Friday, May 14, 2010

P. G. Wodehouse – ‘Carry On, Jeeves’

There is little to no point reviewing a P. G. Wodehouse book, is there? They’re all the same: a tonic for the duration, then instantly forgotten. I used to read them all the time, then stopped a few years ago after Robert McCrumb’s biography put me off. It was so leaden, and then there was the business of the broadcasts for the Nazis. A bigger jam than ever Bertie Wooster faced, and no Jeeves on hand to steer him through. ‘Jeeves Takes Charge’, the first story here, is the one in which the pair first meet, and Bertie, hungover and trying to get his head around Types of Ethical Theory, a book lent by his overbearing fiancĂ©e Florence (‘a girl with a wonderful profile’) is smitten at once:
       I was doing my best to skim through this bright little volume when the bell rang. I crawled off the sofa and opened the door. A kind of darkish sort of Johnnie stood without.
       ‘I was sent by the agency, sir,’ he said. ‘I was given to understand that you required a valet.’
       I’d have preferred an undertaker; but I told him to stagger in, and he floated noiselessly through the door like a healing zephyr. (p. 2)
Here are some more of Jeeves’ refined manoeuvres:
‘Sir?’ said Jeeves, kind of manifesting himself. One of the rummy things about Jeeves is that, unless you watch like a hawk, you very seldom see him come into a room. He’s like one of those weird birds in India who dissolve themselves into thin air and nip through space in a sort of disembodied way and assemble the parts again just where they want them. (p. 31)

He moves from point to point with as little uproar as a jelly-fish. (p. 79)

Jeeves flowed in with the tray, like some silent stream meandering over its mossy bed. (p. 94)

Jeeves projected himself into the room with the tea. (p. 105)

Then he streamed imperceptibly towards the door and flowed silently out. (p. 112)
There was a great one about Jeeves’ voice being like the baa-ing of a distant sheep, but I can’t find it now. There are a couple of very similar quotations online, though: ‘There was a sound in the background like a distant sheep coughing gently on a mountainside. Jeeves sailing into action.’ (from Joy in the Morning, via), and ‘That soft cough of Jeeves’s which always reminds me of a very old sheep clearing its throat on a distant mountain top.’ (from Something Fresh, via).

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

"and then there was the business of the broadcasts for the Nazis."

Wodehouse was never a Nazi sympathiser. He was perhaps guilty of naivety, certainly nothing more sinister than that. George Orwell's "in defence of P.G Wodehouse" surely put that unpleasant slur to bed many many moons ago.

Chris said...

Yeah, absolutely - the offense was in the context, not the content of the broadcasts, but can you imagine a worse context?

Thanks for pointing the article out, don't think I'd seen it before.

Anonymous said...

No worries. Your entirely right about the context. Your also right about McCrum's biography..crushingly dull. I do love P.G Wodehouse's books though. I think Stephen Fry once mentioned an "other-worldliness" about the Jeeves and Wooster stories and I think that's very true. Pure escapism perhaps.

Anyway enough of my waffle. Great blog Chris!

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