Review: How Right You Are, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

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 it if you’re new to P.G. Wodehouse. I haven’t read much Wodehouse 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 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:
Forthcoming Marriages
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, 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)

Overall: 4.4

Translation: Read it, but I’d start with Right Ho, Jeeves. I found this to be a good (and addictive) starting place.

8 thoughts on “Review: How Right You Are, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse”

  1. This series sounds hilarious! I read to my husband before bed each night, and these books must go on this list! Right now we’re reading American Gods, and good gravy is it not what I want to read.

    1. I think Wodehouse would be a lot of fun to read aloud!

      It’s funny you mention American Gods… it is one of the few Gaiman books that I never got round to finishing and it seems to be THE book that everyone holds up as proof of his brilliance. The feeling that I’m missing something is alllllmost enough to find a copy for my TBR, but not quite. It’s a relief to know I’m not the only one who couldn’t get into it! 🙂

    1. I started with Right Ho, Jeeves because I got a loaner copy from a friend who said it made a good intro to Wodehouse for him and it worked for me too… but I imagine the first book is also a good place to start! 🙂 I pulled up a summary and realize now that I’ve actually never read Thank You, Jeeves. Hrm, I should fix that…

      Wooster frequently refers to past events, but readers who are more invested in the series than I am have said the callbacks and references aren’t 100% consistent. (Which is 100% consistent with Wooster’s character; Jeeves is the one to have a sharp memory.) Each character receives a thorough introduction to explain Wooster’s feelings toward them, so I’ve never felt lost while reading. These books are my go-to when I need a surefire laugh. I hope you enjoy them! 😀

  2. What ho, E.F. Look up the Plumtopia blog. The lovely Honoria is running a series on where to start with Bertie and Jeeves. As is frequently the case with Wodehouseans, opinions differ. Mrs Plum recommends starting with the Inimitable Jeeves set of early stories and going on from there and I tend to agree with her, although there’s substance in the view you should start with the best so you don’t get put off by any disappointment. For me that is Right ho, Jeeves; others plump for The Code of the Woosters. Not much between them, really. For first-timers in Wodehouse generally, rather than B&J, I’d go for Weekend Wodehouse, if you can find a copy. It’s a delightful anthology of short stories, book extracts and various bits and pieces. Enjoy. Toodle-pip, old initial-thing.

    1. Ordinarily, I don’t like starting with a writer’s best because their other books seem disappointing by comparison, but since Wodehouse holds up well on a reread, I don’t mind as much. (“Possibly there was a certain suggestion of the piscine, sir” gets me everytime—love Jeeves’s diplomacy!)

      I don’t often find Wodehouse in bookshops, but I bought a large Kindle collection (for 99 cents!) with dozens of stories. I’ve only read those with Jeeves and Wooster so far though. Where do you recommend starting with the rest of Wodehouse?

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