Review – Jeeves and Wooster Novels by P.G. Wodehouse

  1. Thank You, Jeeves
  2. Right Ho, Jeeves
  3. The Code of the Woosters
  4. Joy in the Morning
  5. The Mating Season

(Not read in order)

The Mating Season

Bertie’s acquaintance Gussie is down on his relationship, and Bertie is worried if it falls through his bachelorhood may be imperiled.  His friend Coldmeat is worried that another man will get between him and the love of his life and emplores Bertie to help.  Coldmeat’s sister, Corky, can get men to do what she wants, but can’t get the man who loves her to stand up for her, and is dragging Bertie out to the country to help out her uncle, the Vicar, with his show.  Over the course of the book, identities will be confused, engagements made and broken, and farce will ensue.

All this has to potential to be dire, however the Mating Season is a perfect book.  Wodehouse’s comedic voice is second to none, with the entire book being narrated by Bertie Wooster, who while not stupid, is vain, vapid, and utterly committed to the joys of bachelorhood.  The rhythms of the writing are infectious, making a caricature of English manners and decadence one of the most realised characters I’ve ever read.  He is equally committed to good manners and good times, is almost always willing to help out a friend, and while not as competent or knowledgeable as his manservant Jeeves, he is a quick thinker who, while a little lazy, both intellectually and physically, is still a product of the best schools money could buy.

No matter how farcical the situation, everything is grounded by Bertie.  For example, at the beginnning of the play Bertie goes off on a long tangent about the politics of amateur country productions:

”The moment I scanned the bill of fare, I was able to understand why Corky, that afternoon at my flat, had spoken so disgruntedly of the talent at her disposal, like a girl who has been thwarted and frustrated and kept from fulfilling herself and what not. I knew what had happened. Starting out to arrange this binge with high hopes and burning ideals and all that sort of thing, poor child, she had stubbed her toe on the fatal snag which always lurks in the path of the impresario of this type of entertainment. I allude to the fact that at every village concert there are certain powerful vested interests which have to be considered. There are, that is to say, divers local nibs who, having always done their bit, are going to be pretty cold and sniffy if not invited to do it again this time. What Corky had come up against was the Kegley-Bassington clan.
To a man of my wide experience, such items as ‘Solo: Miss Muriel Kegley-Bassington’ and ‘Duologue (A Pair of Lunatics): Colonel and Mrs R.P. Kegley-Bassington’ told their own story; and the same thing applied to ‘Imitations: Watkyn Kegley-Bassington’; ‘Card Tricks: Percival Kegley-Bassington’ and ‘Rhythmic Dance: Miss Poppy Kegley-Bassington’. Master George Kegley-Bassington, who was down for a recitation, I absolved from blame. I strongly suspected that he, like me, had been thrust into his painful position by force majeure and would have been equally willing to make a cash settlement.”

While not the funniest of passages, this illustrates the genius of Wodehouse, taking a key scene for the plot, the show, and completely ignoring it’s plot value to instead make keen, comedic observations, just as we would expect Bertie too.  Heck, this is literally the first mention of the Kegley-Bassington’s, and from here (nearly three quarters of the way through), they are used as comedic canon fodder.  I could drown in Wodehouse’s dialogue and be a happy man.

 

Bertie Wooster, and his indomitable servant Jeeves are up to any challenge, and so is this book.   

 

Thank you Jeeves

This is the first full Jeeves and Wooster novel, and while not as accomplished as the much later The Mating Season, in that it doesn’t juggle so many balls, it still contains the Wodehousian charm that made that book so entertaining.  Wooster has taken up the banjolele, and is so annoying Jeeves has had to leave his service, and Bertie has been thrown out of his building.  They both partake to a village owned by a friend of Berties, Chumly, who is trying to woo Berties ex-fiance, and shenanigans ensue.  In the end all couples, including Jeeves and Wooster, are reunited, and an entertaining time is had by all, including the reader.

Unfortunately, it also contains a significant amount of blackface, and while possibly even progressive for the time (the black people imitated never actually appear directly, and are sufficiently well respected that Bertie wants to take music lessons from them), the fact that one of the two characters who gets into blackface does so to entertain a child is offensive.  I still really enjoyed the book, but you should know what you are getting into before you start.

 

A greatly enjoyable book, but with a significant caveat that it is unfortunately ‘of it’s time’ (racist as heck).

 

Right Ho Jeeves

This is perhaps the Jeeves and Wooster novel to start with, as it introduces a few recurring characters, such as Gussie and Madeline, and has an absolutely cracking plot.  Jeeves overestimates Gussie Fink-Nottle in his attempt to assist him secure his love Madeline, and so Bertie decides to sideline Jeeves and take matters into his own hands.  He then gets involved with trying to mend the engagement of his cousin to a friend, and his Aunt’s relationship with her husband.  Unfortunately, Bertie, through good intentions, makes things worse, ratcheting up the tensions in the household, and imperiling his two greatest desires – maintaining his bachelorhood, and being able to eat the extraordinary cuisine of his Aunt’s chef.

Everything Wodehouse is on display, snappy dialogue, quick plotting, a well developed sense of place and time, and writing worth drowning in.

 

A must read.

 

Code of the Woosters

Joy in the morning

Diminishing returns set in at this stage: the dialogue is still mellifluous, but the situations and misunderstandings are a little repetitive, the racisim and sexism lurking round the edges are harder to ignore, and while both are great reads, I would posit that Jeeves and Wooster novels are best read in intervals long enough to forget the details of them.  If not binged, I suspect I would have liked both of these as much as Right Ho Jeeves.  This similarity between the books is probably the source of the common refrain that the first you pick up of Jeeves and Wooster is your favourite (as is certainly the case for me), and I suspect if you picked up any of these titles other than “Thank you Jeeves” for the first time it would be your favourite as well.

Read Jeeves and Wooster, but don’t binge them.1

  1. Read March-April 2017

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