The Jeeves and Wooster Series – P. G. Wodehouse

61bQeXHNpAL._SY300_As quintessentially English as Morris Dancing and Cricket, P. G. Wodehouse’s novels are not just veritable feats of humour but some of the best stories that I have ever buried myself in.

Some novels I have read in the past seem to try to contrive a plot around an already worked out ending, or just use characters with a few witty one liners or running jokes, these books seem shallow after a jaunt with Jeeves And Wooster.

Wodehouse though achieves the perfect balance with all of the above tactics and adds his own inimitable writing style to the fray, which moves from clever plotting to over the top, energetic, whimsical hilarity.

The novels centre around Bertie Wooster a dim, monied, upper class chap who spends most of his time either falling in love, avoiding marriage or getting involved in mishaps, misunderstanding and down right farcical situations.

His ever faithful valet Jeeves is a man of the utmost discretion with a love of the philosopher Spinoza and a general mastery of a wide range of subjects, not to mention a subtlety with which he is able to discreetly maneuver people around to his way of thinking. He also has a critical eye for fashion.

Wodehouse’s plots are a finely balanced tapestry of goings on, never complicated but with enough plates spinning to keep the reader interested in the machinations of the characters.  Each plot is almost an intermingling subplot within the structure of the book, often when a mini plotline seems to have come to its amusing conclusion it is brought back later on for a further humourous effect.

The slow build up and the variety of goings on, help throw the characters into disarray as they sort out their at odds problems, whilst the ever helpful Bertie attempts to help in a well-meaning and decent way but usually ends up at cross purposes with everyone before turning to Jeeves for help. Interestingly even though this formula is employed in most of the 16 books, it is telling that it never becomes old or dull, rather the amusement of watching Bertie plunge down varying paths with the inexorable feeling that Jeeves will be needed is all part of the lure.

The nature of the books being what they are, the characters voices are central, being that the only action you may get in a book, is someone being pushed into a river, or betting on an egg-and-spoon race, arguably the strongest part of the authors talents lie in the way the characters talk, you get the idea that it is all perfectly natural, whether it’s the excitable Wooster or the laid back Jeeves or any of the rest of the cast, everything is believable even if there is the vague whiff of the unconventional about it.

Bertie’s internal monologue is the voice that accompanies us through the books, his affable and always upbeat nature make it a joy to watch things spiral so quickly out of control and make his madcap schemes to save the day more involving and however improbable, almost always plausible, you can’t help rooting for him.  Of course anyone who use the exclamation “Lor’ love a duck!” is a hero in my eyes.

Recurring jokes are always used subtly and with aplomb, they are never in your face and are more often than not made reference to conversationally so you greet their mention like old friends and not something repetitive and dull after a while.

There are so many one liners as well, but never as a signature sound bite to delight a reader, rather they flow through conversation and sometimes even the mundane lines can be made funny by the way the character says his or her piece, Wodehouse was a master of this,  and not unlike Jerome K. Jerome whose Three Men in a Boat is another comedy classic.

For a spot of gentle comedy you can’t go far wrong with these books, whether in America or loafing around the countryside of England, with its manor houses, eccentrics and animal with quirky personalities, the duo of Jeeves and Wooster are classics of comedy and well worth a read.

For those of you of a curious nature, if you haven’t seen Hugh Laurie in his pre Gregory House days, the old ITV series is probably available on this internet, featuring Hugh Laurie as buffoonish Wooster and failing that, I implore you to enjoy Blackadder as well.  British comedy at its finest…and then some.

BertieWooster-and-DrHouse-Hugh-Laurie
Gregory House / Bertie Wooster

17 Replies to “The Jeeves and Wooster Series – P. G. Wodehouse”

  1. I’ve never read Wodehouse, but this is one of the author’s that was highlighted by Susan Hill in her book I read recently Howard’s End is On the Landing and her accolades made me very interested to try him out. Have you read them all?

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    1. Not all of them, so far I have read four, I am loathe to read to many to quickly as I know I will hate not being able to experience one of his Jeeves books for the first time ever again, I seem to think in that odd way. I have been trying to locate a copy of Howard’s End is on the Landing for a while, I love books about books, I trust it is good, as Hill’s books all seem to be, well the ones that I have read at any rate.

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        1. I love the thoughts of books next to each other, the random order that changes over time…I have a half done post about that somewhere, I must finish it post haste.

          I loved reading A Pound of Paper – John Baxter, which is another book love book, the authors seem more esoteric though, or were when i read it a decade ago. Once again you add yet more books to my list…

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  2. While I have read almost all of the Jeeves and Bertie Wooster books and not a few of Wodehouse’s other books as well, including the Blandings Castle ones, I find it constantly appalling that he uses expressions such as “like an end man in a n-gg-r minstrel show.” And this does occur more than once, and in the narrative voice, not always in a character’s voice. I know that some men are only men of their times, but one expects better things of someone like Wodehouse. Another and less morally culpable flaw is that he recycles old plots as he gets older, and re-uses set bits as if he is still writing burlesque for the stage. I have never gotten rid of my collection of Wodehouse, and would probably buy any new one I found to give him a fair chance, but I can’t say I’ve read them too often recently either, once the flaws became apparent.

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    1. Fascinating, thanks for the heads up about the recycling, I have only read four of the Jeeves books so haven’t noticed any of that yet, my lack of memory for specifics will also help on that score as well. I’m surprised the PC brigade haven’t cried scandal over the dated bits of his prose, perhaps they just like picking on Enid Blyton…

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  3. Cracking review. I have yet to indulge in Wodehouse, but have read a few novels that have paid homage to his style. On the back of this, I shall seek them out, and read them with tea and scones.

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  4. I haven’t read a book from this author and perhaps I never will. Not my cup of tea, maybe? Bertie Wooster seems like an interesting chap, indeed. I am only not sure if I can understand all the humor of it.

    And why do most of the valets and butlers I have read were often named as Jeeves?

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    1. I believe that it is the Wodehouse character getting so much fame that people associated his name with butlers and so it became a generic name and the name of a search engine.

      The humour isn’t to confusing it is more based on misunderstandings between characters and such like. It’s as classic as a cup of tea and as easily digestible.

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    1. That’s awesome, I wish I have a dog, I would call it Rasputin: Mad Monk of Russia, and everyone would also have to address the mutt by its full name also.

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  5. I have never read Wodehouse either but have had these on my list for some time. Thanks for the review and the Hugh Laurie mention. I absolutely loved him on “House”.

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