In an abrupt about-face from yesterday’s hefty subject matter, here’s another round of great silliness from P.G. Wodehouse. I’ve reviewed a number of Wodehouse’s Bertie-and-Jeeves stories here (search “Wodehouse,” you shall see), so just a moment of background: Bertram Wooster is your archetypal harebrained British peer, and Jeeves is his archetypal “man,” his gentleman’s gentleman, who repeatedly has to swoop in and save the day. Bertie’s problems generally involve girls threatening to trap him into marriages, his aunts’ unreasonable demands, and his old school friends’ shenanigans; he will usually be pressured to steal some small object from an intimidating older gent (usually nobility), issuing in new threats and hilarity. And hilarity is the point. The characters are silly caricatures (with funny names to boot), and the odd positions Bertie gets himself into are always ridiculous. Jeeves is priceless.
Here, we return to Totleigh Towers, where the action of The Code of the Woosters took place. The plot is a continuation of that earlier story: Stiffy and Stinker are still engaged, unable to marry until Stinker gets a vicary, and the indomitable Sir Watkyn Bassett is reluctant to bestow it. Gussie Finknottle is still engaged to the soupy Madeline Bassett, but until their marriage is official, Bertie is always on the hook: she expects to marry Bertie if not Gussie, so Bertie has great motivation to see them married. And Aunt Dahlia (the more palatable of Bertie’s aunts, but still a threat) will eventually come up with another scheme to steal from Sir Watkyn – who is of course a competitor with Uncle Tom in collecting whatnots. Add to this an American girl who turns up on the scene and catches Gussie’s eye, and another of Stiffy’s crackpot schemes, and Bertie is as usual in trouble.
There is nothing novel in this plot, but it’s okay, because the plot is just a device to see Bertie get put in ridiculous positions (hiding behind a couch, ready to jump out a window but for the Aberdeen terrier waiting below) so that Jeeves can go to lengths to rescue him (impersonating a Scotland Yard detective; serving temporarily as butler to the enemy). The dialogue – and again, the funny names – are where Wodehouse shines.
I continue to be amused, and will continue to pick up Bertie and Jeeves (or Psmith, he was fun too) wherever I can. I have one complaint, though. I have been blown away by Jonathan Cecil’s narration of a few Jeeves audiobooks, and frustrated that I can’t find more. I’m addicted; Cecil is the Wodehouse voice in my mind, and I can’t tolerate any other reading. Why so few? I went and checked, and unfortunately my man Cecil left us in 2011. Am now mourning. If you see any Cecil readings of Wodehouse, I highly recommend. But if you get addicted, be aware, there is a limited supply.