Arthur S. Covert
112 Front Street
Schenectady NY 12305
April 10, 1987
Dear Frau and Herr Doktor,
When I spoke to you on the weekend I told you I had identified Stanley Featherstonehaugh Ukridge as (Alfred) Perceval Graves, the older half brother of Robert Graves and that there was a picture of him available. This identification was based on statements in a biography of RG by his nephew Richard Perceval Graves (1). To anticipate, in a book that has many pages of notes, these statements are undocumented. We true scholars even when carried away by enthusiasm for their subject, always prefer to have their theories confirmed by a number of sources. I found four books in our library on P. G. Wodehouse, three mention Ukeridge, one of these mentions APG. It appears that SFT first appears in a book called Love Amoung the Chickens (2,3,4) this was inspired by the report of a friend William Townsend on the experiences of one Garrington Craxton (4), in this novel SFU has a wife, incidently, PGW pronounced STU’s name as ‘Yewkridge’. While the plot of the novel is based on Craxton’s experience, there is general agreement (2,3,4) that SFU is based on Herbert Westbrook who was a long time friend of PGW and whose general character and behavior was much like that of SFU. One of the biographies (3), mentions APG but notes that the source of this identification is to be found in RG’s early autobiographical work ‘Goodbye to All That’, where he says that the second professional writer he had met, the first was Swinburne, was PGW, who gave him a penny to buy marshmallows. As a by product of this research we have learned that Evelyn Waugh felt that SFU was inferior because he was ‘contrived’, when in fact he was the only major PGW character drawn from life. By a strange coincidence the Englishman who blew the whistle on PGW for his broadcasts from Germany in the early months of WWII, was Charles Graves RG’s journalist brother.
In evaluating the evidence of Robert Graves we should remember his attitude towards writing historical novels, if information was missing he made it up and what is more he felt what he made up as a poet receiving direct support from the White Goddess was truer than any recorded history. This is not a complaint from critics but a belief often expressed by Graves in various works and in reply to criticism by historians. It is not hard to imagine him reading an Ukeridge story and saying that reminds me of brother Perceval, in fact by the White Goddess it is Perceval. For him it would become absolute truth.
A judicious view would seem to be that SFU was drawn primarily from PGW’s close friend Herbert Westbrook, some of his characteristics from the obscure and strangely named Craxton, and some from Perceval Graves who always retreated from the failure of his enterprises to the protection of an Irish aunt. It seems not inappropriate that such a confusion of identity should surround a man who considered giving a false name a common business precaution.
I wonder if you noticed that Primo Levi had committed suicide by jumping into the stairwell of a four story building. An inept procedure for a chemist, but there seem to be no political or criminal overtones. I mention this because I have just taken from the library and started to read another of his books called the Monkey’s Wrench. This is a strange book in which the author in his real person as a chemist listens to the anecdotes of an Italian rigger about his international experience. In the second one for instance he assembles a packed tower, fills it with raschig rings, an when these are broken in the course of the first few days of operation, replaces them with bubble plates. I find it interesting, you would find it interesting, the critics seem to find depths in it that I don’t think are there.
Patrick has accepted a position with Pepsico at the Suny Campus in Purchase as a master electrician for the month of July.
(1) Graves, Richard Perceval, Robert Graves, The Assault Heroic 1895-1926, Viking 1987
(2) Jason, David A., P. G. Wodenhouse, A Portrait of The Master
(3) Green, Benny, P. G. Wodhouse, A Literary Biography, The Rutledge Press, 1981
(4) Donleavy, Frances, P. G. Wodehouse
Note: Apologies are offered for the incompleteness of certain of the references.