Not George Washington
This early novel, written in collaboration with a friend, is a fascinating curiosity which suggests that Wodehouse might have become a very different, experimental sort of writer, had he continued to write in the same vein.
Using multiple narrators, playing with literary stereotypes and identities, it tells the story of an aspiring young writer, James Orlebar Cloyster, prepared to do almost anything, first for success and then for gratification. By making Cloyster a mild, affable young man of the sort so familiar in his later novels, Wodehouse creates a comic disparity between the character's lofty professions of virtue and his unscrupulous behaviour. As the story progresses, we realise that he is not unusual: all the main characters are unscrupulous in one way or another, ready to cheat and lie in pursuit of their ends, hence the title of the book.
Not George Washington contains many fine scenes, and Cloyster's narrative displays the calm mastery of story-telling Wodehouse had already made his own. If awkwardly executed, it is cleverly plotted, springing several surprises along the way. Clearly autobiographical in origin, it also invites readers to reflect on the nature of talent, fame, failure and success, villainy and honour - themes which continued to recur in the author's work for another sixty years.
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