Monday, November 8, 2010

Right Ho, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse

Having recently moved to Melbourne, I've been forced to leave all my books behind...which means I don't have book review ideas staring me in the face! So for this post I'll stick with an old favourite.

PG Wodehouse is without a doubt the master of comic English literature. You will fully appreciate the regard in which he is universally held when I tell you that even literary critics, authors of postmodern literary novels, and the kind of snob that reads Sartre on public transport cannot help loving Wodehouse, together with all the stupid ordinary people who just like a bit of a laugh.

Right Ho, Jeeves may be the man's masterpiece. In the pantheon of personal Wodehouse favourites it runs a close second to Leave it to Psmith, and edges out The Code of the Woosters by a whisker. And the prize-giving speech at Market Snodsbury Grammar School is usually quoted as the funniest passage in the English language.

Now Right Ho, Jeeves is not exactly the first book featuring empty-headed but amiable upper-class-twit Bertie Wooster and his peerless gentleman's gentleman Reginald Jeeves, who always manages to extract his monocled employer from all scrapes, prison cells, and unwanted engagements said Wooster might accidentally accrue during the course of a chequered life. Bertram Wilberforce Wooster first drew breath in a collection of stories known today as The Inimitable Jeeves and continued to harry the public in subsequent collections and works such as Carry on, Jeeves and Thank you, Jeeves. But in Right Ho, Jeeves, Wodehouse kicked off a multi-novel storyline of ecstatic hilarity which remains perhaps the zenith of his career.

It all starts innocently enough. Bertie returns from holidays to find shrinking violet and old school chum, Gussie Fink-Nottle, cowering in his living-room dressed as Mephistopheles. Gradually all is revealed: Gussie has fallen in love with Madeleine Bassett (a blonde, wilting female who believes the stars are God's daisy chain) and has emerged from his deep seclusion studying newts in the country to woo the girl with Jeeves's help. Gussie, who has missed his chance to propose at a fancy-dress ball, despairs of getting to know Miss Bassett further because the very next day she is due to go stay with a Mrs Dahlia Travers in the country.

Fortunately, it just so happens that Mrs Dahlia Travers is Bertie's own dearly-loved Aunt Dahlia, who now expects Bertie to come down to give the prize-giving speech at the local grammar school. In a legendarily hilarious exchange of heated telegrams (some of which can be read here) Bertie manages to evade the task and slip it onto Gussie's shoulders, pushing him off to Aunt Dahlia's place instead.

But even with Gussie palely loitering around the premises, the course of his true love for Madeleine Bassett does not run smoothly. Pretty soon Bertie arrives himself to take charge. Disaster, naturally, ensues: Gussie can't get the words off his chest, Madeleine misunderstands Bertie when he arrives to plead Gussie's case, Aunt Dahlia is about to lose her peerless chef Anatole, Cousin Angela's engagement to Tuppy Glossop is on the rocks, and worst of all, Jeeves disapproves of Bertie's new white jacket. With sundered hearts and rebound relationships occurring left right and centre, one of the most outrageously complex imbroglios in English literature, and such gems as the gloriously funny argot of the French cook who learned English from an American chauffer, the book is one laugh from beginning to end.

Comic novels may come and comic novels may go, but the delirious good fun of Right Ho, Jeeves, will remain with you till long after your sides have ceased to ache.

Gutenberg etext

Librivox recording

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Read the speech day chapter in the bath today and tears of laughter in the end. Simply superb

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