What every new year needs: a little fun with Jeeves and Wooster!
From the back cover:
Jeeves is infallible. Jeeves is indispensable. Unfortunately, in How Right You Are, Jeeves, he is also in absentia. In this wonderful slice of Woosterian mayhem, Bertie has sent that prince among gentlemen’s gentlemen off on his annual vacation. Soon, drowning dachshunds, broken engagements, and inextricable complications lead to the only possible conclusion: “We must put our trust in a higher power. Go and fetch Jeeves!”
Though the back cover promises a rollicking good time, I don’t recommend this one if you’re new to P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster. I haven’t read Wodehouse much since high school and this blurb appealed to me because there’s a lot of potential humor in a Jeeves-less Wooster. Bertie Wooster is generous to a fault and his wealth affords him the luxury of having a social life in lieu of a job. He’s bumbling and not terribly self-aware; but when his plans go haywire, it’s due to a miscommunication or poor timing rather than a character defect. Jeeves, his butler, is the polite voice of reason who neatly sets things back on track behind the scenes. They’re both lovable (especially when played by Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry), but it’s their interplay that provides the spark. Wooster may get into stickier spots when left on his own, but without Jeeves’s one-liners, it’s not as much fun.
It begins with Wooster finding an announcement in the Times:
It was just after I had run the eye down the Births and Marriages that I happened to look at the Engagements, and a moment later I was shooting out of my chair as if a spike had come through its cushioned seat and penetrated the fleshy parts.
“Jeeves!” I yelled, and then remembered that he had long since gone with the wind. A bitter thought, for if ever there was an occasion when his advice and counsel were of the essence, this occ. was that occ. The best I could do, tackling it solo, was to utter a hollow g. and bury the face in the hands. And though I seem to hear my public tut-tutting in disapproval of such neurotic behavior, I think the verdict of history will be that the paragraph on which my gaze had rested was more than enough to excuse a spot of face-burying.
It ran as follows:
The engagement is announced between Bertram Wilbertforce Wooster of Berkeley Mansions, W.1, and Roberta, daughter of Lady Wickham of Skeldings Hall, Herts. and the late Sir Cuthbert Wickham. (27-28)
Roberta planted the engagement to shock her mother. The idea is that her mother will be so relieved to learn Roberta isn’t actually going to marry Wooster that she’ll approve of her real fiancé. It’s a running theme that he must finagle his way out of a faux engagement, but this one is tricky due to the large group staying alongside him and Roberta at his Aunt Dahlia’s, including: Wooster’s terrifying former headmaster (Aubrey Upjohn), Roberta’s real fiancé who recently antagonized Upjohn, and Roderick Glossop, disguised as a butler. Wooster narrates this comedy of errors in a conversational tone that reads easily once you get into it. It’s light and witty as small things (like missing cow-creamers) become large things:
What tipped the scale was the thought of Uncle Tom. His love for the cow-creamer might be misguided, but you couldn’t get away from the fact that he was deeply attached to the beastly thing, and one didn’t like the idea of him coming back from Harrogate and saying to himself, “And now for a refreshing look at the old cow-creamer,” and finding it not in residence. It would blot the sunshine from his life, and affectionate nephews hate like the dickens to blot the sunshine from the lives of uncles. (88)
It’s hard to sum up the plot because it’s a slow accumulation of events that become hilarious and ridiculous. This book is as funny as any of the others, but with things going a touch further in Jeeves’s absence, it borders on self-parody. Don’t worry, everything will soon be set right:
“What can Jeeves do?”
“That,” I said, “I cannot say, but he will do something. If he has been eating plenty of fish, as no doubt he would at a seashore resort, his brain will be at the top of its form, and when Jeeves’s brain is at the top of its form, all you have to do is press a button and stand out of the way while he takes charge.” (114)
Translation: Read it, but I’d start with Right Ho, Jeeves. I found this to be a good (and addictive) starting place.