P.G. Wodehouse’s The Inimitable Jeeves

The Inimitable JeevesWodehouse’s The Inimitable Jeeves, less a novel than a group of chronologically-linked short stories cobbled together into a coherent whole, is the third Wodehouse work I have read thus far, and the final in my particular compendium of Wodehouse’s “Jeeves stories.” And, three novels in, some common themes, tropes and gags have emerged: Bertie Wooster is forever in imminent danger of being married against his will; his servant and confidant Jeeves manages to find a deux ex machina-like solution for every imaginable problem; matters of ordinarily little importance – the color of one’s socks, for example – take on life-and-death seriousness, owing, no doubt, to the “idle rich” lifestyle of the protagonists. But despite the formulaic plotting and the predictable jokes, Wodehouse nonetheless manages to entertain, to be, in fact, hilarious.

He has an incredible knack for dialogue, for capturing the mannerisms and foibles of England’s upper crust, and translating them into satire that is as affectionate as it is pointed. Here is Bertie Wooster, in imminent danger of losing his bachelor status and, consequently, the luxury to loaf about as he pleases:

I slid into the vacant chair, and found that I was sitting next to old Wickhammersley’s youngest daughter, Cynthia.

“Oh, hallo, old thing,” I said.

Great pals, we’ve always been. In fact, there was a time when I had an idea I was in love with Cynthia. However, it blew over. A dashed pretty and lively and attractive girl, mind you, but full of ideals and all that. I may be wronging her, but I have an idea that she’s the sort of girl who would want a fellow to carve out a career and what not. I know I’ve heard her speak favorably of Napoleon.

Or here is Bingo Little, an old school friend of Bertie’s who is in the habit of falling in love with every pretty girl he sees. Of the third or fourth such woman, Little has this to say to Bertie, quoting Byron: “‘She walks in beauty like the night of cloudless climes and starry skies; and all that’s best of dark and bright meet in her aspect and her eyes. Another bit of bread and cheese,’ he said to the lad behind the bar.” The poem (“She walks in beauty”) is beautiful, but so often quoted by lovers as to seem cliched or disingenuous, and Wodehouse cleverly suggests this is the case by the quick transition from sexual or romantic appetite to gustatory: “Another bit of bread and cheese.”

The plots in Wodehouse’s novels become almost incidental, mere excuses for his exquisitely crafted dialogue, but he mines such clever humor out of his characters that only a pedant would fault him for this. Wodehouse is far too clever a writer to be forgotten or left unread.