But perhaps there are people out there who have yet to read any Wodehouse? Perhaps you are unfamiliar with the way he writes (since, let's face it, there is minimal variety within his output.) In the typical Wodehouse novel you will have comic misunderstandings, elaborate disguises, accidental engagements, wrathful aunts, and everybody ending up happy in the end. This formula is more certain than ever in a Jeeves and Wooster novel, where rich, foolish young Wooster gets himself entangled in a comedy of errors, and wise butler Jeeves demurely extracts him from them.
But the sheer joy, the genius, of Wodehouse is his wordplay. It's the kind of thing which will either appeal or not, and is impossible to explain into funniness (which is true of all humour, probably) - Wodehouse uses language like an acrobat, dashing from hyperbole to understatement in a moment; finding the longest way to express the shortest phrase; finding the most unexpected metaphors and similes, and twisting them all together alongside absurd slang and abbreviation. Who but Wodehouse could have written this line?
Girls are rummy. Old Pop Kipling never said a truer word than when he made that crack about the f. of the s. being more d. than the m.Or have conceived of this image, when serving an aunt with alcohol?
"Give me a drink, Bertie."Like Richmal Crompton's William Brown, Bertram 'Bertie' Wooster is nothing if not blessed with aunts - most of whom view him with an unwavering, and understandable, loathing and distrust. But, like William Brown, Wooster is endlessly well-meaning. This is what makes him such an attractive hero - more or less all the messes in which he finds himself are caused by trying to help others, often in the romantic department. Although Wooster himself sees engagement as a misery beyond all others, he often attempts to help others reach this state (invariably finding himself engaged to the soppiest female present.)
"Any sort, so long as it's strong."
Approach Bertram Wooster along these lines, and you catch him at his best. St. Bernard dogs doing the square thing by Alpine travellers could not have bustled about more assiduously.
But so far I have not been specific. I should mention Right Ho, Jeeves. Aunt Dahlia - the only aunt who can tolerate Wooster, although she demonstrates the sort of affection which is shown through terse telegrams and much use of the term 'fathead' - summons Wooster to her mansion in Market Snodsbury, Worcestershire. (Not many novels feature Worcestershire, the county in which I was raised, so it's nice to see it get a mention - and Pershore, no less, which was the nearest town to my house. If you're thinking the village name is ridiculous, I should mention that Upton Snodsbury is in the area, and presumably inspired Wodehouse.) He is being summoned to distribute prizes at a school, a fate which Wooster would rather avoid, to put it mildly. So he ropes in newt-fanatic Gussie Fink-Nottle, who had been looking for an excuse to go there. For why, you ask? Well, with the coincidental air which characterises so many of Wodehouse's convoluted plots, the girl with whom Fink-Nottle is besotted happens to be staying there. She, 'the Bassett disaster' as Wooster terms her, comes across pretty clearly in his first description of her:
I don't want to wrong anybody, so I won't go so far as to say that she actually wrote poetry, but her conversation, to my mind, was of a nature calculated to excite the liveliest suspicions. Well, I mean to say, when a girl suddenly asks you out of a blue sky if you don't sometimes feel that the stars are God's daisy-chain, you begin to think a bit.The romantic entanglements do not end there, of course. Wooster's cousin Angela and her beau Tuppy also have something of a rollercoaster relationship, just to add to festivities. Then there is Wooster's white jacket, which Jeeves is determined shall not be worn...
My favourite scene from this, and one which often appears in anthologies etc., is Gussie at the prize-giving. All I'll say is that he's been drinking, for the first time in his life. It's supposed to stiffen the sinews and summon the blood, but it's a little more chaotic than that.
This isn't my favourite Wodehouse novel. I think I prefer the stand-alone books to the series, perhaps because they're all the more unexpected and strange. But Wodehouse's exceptionally brilliant use of language is on fine form in Right Ho, Jeeves and I certainly loved reading this. There are many imitators, but nobody can equal Wodehouse for his strand of comic writing - and a dose of it, in between other books, is always, always welcome.