Book review, Literary criticism

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

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British humourist P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975)

With an opening like this…

I marmaladed a slice of toast with something of a flourish, and I don’t suppose I have come much closer to saying ‘Tra-la-la’ as I did the lathering, for I was feeling in mid-season form this morning. God, as I once heard Jeeves put it, was in His Heaven and all was right with the world. (He added, I remember, some guff about larks and snails, but that is a side issue and need not delay us.);

a setting of a country pile called Totliegh Towers near the village of Totleigh-in-the-Wold; wold, by the way, apart from being the past participle of ‘will’ which we never use, is, apparently, a piece of open ground in Lincolnshire; and a cast of characters such as Sir Watkyn Basset, his daughter, Madeleine, Roderick Spode, Gussie Fink-Nottle, Emerald Stoker, the Rev. Stinker Pinker, and his fiancée, Stiffy Byng, you know what to expect, and that’s exactly what you get.

The irrepressible, and un-embarrassable Bertie Wooster and his faithful and loyal Man, Jeeves, motor to the said house to mix with the said folk and chaos ensues but it’s chaos of the very English countryside kind: all misunderstandings, gnashing of teeth, rolling of eyes, and spurious and fuzzy relationships where love is something like a decision about which scarf one should wear today, given the unseasonable weather.

Bertie Wooster, always the narrator, who doesn’t have a job – unless a job is having lunch at his club – often refers to himself in the third person, a somewhat English habit not unrelated to the royal ‘we’ and the uppity ‘one’. He has the hide of a hippo and the intelligence of a gnat. He seems to hate everybody except those he likes, and those he hates, hate him back, of which he is totally unaware; and those he likes think he’s a bit of a dill. That’s where Jeeves comes in, and always in the nick if t.; and that is one of Bertie’s little tropes, if ‘tropes’ is the word I want? (Ditto). But if it weren’t for Jeeves, who when he does come in it’s usually with tea on a tray, there’d be no story, no 14 books, and no laughs. Thank god – no, thank Wodehouse – for Jeeves since he knows absolutely everything about everything. Wodehouse, by the w, is pronounced ‘Woodhouse’ contrary to usual English pronunciation; so very Bertie Wooster!

Pelham Grenville Wodehouse (1881 – 1975) was a prolific writer of humour and social commentary: novels, articles, short stories, and lyrics for musical comedies (Anything Goes, 1934), – at one time he had 5 musicals – in which he had a hand – running on Broadway, films (Gentleman of Leisure, 1915, Sally, 1929, The Girl on the Boat, 1961), and the creator of many memorable characters, Bertie Wooster and Jeeves being just two of them. At the age of 93 he received a long-overdue knighthood in 1975, but died on St Valentine’s Day 45 days later.

In his 90’s he was asked, “How about writing?”

Oh, as far as the brain goes, I’m fine. I’ve just finished another novel, in fact. I’ve got a wonderful title for it, Bachelors Anonymous. Don’t you think that’s good? Yes, everybody likes that title. Peter Schwed, my editor at Simon and Schuster, nearly always alters my titles, but he raved over that one. I think the book is so much better than my usual stuff that I don’t know how I can top it. It really is funny. It’s worked out awfully well. I’m rather worried about the next one. It will be a letdown almost. I don’t want to be like Bernard Shaw. He turned out some awfully bad stuff in his nineties. He said he knew the stuff was bad but he couldn’t stop writing.

“Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves” was first published in 1963. The plot? Well, let’s see. It has something to do with an ugly black amber objet b’thingummy which may or may not be stolen; an engagement that may be off, or it may be on; which all has something to do with a steak and kidney pie (see jacket cover). Perhaps I need to explain that the engagement is also threatened by conflicting opinions about sunsets, elves’ bridal veils, and something Dante wrote. Does that help? Oh, and there’s also a bit of fisty-cuffs and the cook elopes with someone’s fiancée which has a devastating effect on the prospect of dinner. Anyway, it’s all very cleverly muddled together to be as light as a … what’s the word I want? Starts with an f. Oh, yes; as light as fluff. And if you’ve ever tried to describe fluff you’ll know what I mean; light fluff is even trickier, but this being so light in fact, it blew away with the breeze before I had a chance to remember it. So, sorry, but entertaining? Very! If you like this sort of English thing; but it can be an effective diversion if read after Frank Morehouse and James Joyce.

-oOo-

You can find all things Wodehouse on his official website: http://www.wodehouse.co.uk

This particular book you can find here.

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2 thoughts on “Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

  1. Richard Fotheringham says:

    Thanks for that Michael I really had forgotten the quality of the language we used to have Been reading E F Benson a few months ago …Map and Lucia is just as fresh and funny as it was 50 years ago when i first read it Keep up sharing the things you find Perfect for the ( lots of ) spare time i have now in Bali Richie x

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    Like

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