Book Review: My Man Jeeves

JeevesBertie 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.”

The full text of this book is available online here. I listened to the audiobook, read very nicely by Simon Prebble.

(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.

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10 thoughts on “Book Review: My Man Jeeves

  1. Huh. I thought a few of the stories sounded familiar too – but assumed that I had read My Man Jeeves before without logging it in my catalog of all I’ve read. Now it makes perfect sense – I have definitely read Carry on, Jeeves.

    I can’t figure out if the expressions are unusual because they’re British or because they’re from the 1910s-1930s.

  2. I’m glad you shared some quotes. I meant to do that but read this one on my daughter’s Kindle and on my iPad and couldn’t be bothered to figure out the technology. 😉

  3. You do a good job of summarizing the basic Wodehouse plot. They are all indeed very similar. He found a formula that worked, and stuck with it. That’s almost part of the fun, though. You know something crazy is going to happen, but that things will turn out all right in the end. All that’s left is to sit back and enjoy the ride!

  4. I finally finished my Wodehouse read last week (and posted my review yesterday). So now I’m hopping around to see what others thought.

    After reading Rebekah’s (and how your) review, I’m glad I didn’t read the short stories. I don’t know if I would have been able to read them correctly, especially if they felt a bit disjointed. I read a Jeeves & Wooster novel and enjoyed it thoroughly.

    As you say – and I would agree – sometimes Wodehouse’s plots grow a bit “tiresome” and repetitive but his writing style always carries the day! He makes me laugh.

    Thanks for reading along.

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