This wonderful new edition of the P.G. Wodehouse series was provided to me by Random House India, for review purposes. I like vintage art and covers myself, but I can understand the appeal of the crisp modernistic lines of the cover illustrations on the series.
P.G. Wodehouse stands for Pelham Grenville Wodehouse aka ‘Plum’ by his friends. Chew on that for a moment.
I never thought of P.G. Wodehouse as someone who would be called ‘Plum’. I always imagined him as a gentleman with snow-white hair, dressed in immaculate black, carrying a pipe and stick in his hands with a serene and wise expression on his face as he walked sedately down a country lane or sat with his feet up on his desk in a book-lined study. ‘Plum’ never entered into the equation at all. Considering all the nicknames that his characters carry around, I am thoroughly ashamed to have missed this point. It is terrible feeling when you realize that you have missed a vital fact while making up an imaginary image in your mind and its too late to start again.
Carry on, Jeeves is a collection of short-stories, featuring the inimitable Jeeves and the unworldly Wooster. It’s impossible not to fall in love with Wooster, in a motherly sort of way. He is an orphan, though it never is clear when he lost his parents, and he lives the life of a gentleman of means, in short, he does nothing but sit at home, or visits plays, opera-houses or the country-homes of his friends and relatives, gets engaged to every unmarried woman he comes across (more often than not unintentionally, never actually managing to get married to any of them), and takes trips around the world to do more of the same. He is so far removed from the realities and harshness of life that he is one of the truly innocent and naïve beings on earth. It would be impossible for even the staunchest communist to hate a human being like Bertie Wooster. I believe because he is an only child, he has a tendency to be someone who is ready to do anything for his friends and more often than not gets emotionally-blackmailed into playing the ‘main lead’ in the most-obvious hare-brained schemes of his friends and relatives.
The constant presence of his aunts in his life is another feature that is truly heart-warming for me. Oh, he is terrified of his Aunt Agatha and her sharp set-downs, her acid tongue and her bad-mouthing his character to all and sundry, but I believe the woman must love him a great deal to keep such constant tabs on him and hound him the way she does. After all, you nag only the people you love and care about and whom you want to see shine to their full potential (read carefully hubby and little brothers, since all three of you are always accusing me of pointing out exactly what you are doing wrong).
Jeeves, is the brains behind Wooster and also his loyal butler. The day he walks into Wooster’s life, you immediately breathe a sigh of relief because you now know that Wooster’s magic circle is complete. The superior well-read man-servant, who knows how to keep his master happy. Plus, I think he has a soft corner in his heart for our bumbling, sweet Wooster. As we see in the set of short stories in ‘Carry on, Jeeves’, he manages to alleviate almost all of Wooster’s worries that more often than not are on behalf of his friends.
The stories in this book are:
1. Jeeves takes charge – This the story where Jeeves floats into Wooster’s life for the first time. Wooster has just managed to get himself engaged to an improving-sort of female and when she demands he steal a manuscript of his Uncle’s reminiscences because they feature her father in an, according-to-her, unflattering light, you just know the stage is set for a terrible fall. It falls on Jeeves to save Bertie from himself and I thought he did a wonderful job.
2. The artistic career of Corky – Corky is one of the long list of Wooster’s friends who are dependent on an aunt or an uncle for their day-to-day living and eventual inheritance. Jeeves is called upon to suggest ways to introduce Corky-the artist’s equally penniless fiancée to his snooty uncle, which back-fires in the most unfortunate way. Eventually though, Jeeves manages to redeem himself and helps Corky get on in life.
3. Jeeves and the unbidden guest – Wooster, that epitome of politeness, is unable to refuse shelter to the son of one of his Aunt Agatha’s friends and is shocked to find that the boy is nothing like his doting mother had described him to be. As he washes his hands off the boy and contemplates his aunt’s reaction to this dereliction of duty, Jeeves steps in and saves the day.
4. Jeeves and the hard-boiled egg – Another dependent-on-miser-uncle friend of Wooster, Bicky, comes to him for help in fooling his Uncle into believing that Bicky is a successful businessman. Jeeves presents a solution that works for a bit, but as usual, truth will out and Jeeves will step forward to make it all right.
5. The aunt and the sluggard – Meet Rocky, this one with an aunt who holds the purse strings. He is unique in that he is a country mouse and despises the fast, people-filled life of the city. When his aunt decides to live vicariously through him, he falls into a quandary that only Jeeves can figure a way out of. But when the plan works so well that the aunt decides to forgo the vicarious part and take active part in the revels of life, Rocky can only be saved from disgrace by some quick-thinking on the part of Jeeves.
6. The rummy affair of old Biffy – Biffy is one of those people who possess an excessively bad memory, and who then manages to get engaged to one of Bertie’s termagant ex-fiancée’s, and for once, Jeeves uncharacteristically backs out from helping him out of his predicament thus laying the burden of thinking on Wooster’s pale and frail shoulder’s.
7. Without the option – Wooster manages to get himself and his friend Sippy arrested on Boat-race night; the one night in the year when Bertie Wooster gets inebriated. Sippy has an aunt who looks after his allowance and has just asked him to visit some friends of her’s, when Sippy is carted off to the dungeons instead and Bertie is let go with a fine and the weight of guilt on his shoulders. Jeeves presents a plan out of the predicament which Wooster gives in to as a means of alleviating his guilt.
8. Fixing it for Freddie – Freddie’s heart is broken when his fiancée breaks it off with him and Wooster can’t stand to see his friend’s gloomy. A trip to the sea-side seems ideal to get Freddie’s mind off things, but things become tense when Freddie’s fiancée also ends up at the same venue, thus managing to undermine Bertie’s best efforts.
9. Clustering round young Bingo – Bingo is that rare commodity in Wooster’s circle – he is married; to a woman he loves. But like every married couple, when a most unfortunate disagreement crops up that Bingo has no hope of winning, Jeeves must be consulted to weigh the scales in his favour. We also meet Anatole, the French culinary genius, for the first time; and Wooster is embroiled in the machinations of his favourite aunt for stealing this magician from under the nose of Bingo’s wife. Events conspire to everyone’s satisfaction in the end, with a little prodding from Jeeves.
10. Bertie changes his mind – This story is narrated by Jeeves himself, as he tries his best to veer Bertie away from the terrifying notion of trying to adopt a little child, preferably a girl, in the mistaken hope that this will add meaning and substance to his life.
Even though these stories all feature Jeeves and his fast-working intelligence, for me they will always be about Wooster and his ability to recognize when he must step back for greater minds to work their magic. In every story I look forward to Wooster’s enigmatic comments on life and all the silly things that bother him so much.
My absolute favourite plots from P.G. Wodehouse, are those set in Blandings Castle, with the Empress and the adorable, absent-minded Lord Emsworth. Wooster and Lord Emsworth are by far the best characters of the lot (See a pattern here?).
So pick up a P.G. Wodehouse and get ready to fall in love with Wooster and Jeeves, his aunts and uncles, his friends and even all his fiancée’s, and smile at the polite leg-pulling and subtle insults that ‘Plum’ weaves into his narrative, an art that seems to be lost forever.