Tuesday, April 15, 2008

My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Every so often, I stare at my to-be-read shelves and a great lassitude falls upon me: I can't decide what to read, or think of a reason why I ever thought I might want to read any of those books. That is the time for Wodehouse.

That time came again recently, and so -- after dithering in front of those shelves for probably half an hour, picking up books and putting them back down -- I read My Man Jeeves.

This book, originally published in 1919, collects some of the very earliest Bertie-and-Jeeves stories: four of them, along with four somewhat similar stories about Reggie Pepper (another amiable upper-class dullard, adrift in New York as Bertie Wooster is in his stories, but without the steadying hand of a Jeeves). Comparing the two series of stories shows immediately how useful Jeeves was for Wodehouse -- Reggie had to be at least somewhat intelligent, to get out of his own scrapes, but Bertie could be sublimely incompetent so long as he had Jeeves to guide and save him.

Bertie is himself from the beginning of his first story, and even his background is pretty well worked out -- he's in New York to get away from his overbearing (and as-yet-unseen) Aunt Agatha. Several of the plots will be familiar to Wodehouse readers -- and not just because Wodehouse re-used the same plot motivators many times, but because he re-used the entire situations of some of these stories for later works. These Jeeves stories aren't as sublime as the best later ones, but Bertie and Jeeves are always good company.

This shouldn't be anyone's first Jeeves book -- I'd suggest Joy in the Morning, The Code of the Woosters, or the stories in Very Good, Jeeves! -- it could go quite well as the fifth, or tenth, or (even, sadly) last.

No comments:

Post a Comment