from an early age. The prospect of being remembered as only a children's author didn't sit well with Milne. What's more, it became clear that Wodehouse was getting a reputation as a visionary.
There was one notable area where Milne and Wodehouse also parted company - politics. Milne, regarded himself as an intellectual and was a pacifist. In 1934 he wrote a denunciation of war titled Peace with Honour. He also wrote pamphlets and letters to the media on the political situation. But when the Second World War started, Milne became a vociferous patriot.
Wodehouse showed little interest in current political events. He and his wife were living in France in 1940 when the German army invaded. They were interned. Two German friends from Hollywood persuaded Wodehouse to broadcast for the German propaganda machine. He agreed on the promise of being released afterwards. The British were outraged. Wodehouse was bewildered. His radio talks had in fact poked fun at the Germans. After the war he retreated to America, never to return to England.
In the wake of the broadcasts, Milne took Wodehouse to task in a sneering letter to the Daily Telegraph. The letter was full of barbed wit and venom and deeply upset Wodehouse's friends and supporters. It also had the effect of reducing sales of Wodehouse's books and having him banned from the BBC.
Wodehouse had his allies, one of whom was George Orwell, but popular opinion ran against him. Still, he was not a man to bear grudges and over time forgave Milne.
Times change. In the 1980s, American writer Benjamin Hoff helped re-elevate Milne's reputation by describing in The Tao of Pooh (and then The Te of Piglet) how Milne's Pooh books could be used to explain the basic tenements of Taoism. In Milne's day, there had been criticisms of his work, particularly when it was compared to J.M. Barrie's Peter Pan and Kenneth Grahame's Wind in the Willows. At the time, Milne's writings seemed dated but no longer. He again takes his place on an equal footing with Wodehouse.