Saturday, August 16, 2014

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

It is impossible to be unhappy while reading the adventures of Jeeves and Wooster. And I've tried. - Christopher Buckley (lifted straight from the book cover)

Everyone needs a little pick-up from doom and gloom every now and then, and Jeeves and Wooster are there for you for your merriment.

The TV series starring Hugh Laurie as the upper-class half-wit Wooster and Stephen Fry as his gentleman's gentleman introduced me to Wodehouse in my early teens, but despite loving the show madly I didn't get around to reading the stories until this summer. Because I bought these books, they've unfortunately gotten trampled by furiously reading any books I've needed to return to the library. 

The Jeeves stories remind me of Austin: they involve someone wanting to get married or forced to get married, but this time from the point of view of an early 1900s dumbo who'd rather not settle down. Wooster's schemes usually get him into such trouble that his man servant Jeeves is summoned to rescue him. Add some ridiculous slapstick and silliness, and that's Jeeves and Wooster. 

In this particular one, Wooster tries to help his friend Gussie Fink-Nottle, a nerdy newt collector, marry Madeleine Basset, a doe-eyed dreamer who'd marry Wooster if no one else were around. Hence Wooster's dedication in this mission. 

Unfortunately, Madeleine has put Gussie on a vegetarian diet, which leads him to elope with a cook who makes a mean ham sandwich. 

The sub-silliness involves an African artifact that family members are using as a pawn in their own schemes, whether it is to get a vicarage, convince others that Wooster is a klepto, or to unify reluctant family members. 

My favorite parts involve the mild-mannered Jeeves figuratively kicking Wooster's butt: as a hired hand he cannot talk back or go rogue, unless the situation is so dire that only his help will do or when Wooster's relatives of more influence borrow him on their missions that usually make more sense than what Wooster was planning to do. 

In this story, Jeeves absolutely despises Wooster's new hat: a bright blue number with a pink feather on it, straight from the Swiss Alps. When Jeeves pretends to be a police officer and arrest Wooster, supposedly a known criminal, he tells the victim that among the Scotland Yard, Wooster is known as "Alpine Joe", the man who will go nowhere without his silly alpine hat. When the victim wonders why on Earth this ghastly criminal hasn't come up with a better disguise, Jeeves retorts, "You would indeed [think he'd have the sense], sir, but the mental processes of a man like that are hard to follow." Zing! 

I'd like to quote more because so many lines and situations made me laugh out loud, but all of them are at their best wrapped in their context. It's a short book! Read it!

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