There is really no one who can wash away the troubles, soothe the careworn brow–how does that go again?
–And careworn brows forget, sir.
Exactly! When my brows need forgetting. No one can soothe and forget like P.G. Wodehouse.
I was idling away the morning, doing my best to make myself scarce, what with visiting family being more than a jot tiring, when I popped into the Strand to see if they could help improve the noggin. Not to say they had fish, but they did have a rather large assortment of the printed and bound word, and tucked under a table was a stack of bargain Wodehouse. “Right-ho,” I thought and before another moment passed, I had picked up a copy with the intent to seal the deal.
It’s tricky to describe how pleasurable the Jeeves and Bertie stories by Wodehouse are. Gentle farces, almost completely lacking in anything resembling modern action or soap opera dynamics, they lull one into an idyllic pastoral setting that calms and relaxes until a snort-worthy moment slides in. Besides the convoluted plots dreamed up to reunite separated lovers, or seek revenge for a practical joke, there are the witty bon mots and references that poor Bertie almost never gets, but result in a distinct upward curve of the naso-labial fold of the discerning reader. Wodehouse is a word-smith, but not one of the overflowing adjectives and adverbs variety; rather he plays with expectations and meaning in a clever and fun way.
For those new to Wodehouse, the central premise is that Jeeves, an intelligent, discerning, “personal gentleman’s gentleman,” is constantly using the grey matter to pull poor Bertie out of various scrapes. Occasionally the relationship is complicated by Bertie attempting to demonstrate cultural (that vase! that painting!) and problem-solving independence (the bag of flour gag!), but we all know Jeeves will win out.
These eleven stories are no exception to Jeeves’ (and Wodehouse’s) genius. The usual supporting cast stops by, including Aunts Agatha and Dahlia, Miss Bobbie Wickham, Bingo, and an assortment of characters in various stages of love. Poor Bertie often finds himself in the role of matchmaker. “Jeeves and the Impending Doom” is undoubtedly one of the stars, as Bertie is dispatched to Aunt Agatha’s place to make an impression, and is manipulated into helping Bingo manage his wayward ward. A swan proves to be his undoing. Then, Jeeves has his Monte Carlo vacation postponed in “Jeeves and the Yule-Tide Spirit,” so that Bertie can attempt practical joke revenge on Tuppy at the same time he presses his suit with Roberta. Luckily for us all, Sir Roderick (he of the overgrown eyebrows) is also in residence. “The Love that Purifies” was one of my favorites, as the plot hedges around a contest of good behavior between two small boys and various efforts to derail them, with Aunt Dahlia‘s chef Anatole at stake. “Mercenary little brute!” she said. “I never saw such a sickeningly well-behaved kid in my life. It’s enough to make one despair of human nature.”
“You!” said Sir Roderick finally. And in this connection I want to state that it’s all rot to say you can’t hiss a word that hasn’t an ‘s’ in it. The way he pushed out that ‘You!’ sounded like an angry cobra, and I am betraying no secrets when I say that it did me no good whatsoever.
(–from Jeeves and the Yule-Tide Spirit)
Bingo said…, “By the way, Bertie, would you like a cocktail?”
“Well you won’t get one. We don’t have cocktails anymore. The girl friend said they corrode the stomachic tissues.”
I was appalled. I had no idea the evil had spread so far as this.
“No. And you’ll be dashed lucky if it isn’t a vegetarian dinner.”
“Bingo,” I cried, deeply moved. “You must act.”
(–from Jeeves and the Old School Chum)
“In a matter of this kind, Jeeves, the first thing is to study–what’s the word I want?
–I could not say, sir.
“Quite a common word–though long.”
“The exact noun. It is a noun?”
“Spoken like a man!”
(–from The Inferiority Complex of Old Sippy)