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Very good, Jeeves
by Asa Butcher
Issue 16
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The World of Jeeves
P.G. Wodehouse
Harper & Row, New York, 1967

Who hasn't heard of the literary duo Reginald Jeeves and Bertram Wooster created by the comedy genius Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse KBE? They have been immortalised in television series, on radio, on the stage and one even lent his surname to a search engine, but, as Wodehouse himself wrote, 'Jeeves knows his place, and it is between the covers of a book.'

The World of Jeeves is an Omnibus Book published thirty years ago to celebrate the 90th birthday of the author and contains 34 short stories that follow the adventures of Wooster's 'foppish foolishness' and Jeeves, the quintessential gentleman's personal gentleman - valet to you and me - sorting out his master's messes.

This collection of stories was published over a period of forty years (1919-1959), but you don't really notice this other than a distinct plot formula that begins to appear. Wodehouse suggests in his introduction that you take it easy, spread it out and assimilate it little by little; there is even a tongue-in-cheek reading menu as advocated by a well-known West End physician: Breakfast - Toast, marmalade, coffee, soft-boiled egg and 'Jeeves and the Hard-Boiled Egg'.

Wodehouse's light-hearted introduction sets the tone for the book and you quickly ignore the author's advice by reading story after story until you reach the final page. 'Jeeves Takes Charge' is the first story of the book and it recounts the first meeting between Wooster and Jeeves before launching us headfirst into the thorny world of aunts, old school friends, favours, marriage, gambling, policemen's helmets, the Drones Club and much more.

The interaction between Wooster and Jeeves is sublime and there are times when you forget that one is master and the other is valet. Bertie repeatedly vows never to question Jeeves' advice, yet he always breaks this promise eventually requiring the help of his bowler-hat wearing man. The best stories have extremely intricate plots, but we just sit and wait because nothing is too formidable for Jeeves to solve.

The building of complication upon complication is one of my favourite aspects of the stories. When the outlook looks bleakest for either Bertie or one of his friends, such as Bingo, Gussie or Tuppy, then this is when Jeeves is at his brightest. Occasionally he uses brawn, sometimes he has inside information and there is the odd time he employs a certain je ne sais quoi, but he will always come out on top.

'Bertie Changes His Mind' is the only story narrated by Jeeves in the series and it gives us an insight into how this incredible mind works. We see how much Jeeves cares for Wooster and reveals what lengths he will go to ensure that the status quo of their relationship does not change, which is surprisingly quite far. This story is considerably different to the others, but it is better that Wooster is responsible for narrating the rest, since he is much better at waffling.

I would thoroughly recommend anybody to pick up a Jeeves and Wooster book and indulge in some pre-World War II English aristocracy through the eyes of a dim-witted bachelor and his unflappable valet, who, by the way, has holidayed in my hometown of Bognor Regis:

"You haven't brought Jeeves?"
"No. He always takes his holiday at this time of year. He's down at Bognor for the shrimping."
- 'The Love that Purifies'

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Alan2006-09-10 13:30:46
Really good book

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