Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Just Enough Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Rating: 3 & ½ Stars

Wodehouse’s name is synonymous with a certain kind of British humor – the one that’s as light and airy as a soufflé. In a literary career that spanned nearly seventy years, much of his writing is set in the Edwardian era. His countrymen have him to thank for the persistent stereotypes of Englishmen who sport monocles, knickerbockers, and say things like ‘pip pip’, ‘Cheerio’, and ‘toodles’. The rest of us are bemused and charmed by a people in the thrall of harmless if eccentric notions of fealty, royalty, and afternoon tea.

Wodehouse’s most enduring creation is the pairing of that feather-headed man-about-town, Bertram Wooster, and his brilliant valet, Jeeves. ‘Just Enough Jeeves’ is a collection of two novels – Joy in the Morning and Right Ho, Jeeves and an anthology of short stories – Very Good, Jeeves!

Those who are familiar with the Jeeves series know that Bertie is less the silly nincompoop that his friends and family take him for and more the innocent scapegoat who keeps landing in the wrong place at the wrong time. Kind and chivalrous to a fault, he invariably finds himself fending off over-bearing aunts and girls with the predatory glint of matrimonial intentions in their eyes. The latter convince themselves that he’s languishing in love of them when nothing could be further from the truth, but Wooster is too much of a gentleman to set them straight. When he’s not trying to disentangle himself from their clutches, he’s either complicating or endeavoring to smooth out the love life of his various humorously named friends – Bingo Little, Boko Fittleworth, Tuppy Glossop, or Gussie Fink-Nottle.

Deftly steering him through these difficulties to the guaranteed happy endings is his gentleman’s gentleman – Jeeves. A prodigious reader and insightful student of human nature, Jeeves plies his perspicacity in the aid of ‘the young master’. It is not all in the feudal spirit however. Bertie frequently pays the price for these services in the form of various small sacrifices – whether it’s in the reluctant relinquishing of some sartorial whim, or last minute change of plans, or having his eyes abruptly opened to the unsuitability of someone he has a crush on. Jeeves always has the last say.

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