Here we are again with Bertram Wooster and his unrivaled valet, Jeeves. This is the third full-length novel in the series (see my reviews of the first two, Thank You, Jeeves and Right Ho, Jeeves). In this installment, Bertie is recovering from a hangover following his old pal Augustus “Gussie” Fink-Nottle’s bachelor party, when his Aunt Dahlia sends him off on an errand to sniff derisively at a silver cow creamer (it only gets weirder from here, stay with me) and thereby hopefully lower the price for his Uncle Tom who desires it. But a rival collector buys it out from under Uncle Tom, and Aunt Dahlia sends him off a step further: to the country home of the cow creamer’s new owner, Sir Watkyn Bassett, to steal it from him. Bertie was already on his way there, at Gussie’s request, to help patch the rift in Gussie’s engagement to the Bassett daughter, Madeline. Upon arrival, he finds the cow creamer extremely well-guarded, suspicious and threatening parties all around, and a second couple on the rocks: the Bassett niece, Stephanie “Stiffy” Byng, and the local curate Harold “Stinker” Pinker, another old school chum of Bertie’s. Before he knows it, he’s engaged to steal cow creamers on the behalves of several rival parties, and that’s just the beginning of the mix-ups to come. Bertie (and Gussie, and Stinker) are threatened with incarceration and bodily harm as well as called-off weddings, or Bertie’s enforced marriage to one or the other of the girls, among other frightening fates.
If you haven’t figured it out, funny names are among Wodehouse’s several areas of genius. Husband is still laughing at What-Whatley from Thank You, Jeeves.
This was decidedly another delightfully laugh-out-loud funny and silly Jeeves book. I had a grand time. The antics of Bertie Wooster, his many incompetencies, and the completely deadpan assistance provided by his “man” are incomparable. This series is also incomparably silly, so if you struggle with silliness, beware. If, however, you appreciate silliness, also beware: other drivers think I’m crazy as I laugh out loud while driving around with these audiobooks in my car. I highly recommend Jonathon Cecil’s narration and hope I can listen to him narrate the entire series.
On the other hand, I struggled with something in Code of the Woosters that I don’t remember encountering in the first two books: misogyny. This is Bertie’s misogyny as opposed to Wodehouse’s – although of course there is not necessarily or even very often a difference, is there? (This book appears to have been published originally in 1938, partially explaining the issue.) Bertie is afflicted by the women in his life. These are generally his female peers in their relationships with his old school friends, and his aunts (“the aged ancestor” etc.). The first person voice of Bertie, then, laments the difficulty of the female sex. What the reader finds easy to observe, of course, is that it is not just the perversities of the females that accosts him – it is also his own ineptitude, and that of his male friends. (Gussie Fink-Nottle is a hopeless wreck in ways that can be blamed on no female, unless of course one blames his mother.) If this element was present in the first two books I loved, I missed it. Here, it came up repeatedly, until I got a little exasperated with hearing about how obnoxious, trying, immoral, and difficult Bertie finds women. I wonder if he ever becomes attached to one throughout the series? I’m not put off enough to give up, so I’ll let you know in our next installment of the comic Bertie & Jeeves duo.
My final (and minor) quibble with The Code of the Woosters is in the final fate of Constable Oates. I won’t give the finish away, but suffice it to say: when we first meet Oates he is assaulted by a vicious Aberdeen terrier while riding his bicycle, resulting in a crash, and he earned my sympathy (obviously) immediately. He does nothing more offensive in the rest of the story than want his personal property returned to him; he doesn’t even appear to share in Sir Watkyn Bassett’s ambition to throw the thief in the “chokey.” For him to come up for Bertie’s hostility seems unfair to me; I felt for Oates, myself. But that’s the final quibble.
I enjoyed this hilarious book far more than I was bothered by it, and highly recommend Wodehouse for giggles aloud. Audiobook lovers, please look out for Jonathon Cecil; he has come to embody Bertie, Jeeves, and the rest to me. Laugh on.