Karen’s recent post at Books & Chocolate about her obsession with Jeeves & Wooster inspired me to pick up Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves last week & settle down for a very enjoyable read. Karen posted a link to some scenes from the TV series where Jeeves is pained by Bertie’s choice of clothing. This is one of the themes of the books. I’d barely started reading when I came across a classic example of Bertie’s dreadful taste in clothes.
‘… You remember the day I lunched at the Ritz?’
‘Yes sir, you were wearing an Alpine hat.’
‘There is no need to dwell on the Alpine hat, Jeeves.’
‘If you really want to know, several fellows at the Drones asked me where I had got it.’
‘No doubt with a view to avoiding your hatter, sir.’
As the hat in question is blue with a pink feather, I have to say I think Jeeves’s disapproval is perfectly justified.
Bertie finds himself in trouble when he sets out on a mission of mercy to Totleigh Towers. His last visit to the Towers was not a success because the owner is Sir Watkyn Bassett J P, who once had Bertie before him at the Magistrate’s Court on a charge of pinching a policeman’s helmet. There was also the incident of the silver cow creamer that Bertie was accused of stealing but that’s another story. Ever since then, Bertie has been persona non grata but Sir Watkyn’s daughter Madeline has a soft spot for him. In fact, Madeline has declared that if she & her fiancé, Gussie Fink-Nottle, ever broke up, she would marry Bertie instead as she’s under the impression that Bertie is pining away with unrequited love for her. Unfortunately, Bertie thinks Madeline is a soppy drip but he knows that if the happy pair break off their engagement, he will be helpless to avoid matrimony, or betrothal at the very least. So, when he discovers that Gussie is being driven to distraction by Madeline’s insistence that he become a vegetarian, he wangles an invitation to the Towers & tries to keep the relationship intact.
He does this by helping Gussie to secret midnight feasts of steak & kidney pie. Unfortunately this just leads Gussie to fall in love with the cook, Emerald Stoker, a young American woman who has taken the job to keep her going until her quarterly allowance arrives from her father. Sir Watkyn is suspicious of Bertie’s motives because he has just bought a hideous black amber statuette from the renowned explorer, Major Plank, & he suspects Bertie of having designs on the object. Bertie’s Uncle Tom (husband of his Aunt Dahlia) is another great collector & his rivalry with Sir Watkyn has gone on for years.
Another of Bertie’s friends, Rev ‘Stinker’ Pinker, is the local curate, desperately in love with Stiffy Byng, Sir Watkyn’s niece, but they’re unable to get married until he has a vicarage of his own. Sir Watkyn has a vicarage in his gift but he’s proving hard to convince that Stinker is the right man for the job, even with Stiffy’s determined badgering. Roderick Spode is also visiting the Towers. Spode has been in love with Madeline for years & hates Bertie because he knows that Bertie is the understudy for the role of fiancé if Gussie was out of the picture. The usual mayhem ensues as Bertie tries to keep Gussie & Madeline together, help Stinker & Stiffy (real name Stephanie) get married, convince Sir Watkyn that he has no designs on the statuette even though it’s just been found in his underwear drawer, & avoid Bartholemew, Stiffy’s Aberdeen terrier, who has a habit of bailing him up in the middle of the night when he’s on the way to the kitchen for a midnight snack.
It’s all completely mad but you won’t be surprised to learn that Bertie is still single at the end of the book & he’s also decided, after a little emotional blackmail from Jeeves, that maybe Alpine hats aren’t the appropriate attire for a man about town. Thank goodness there are still dozens of Wodehouse novels for me to read, I don’t think I could live without them.