As it happens, right now my wife and I are eagerly awaiting the arrival of our second child. In fact, the little chap / lady was due on Tuesday, so is already three days late as I write this. Anyway, the reason I mention this personal detail is that after finishing Pride and Prejudice and considering what to read next, I decided that a short, light-hearted yarn was in order; something to help me relax and take my mind off the seemingly endless waiting. (My wife, having similar thoughts, is currently enjoying the latest Bridget Jones instalment.)

And what could be better under such circumstances, I asked myself, than a P. G. Wodehouse novel?

The Inimitable Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse

In the past, I watched and thoroughly enjoyed the Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry television series of Jeeves and Wooster, but I had not, before now, ever read one of the books.

I cannot quite remember where I picked up The Inimitable Jeeves, but it’s been waiting patiently on the shelf for a year or two. I really cannot think why I’ve not reached for it before now.

Anyway, it proved to be exactly what I had hoped it would be: distracting and amusing in a comforting, other-worldly kind of manner.

Whilst there is some continuity from chapter to chapter, the book is really a series of fairly independent episodes in the privileged life of our good-hearted yet hapless protagonist, Bertram (Bertie) Wooster. As usual, Bertie and his chums get themselves into various scrapes, from which Bertie’s startlingly clever and resourceful valet (or “gentleman’s personal gentleman”), Jeeves, has to rescue them.

The real joy of the book is, of course, in P. G. Wodehouse’s immaculate style. Bertie continually comes out with the most wonderful idioms and turns-of-phrase. Here are some of my favourites.

A typical exchange between the exuberant young master and his patient valet, Jeeves:

“In the spring, Jeeves, a livelier iris gleams upon the burnished dove.”
“So I have been informed, sir.”
“Right ho! Then bring me my whangee, my yellowest shoes, and the old green Homburg. I’m going into the Park to do pastoral dances.”

Bertie reflecting on his late, highly eccentric uncle:

“My late Uncle Henry, you see, was by way of being the blot on the Wooster escutcheon. An extremely decent chappie personally, and one who had always endeared himself to me by tipping me with considerable lavishness when I was at school; but there’s no doubt he did at times do rather rummy things, notably keeping eleven pet rabbits in his bedroom; and I suppose a purist might have considered him more or less off his onion. In fact, to be perfectly frank, he wound up his career, happy to the last and completely surrounded by rabbits, in some sort of a home.”

When it comes to food, Bertie certainly likes to do things properly. Here he is suggesting the menu for a spot of lunch with his friend Bingo:

“How would this do you, Bingo?” I said at length. “A few plovers’ eggs to weigh in with, a cup of soup, a touch of cold salmon, some cold curry, and a splash of gooseberry tart and cream with a bite of cheese to finish?”

Bertie musing about his old friend Cynthia, one of the many young ladies that his Aunt Agatha has tried to get him to marry:

A dashed pretty and lively and attractive girl, mind you, but full of ideals and all that. I may be wronging her, but I have an idea that she’s the sort of girl who would want a fellow to carve out a career and what not. I know I’ve heard her speak favourably of Napoleon. So what with one thing and another the jolly old frenzy sort of petered out, and now we’re just pals. I think she’s a topper, and she thinks me next door to a looney, so everything’s nice and matey.

What I had not appreciated before reading this, was just how clever and learned P. G. Wodehouse evidently was. There are literally hundreds of cultural references subtly scattered throughout the dialogue. Half of Bertie’s charming idioms are actually carefully massaged snippets of poetry (see the first quote above). If you are interested in this sort of thing, check out the following website: P. G. Wodehouse: Literary and Cultural References.

Finally, before I close, I must mention a fine book blog that I stumbled across some months back. It is dedicated entirely to the works of P. G. Wodehouse, and the blog’s author lists the following as her noble aim: “My personal quest is the search for a life inspired by the literature of P.G Wodehouse.” You can see it for yourself here: Plumtopia: The world of P.G. Wodehouse.

I’m sure P. G. Wodehouse would approve!

Advertisements