Contrary to what a millennial who is fluent in, or at least aware of, modern slang might presume P.G. Wodehouse’s classic Right Ho, Jeeves is not the errant tale of a pre-reality show bachelor searching for love with the assistance of his butler. Nor would one be correct in an assumption that this tale is a precursor of or inspiration for ABC’s “The Bachelor”. Instead of this we find the melodic writing of the proclaimed master of English prose, Wodehouse, using a story about the follies of a nebbish newt enthusiast in the matters of love and the mishaps of a Dunning-Kruger afflicted socialite as a tool to lace the page with artfully structured text.
The latter is our narrator, Bertram “Bertie” Wooster, and the former is his bespectacled school chum Gussie Fink-Nottle. The title character Jeeves is the impassioned, classically educated, Shakespeare quoting butler that carries as his main charge keeping Bertie out of the soup, or at least in the shallow end of it. Wooster takes the role of raconteur in the majority of the Jeeves novels, Right Ho falling near the middle of the volumes. Wodehouse at this point, to borrow a phrase, is in mid-season form.
The plot of a Wodehouse novel can often seem immaterial to one that is reading simply for the very pleasure of reading. However, it would be a mistake to say that this story falls short of engaging the reader: Bertie seeks to help his introverted friend Gussie in the courtship of a young woman; the setting is an English country house that is presided over by Wooster’s aunt and uncle. Through his typical bluster and well-intentioned foolishness Bertie makes a mess of things quite easily, only to be bailed out in the end and have the house restored to order by the unflappable Jeeves.
What is perhaps closer to the mark would be the notion that most themes, regardless of genre, have been done and re-done to a point of predictability on the part of the reader. Here we find the true thrust and importance of Wodehouse: the scheme may be familiar but the nuances of the story are wholly entertaining and the sheer magnificence of the author turns the recognizable into the fresh by way of his humor and craftsmanship of the page.
Consider the thoughts of Bertie; regarding what he believes will be the first step in the Fink-Nottle courting of Madeline Bassett:
“As I let the mind dwell on what must even now be taking place in that peaceful garden, I felt bucked and uplifted. Though never for an instant faltering in my opinion that Augustus Fink-Nottle was Nature’s final word in cloth-headed guffins, I liked the man, wished him well, and could not have felt more deeply involved in the success of his wooing if I, and not he, had been the bloke under the ether.”
Published in 1934, Right Ho, Jeeves, may not hold up to a modern readership, the English slang itself presents a slight problem even though the allure of having a gasper after a large meal is surely an enticing prospect. The sending and receiving of telegrams for important matters and insistence on meeting up would be replaced by simple text messaging. The above quote would no doubt now be a concise tweet from ‘BWoost1899’ probably along the lines of:
“Feeling better. Finks, the goof, set up for love in Aunt’s garden. Best of luck. #BetterYouThanMe.”
Almost one hundred years after their hey-day Wodehouse and Jeeves do not need a modern update but the dearth of citations and references to the author and what is potentially his best entry is both troublesome and telling. Even a passing nod can scarcely be found outside of literary circles, i.e. book nerds. Groups that are so exclusive that even this writer is not allowed entry (Not that I’ve, like, tried or anything).
Jeeves is a slice of a bygone era (one that never really existed) and whether or not we can relate to this period is immaterial to the possession of the ability needed to enjoy Wodehouse’s use of the English language and satire. The humor that comes of the double act of the well read, intelligent, Jeeves being employed as a personal gentleman’s gentlemen to the juvenile and self important Wooster requires nothing more than a sense of irony.
Here is Wooster unknowingly giving a peak into the gulf of intellect that separates he and his butler:
“As I drained the glass now, new life seemed to burgeon within me. I remember Jeeves, who, however much he may go off the rails at times in the matter of dress clothes and in his advice to those in love, has always had a neat turn of phrase, once speaking of someone rising on stepping-stones of his dead self to higher things.”
#FirstDrinkOfALongDay Jeeves still not getting it, but whatevs, sharp enough. Once said something about someone on stones. #GottaReadUp
The work does hold up well and becomes more important with the passage of time. We can always do with some light comedy and Jeeves offers that entangled with poetic sentences expertly sprawled across the page.
Of course the next entry in the Jeeves tales, The Code of the Woosters, could easily be envisaged as “B-Dubs ‘G’ Code,” that will remain to be examined another day.
Rory Schreiber is a self-aggrandizing, unlettered, mildly tolerable crank. He suffers from his own esoteric confirmation bias and may have inspired the original Dunning-Kruger trials. He can be found on twitter @RorySchreiber and more of his writing can be viewed on his personal blog at theroadverge.blogspot.com