A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
Vulpes Libris is delighted to welcome yet another new voice to the site – that of Sharon Robinson – who has just discovered P G Wodehouse, the lucky woman …
My reading group had chosen it for December and even while I voted for it, I wondered why. My knowledge and interest in Bertie Wooster’s strata of society wasn’t great, at least outside the pages of a ‘serious’ novel, by a ‘serious’ writer, for example Evelyn Waugh. I was only vaguely aware of the TV adaptation and my inner voice was at its most strident before I’d even picked the book up.
‘What did you want to do that for, you daffy mare? What on earth do you think an upper-class twerp like Bertie Wooster has to say to the likes of you? Get ye back to Dickens!’
As it turned out, I started reading Right Ho, Jeeves in the aftermath of a domestic disaster, which left me feeling very low. Wodehouse is famous for cheering the unhappy and he certainly did the trick for me. I became completely involved with Bertie, his friends, and his terrifying relations, especially his aunts. I’ve got aunts and I am an aunt, so I could identify, both with Bertie’s fear of them and their frustration with him. Bertie and I aren’t from completely different planets after all.
I love Jeeves’ voice and his dry intelligence, but I found that my response to it, and the character of Jeeves generally, was less sanguine than it might be were I one of Wodehouse’s more privileged readers. Jeeves is more intelligent and worldly than his employer because he has to be. His position depends on him being clever, sensitive and good with the maintenance of a gentleman’s wardrobe. His job, his comfortable lifestyle and his membership of a club for gentlemen’s gentlemen depend on his considerable merits, not on whether Bertie is a good egg.
That said, the fact that Jeeves does well through his merits is a good thing. It’s one of the things that marks him out from his employer, who appears to prosper through circumstance rather than his own efforts. However, there’s nothing intrinsically bad about Bertie either. He may be pampered, indolent and silly, but he is also generous, big-hearted and never mean-spirited. His freedom and privacy are regularly invaded by the bossy, insensitive and dysfunctional and he is often called on to sort out his friends and rescue them from the consequences of their feeble-mindedness. He very rarely carps and complains, except to Jeeves, who invariably comes to his rescue.
Bertie’s attempts to help his various friends, relations and connections are the source of much humour. Right Ho, Jeeves contains a scene at a school prize-giving, involving the ridiculous, newt-fixated Gussie Fink-Nottle, which is so funny it can’t be described properly, it has to be read. Possibly funnier still, is Jeeves’ description of it later to his employer. Jeeves’ wry and immaculate Standard Received English voice is possibly at its driest here – more than in the rest of the novel.
Since Right Ho, Jeeves, I’ve read two books of Jeeves and Wooster short stories, a Blandings Castle book and a stand-alone novel, Piccadilly Jim. Thus far, none of them touch Right Ho, Jeeves for sheer comedy and warmth. Wodehouse is not a revolutionary writer; he is an insider, poking affectionate fun at a system he knew intimately. However, expecting him to be otherwise is to miss the point entirely; he offers us a view of a world that most of us will never have any meaningful contact with and fills it with characters we want to know and to care about.
There are many editions of Right Ho, Jeeves available – both new and secondhand – but the cover shown is that of:
Arrow Books Ltd. 2008. ISBN: 978-0099513742. 256pp.