I’m a recent convert to the joys of P G Wodehouse but I can definitely say that Bertie Wooster is one of my all-time favourite characters. I love Bertie. I can’t say quite yet that the Jeeves & Wooster novels are my favourite Wodehouse because I haven’t read any Psmith or Mulliner, but they couldn’t be as funny, witty & mad as Bertie & Jeeves, could they? On Wednesday I spent the day in the city after dropping my car off for a service. I wanted something to read on the train & I chose Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen by P G Wodehouse. I liked the idea of another novel starring Bertram Wooster but this one came with aunts & the cover promised a cat so I knew I was set for an amusing read. Two train journeys, lunch & half an hour sitting in the gorgeous Exhibition gardens on a perfect autumn day later, I’d laughed & chuckled my way through all but 30pp of Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen.
The plot, as always, is completely mad, full of things that could only happen to Bertie Wooster. Bertie wakes up one morning with spots on his chest. On the recommendation of a doctor (who thinks he spends too much time drinking cocktails & smoking), he decides to spend some time in the country & ends up staying in a cottage in Maiden Eggesford, organised for him by his Aunt Dahlia who’s staying at nearby Eggesford Hall with some friends who own a horse entered in a local race. On his way to lunch at Eggesford Hall, Bertie ends up by mistake at Eggesford Court, another stately home in the area owned by a horse racing rival of Aunt Dahlia’s friends. He’s accosted by the hunting-crop wielding owner of the Court, Mr Cook, who also happens to be the father of Vanessa, one of the many girls Bertie has been unluckily in love with over the course of his life.
Mr Cook accuses Bertie of attempting to steal a cat, a stray that lives in the stables & is the favourite companion of his horse, Potato Chip. Mr Cook is as single-minded about his horse’s welfare as Lord Emsworth ever was about the Empress of Blandings & Potato Chip pines when the cat is not there. Mr Cook chases Bertie off the premises & this is the beginning of a series of increasingly farcical events including repeated attempts by Aunt Dahlia to steal the cat (she has a large bet on her host’s horse, Simla, & is trying to nobble the opposition), Bertie trying to avoid being disembowelled by Vanessa Cook’s jealous ex-fiance, & an African explorer called Major Plank trying to remember where he’s met Bertie before while telling gruesome stories of his African adventures.
It’s not so much the adventures as the way Bertie narrates them that’s the charm of these books. In nearly every one, Bertie is imposed upon by bossy young women or overbearing aunts. He falls in love or tries to escape matrimonial entanglements. He’s attacked by jealous young men who think he’s stealing their girlfriends or by fathers who think he’s a fortune hunter. Bertie’s tangled explanations, coupled with Jeeves’s deadpan replies are just priceless.
‘What are those things circumstances have, Jeeves?’ I said.
‘You know what I mean. You talk of a something of circumstances which leads to something. Cats enter into it, if I’m not wrong.’
‘Would concatenation be the word you are seeking?’
‘That’s right. It was on the tip of my tongue. Do concatenations of circumstances arise?’
‘Well, one has arisen now. The facts are these. When we were in London, I formed a slight acquaintance with a Miss Cook who turns out to be the daughter of the chap who owns the horse which thinks so highly of that cat. She had a spot of trouble with the police, and her father summoned her home to see that she didn’t get into more. So she is now at Eggesford Court. Got the scenario so far?’
‘This caused her betrothed, a man named Porter, to follow her here in order to give her aid and comfort. Got that?’
‘Yes, sir. This frequently happens when two young hearts are sundered.’
‘Well, I met him today, and my presence in Maiden Eggesford came as a surprise to him.’
‘One can readily imagine it, sir.’
‘He took it for granted that I had come in pursuit of Miss Cook.’
‘Like young Lochinvar, when he came out of the West.’
The name was new to me, but I didn’t ask for further details. I saw that he was following the plot, and it never does, when you are telling a story, to wander off into side issues.
I also recently bought this gorgeous Vintage Classics edition called Week-End Wodehouse. It’s a compilation of bits & pieces from the Wodehouse canon with original line drawings by Kerr. It was originally published in 1939. I couldn’t resist buying it for the lovely Art Deco cover art but also because I love Wodehouse & just can’t get enough of his witty words.