Bertie Wooster is an amiable but not terribly bright English gentleman (as he says, “I’m a bit short on brain myself; the old bean would appear to have been constructed more for ornament than for use, don’t you know”). His “man,” Jeeves, is the quintessential unobtrusive English valet with not only “genius for preserving a trouser-crease,” but also a penchant for solving the various problems of Bertie and his friends.
My Man Jeeves by P. D. Wodehouse is 1919 a collection of short stories involving the fictional pair, but there are a few stories in the middle about Reggie Pepper, who doesn’t seem to have any connection with either of them. The plot lines are similar in all the stories, though: someone has some kind of problem (often another English gentleman whose source of financial support is threatening to cut him off if he doesn’t jump through certain hoops that he doesn’t want to, but some of the stories involve romantic troubles as well), appeals for help, and then Jeeves or Reggie comes up with some kind of scheme that usually involves some kind of deception that usually backfires in some comic way.
The Jeeves and Wooster books are good for a light-hearted read, especially if you like English comedy, one reason I decided to pick this up when Carrie listed it as her Reading to Know Classics Book Club selection for April. Unfortunately, the first few stories sounded very familiar, and I found that some of them were rewritten from Carry On, Jeeves (linked to my review), the only other Jeeves book I’ve read. That was irritating, but there was enough new material and enough I’d forgotten from the previous book that it wasn’t a total wash.
I have to admit that the plots got tiresome after a while, but Wodehouse’s writing is delightful. I enjoyed the narrative quite a lot and had fun picking up on certain expressions and idioms (I don’t know if the British still use these, but apparently being “in the soup” in a bad thing while being “full of beans” is good). Here are some examples:
“I’m not absolutely certain of my facts, but I rather fancy it’s Shakespeare — or, if not, it’s some equally brainy lad — who says that it’s always just when a chappie is feeling particularly top-hole, and more than usually braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with a bit of lead piping.”
Of an awkward gathering: “And so the merry party began. It was one of those jolly, happy, bread-crumbling parties where you cough twice before you speak, and then decide not to say it after all.”
“That’s always the way in this world. The chappies you’d like to lend money to won’t let you, whereas the chappies you don’t want to lend it to will do everything except actually stand you on your head and lift the specie out of your pockets.”
“Absent treatment seemed the touch. I gave it to him in waves.”
“I wasn’t particularly surprised to meet Bobbie at the club next day looking about as merry and bright as a lonely gum-drop at an Eskimo tea-party.”
(This will also be linked to Semicolon‘s Saturday Review of Books.)
This also completes one of my requirements for the Back to the Classics Challenge hosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate.