I have a confession to make. I’ve reached an advanced age without reading anything by P G Wodehouse. I was challenged by Simon in my online bookgroup to do something about this appalling hole in my literary knowledge so my lunchtime reading this week has been The Inimitable Jeeves. It was the perfect choice & I know I’m going to read more Wodehouse after this first dip.
Everyone knows about Jeeves & Wooster, either through the books or, more recently, through the TV series with Hugh Laurie & Stephen Fry. I haven’t seen the series but as I read, I could imagine both actors in the roles. I was a great fan of Blackadder & Hugh Laurie’s Prince Regent & the Honourable George would have been perfect preparation for playing Bertie Wooster, rich, vacuous, the original silly young ass-about-town. I don’t know whether Dorothy L Sayers had read any Wodehouse when she created Lord Peter Wimsey, but I was reminded very much of Wimsey in his most piffling moments as I read this book.
Jeeves is the perfect servant, although he’s really Bertie’s keeper. Bertie would have lost all his money at the races, been swindled by every crook in London & wear the most unsuitable clothes imaginable (purple socks, really!) if not for Jeeves. Jeeves also reads improving books, has a network of informers the length & breadth of the country & anticipates all Bertie’s follies, stepping in at the crucial moment to save the day.
Every story in this volume is linked but they’re seperate stories rather than a continuous narrative. I’ve had a quick look at the P G Wodehouse website & it seems that a lot of stories were first published in the Strand magazine. Bertie finds himself involved in the tangled love affairs of his friend, Bingo Little. In the process he finds he’s proposed to the object of Bingo’s affections. Fortunately, Bingo has fallen in love with someone else in the meantime. Bertie’s terrifying Aunt Agatha summons him to France to meet a young woman who is destined (by Aunt Agatha) to be his bride. Jeeves saves Bertie from a very sticky situation involving fraud & blackmail & Bertie is still unattached at the end of the story. Undaunted, Agatha sends him down to the country to meet Honoria Glossop, the perfect wife for scatterbrained Bertie, but Bertie himself is less enthusiastic.
Bertie flees to New York to escape the wrath of Aunt Agatha after his engagement to Honoria ends & becomes involved with the theatrical ambitions of Cyril Bassington-Bassington. On his return to England, he becomes involved in a handicap race for parsons organised by his cousins, Claude & Eustace, & needs Jeeves’s help when the favourite goes lame & it looks as though Bertie will lose his money yet again.
The charm of the stories is in the voice of Bertie & the imperturbability of Jeeves. The 1920s slang is very funny & the recreation of that period of excess is just gorgeous. Bertie is stupid but he means well. He usually gets into trouble trying to help a friend or because he’s too polite to snub someone who imposes on his good nature. Aunt Agatha is a wonderful creation. Rude, overbearing, a grande dame, an Edwardian relic, maybe even a Victorian relic. I think she’s wonderful. I have the first novel in the series, Thank You Jeeves, on the tbr shelves & I think it will be coming down sooner rather than later. We also have a lot of the books on audio at work so I look forward to reading & listening to more Wodehouse very soon.