Keeping it from Harold

Keeping it from Harold Study Guide

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

Brief Biography of P.G. Wodehouse

P. G. Wodehouse was born in 1881 in Guildford, Surrey, England. He attended Dulwich College for secondary school before starting work at a bank in London. While working as a junior banker, he published 80 articles and stories in two years. After securing a newspaper columnist position and publishing his first novel, he left the bank to write full-time. He began his career writing public-school stories and light romances before turning to farce, his specialty. While most of his fiction is set in England, Wodehouse spent much of his life in the U.S. and France. In 1940, he was captured in France by the Nazis and interned for nearly a year. In 1941 he made several radio broadcasts from Germany to the U.S., giving a humorous account of his imprisonment and subtly making fun of his German captors. These broadcasts over German radio provoked extreme controversy in Britain, and many of Wodehouse’s fellow countrymen never forgave him. He moved to the U.S. permanently after the war. Wodehouse was prolific, publishing more than 90 books throughout his life and authoring or collaborating on more than 50 film scripts, plays, and musical comedies.
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Historical Context of Keeping it from Harold

The story was first published in 1913, the year before WWI would begin and change the course of history. In this moment, however, relations among the European powers were better than they had been at the turn of the century and war was not inevitable. In May 1913, King George V of England, Kaiser Wilhelm II of Prussia, and Tsar Nicholas II of Russia all reunited warmly in Berlin to celebrate the wedding of the Kaiser’s daughter. These monarchs were still popular, and the latter two still ruled their countries; the King and Queen of England were also still the Emperor and Empress of India. Though during and after the war many monarchies would fall, in 1913 much of Europe was still relaxed, optimistic, and confident of standing in the center of the world. The social transformations that followed WWI—including women’s suffrage, a revolution in domestic life, and the upheaval of the class system—had yet to come, as can be seen in Wodehouse’s portrayal of the Bramble family, who employ domestic servants, wouldn’t dream of Jane working after marriage, and worry chiefly about how Bill’s profession reflects on their social standing.

Other Books Related to Keeping it from Harold

Contemporaries of Wodehouse in the Edwardian Period, named for King Edward VII and spanning from Queen Victoria’s death in 1901 to the outbreak of WWI in 1914, included George Bernard Shaw (Pygmalion), Rudyard Kipling, and E. M. Forster (A Passage to India, A Room with a View). Like Wodehouse, these writers reflected and commented on England’s social conditions at the height of the British Empire, when the material luxuries enjoyed by the rich contrasted strikingly with the squalid conditions experienced by four-fifths of the English population. Other masters of Wodehouse’s specific style of camp include Max Beerbohm and Ivy Compton-Burnett. Among Wodehouse’s literary predecessors, meanwhile, are Ben Johnson and Oscar Wilde (The Picture of Dorian Gray, The Importance of Being Earnest). The poem that Harold recites to his mother is variously titled “A Farewell” or “One Grand Sweet Song,” by Charles Kingsley (1819-1875), an English clergyman, novelist, and historian. The poem was published in 1856.
Key Facts about Keeping it from Harold
  • Full Title: Keeping It from Harold
  • When Written: 1913
  • Where Written: England and the United States
  • When Published: December 1913
  • Literary Period: Realism, Edwardian Literature
  • Genre: Short Story
  • Setting: Barnes, London, England
  • Climax: Jerry Fisher reveals the truth of Bill’s career as a boxer to Harold.
  • Antagonist: Percy Stokes, Jerry Fisher
  • Point of View: Omniscient narrator

Extra Credit for Keeping it from Harold

Americanization. The American publication Illustrated Sunday Magazine published an Americanized version of “Keeping It from Harold” in April 1914, in which the Brambles are an American family living in Harlem, New York, Bill is about to fight the Englishman Jimmy Wilkins at Madison Square Garden, and the characters speak in American, rather than British, slang.

The Real “Porky”. There was in fact a boxer active at the time “Keeping It from Harold” was published who was known as “Porky”: the American Dan “Porky” Flynn, a heavyweight who boxed from 1906 to 1923.