Sunday, January 30, 2011

"Right Ho, Jeeves" by P.G. Wodehouse

Summary: Bertram Wooster is upset when he hears that a school friend of his, Gussie Fink-Nottle, has been seeing Bertie's valet, Jeeves, for help with his problem: he loves a woman but is too nervous to ask her to marry him.  Bertie insists on handling the problem himself, and when Aunt Dahlia urgently asks for Bertie's help--and Bertie learns the object of Gussie's affection will also be visiting Aunt Dahlia--he and Gussie travel there.  But in Aunt Dahlia's home are even more troubles: Bertie's cousin Angela has just broken up with her fiance Tuppy and Aunt Dahlia can't bring herself to tell her husband she lost money at baccarat.  Can Bertie fix everything?  Or will Jeeves come to the rescue again?

Musings:  I'd heard of P.G. Wodehouse's books here and there, though I'll confess that it was young Frankie's admiration of his works in The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks that really piqued my interest (and the book is available free on the Kindle--yay!).  Unfortunately for the virgin Wodehouse reader, the author wrote a lot of books in his lifetime, but his Jeeves works are most well-known, and since Right Ho, Jeeves (the second full novel in the Jeeves stories) was recommended on several sites, I began there.

Right Ho, Jeeves is a lot of silly fun, and although it approaches slapstick at times, it never quite goes there.  The novel is told from the first person point of view of Bertie, a decent guy who nonetheless highly overrates his abilities.  Like Austen's Emma, Bertie seeks to solve everyone's problems--and only makes a giant mess in the end.  I kept expecting Bertie to go into Michael Scott land and be just a bumbling fool, but he was always step smarter than that, even though his plans never worked out.

Bertie's foil is the upright straight-man Jeeves, on which decades of English butlers have been based. Like with Bertie, Jeeves wasn't exactly as I expected.  He's calm, cool, and restrained, and he always shows the proper courtesy and respect, but he also has a mischievous side, which I enjoyed.  Not surprisingly there's a push and pull relationship between Jeeves and his employer, with Bertie always trying to maintain the upper hand, and often failing.  Muses Bertie once when trying to secure his authority: "I mean to say, while firmly resolved to tick him off, I didn't want to gash his feelings too deeply.  Even when displaying the iron hand, we Woosters like to keep things fairly matey."  Of course, in the end, Jeeves comes out on top, but without hurting Bertie's feelings too badly.

Wodehouse novels are known for their use of language, and I was happily surprised by the sauciness and humor present in a book published in 1934. I loved Aunt Dahlia's frequent disparagement of Bertie and her insistence on Bertie killing himself.  She once says, "I wonder, Bertie... if you have the fainest conception how perfectly loathsome you look?  A cross between an orgy scene in the movies and some low form of pond life."  Gussie's drunken presentation of prizes is fabulous, as is his attempt to escape Tuppy's wrath.

Right Ho, Jeeves was fun and enjoyable, and I look forward to reading more Wodehouse in the future.

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