Best Seller

Best Seller Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on P.G. Wodehouse's Best Seller. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of P.G. Wodehouse

Though born in England, Wodehouse spent the first two years of his life in Hong Kong, where his father was a British magistrate. When he was two, his parents shipped him back to England, where he was cared for by a nanny until he was old enough for boarding school—a common practice for well-off British families who lived in the colonies. The family’s deteriorating financial situation prevented Wodehouse from attending university. He got a job as a banker but did not like the work and eventually resigned to pursue a career as a writer. In addition to his stories and novels, Wodehouse wrote for Broadway, making frequent trips to New York. Early in World War II, Wodehouse was captured by the Germans during a visit to France. While imprisoned, he agreed to make radio programs to be broadcast to the United States and the United Kingdom. The content of the broadcasts was not political, but there was a significant backlash in the UK, where many considered his actions treasonous. He never faced any official charges, but after his release, he settled permanently in the States and never returned to the UK. During his life, some serious literary figures considered Wodehouse’s work frivolous, but others, including W.H. Auden and Evelyn Waugh, praised it highly. Today, he is widely considered one of the best comic writers of the twentieth century.
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Historical Context of Best Seller

“Best Seller” was published just after the stock market crash of 1929, at the beginning of the Great Depression. Many writers at the time still were trying to come to terms with the unprecedented death and destruction of World War I, which had ended just eleven years earlier. At the same time, British colonies were advocating for independence, and the political ideologies of communism and fascism were gaining traction in Europe. None of this turmoil appears to affect Wodehouse’s characters, however, who seem to exist in an idealized, escapist version of Edwardian England.

Other Books Related to Best Seller

“Best Seller” is just one of many short stories featuring Mr. Mulliner. Each story begins in a pub called the Angler’s Rest, where Mulliner entertains the other patrons with humorous anecdotes about his various family members. Many of these stories are collected in three volumes: Meet Mr. Mulliner, Mr. Mulliner Speaking, and Mulliner Nights. Like the Mulliner stories, most of Wodehouse’s other well-known works are comic pieces set in England during the first part of the twentieth century. The most famous of these are the many short stories and novels featuring Bertie Wooster and his valet, Jeeves. Wodehouse also frequently references musical and literary works; in “Best Seller,” he mentions Richard Wagner’s opera Tannhäuser. Wodehouse’s language play and absurdist humor were influenced by the Victorian theatrical partnership Gilbert and Sullivan, whose comic operas include Pirates of Penzance and H.M.S. Pinafore.  
Key Facts about Best Seller
  • Full Title: Best Seller
  • When Written: 1930
  • Where Written: London, England
  • When Published: 1930
  • Literary Period: Modernism
  • Genre: Humorous Short Fiction
  • Setting: The Angler’s Rest, a pub in an unspecified English village; London
  • Climax: Evangeline suffers an emotional breakdown, believing she will never be able to write enough to fulfill her obligations. 
  • Antagonist: Jno. Henderson Banks
  • Point of View: Third-person omniscient

Extra Credit for Best Seller

Orwell’s Intervention. In response to accusations that Wodehouse had collaborated with the Nazis, George Orwell (the author of Animal Farm and 1984) wrote an essay titled “In Defense of P.G. Wodehouse.” The essay analyzes some of the key features of Wodehouse’s work and concludes that Wodehouse’s actions—though perhaps politically naïve—should not be construed as treasonous.

Not Welcome Here. When Wodehouse wrote “Best Seller,” English social etiquette still prevented women from entering pubs. Apart from the barmaid, Miss Postlethwaite, Mr. Mulliner’s audience at the Angler’s Rest would have consisted entirely of men.