Wednesday, August 29, 2012

The Inimitable Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

The Inimitable Jeeves by P. G. Wodehouse, 1923

I don't know if  you know that sort of feeling you get on these days round about the end of April and the beginning of May, when the sky's a light blue, with cotton-wool clouds, and there's a bit of a breeze blowing from the west? Kind of uplifted feeling. Romantic, if you know what I mean. I'm not much of a ladies' man, but on this particular morning it seemed to me that what I really wanted was some charming girl to buzz up and ask me to save her from assassins or something. So that it was a bit of an anti-climax when I merely ran into young Bingo Little, looking perfectly foul in a crimson satin tie decorated with horseshoes.

'Hallo, Bertie,' said Bingo.

'My God, man!' I gargled. 'The cravat! The gent's neckwear! Why? For what reason?'

'Oh, the tie?' He blushed. 'I - er - I was given it.'

He seemed embarassed so I dropped the subject. We toddled along a bit, and sat down on a couple of chairs by the Serpentine.

'Jeeves tells me you want to talk to me about something,' I said.

'Eh?' said Bingo, with a start. 'Oh yes, yes. Yes.'

I waited for him to unleash the topic of the day, but he didn't seem to want to get going. Conversation languished. He stared straight ahead of him in a glassy sort of manner.

'I say, Bertie,' he said, after a pause of about an hour and a quarter.


'Do you like the name Mabel?'




'You don't think there's a kind of music in the word, like the wind rustling gently through the tree tops?'


He seemed disappointed for a moment; then cheered up.

'Of course, you wouldn't. You always were a fat-headed worm without any soul, weren't you?'

'Just as you say. Who is she? Tell me all.'

For I realized now that poor old Bingo was going through it once again. Ever since I have known him - and we were at school together - he has been perpetually falling in love with someone, generally in the spring, which seems to act on him like magic. At school he had the finest collection of actresses' photographs of anyone of his time; and at Oxford his romantic nature was a byword. ---- (pages 10-11)

It's difficult to find anything new to say about The Inimitable Jeeves that I haven't already said about others in the series. P. G. Wodehouse is one of the most brilliant writers I've ever read, and the Wooster saga has to be one of (if not the) funniest pieces of comedy writing ever produced.
I can't say I've ever read a bad Jeeves book, but there have been weaker entries (generally the ones written later in Wodehoue's career). The Inimitable is definitely not one of the weak ones. As I've said before, the short-story format is perhaps best-suited for Wodehouse's gifts; his plots, if expanded to novel-length, can sometimes become a little labored. Inimitable is, ingeniously, composed of a dozen or so short stories that are linked together. The overall effect is like that of a season of television, composed of episode rather than chapter. It's a format that work brilliantly for Jeeves and Wooster, and the result is a fantastically enjoyable book.
The common thread running through all of the stories is Bingo Little, Bertie's haplessly romantic school chum. Over the course of the collection, Bingo falls in love with girl after girl, always with some bizarre obstacle impeding their union. Bertie inevitably ends up roped into some half-witted scheme, and naturally, Jeeves is the only person who can save his employer's best pal from catastrophe.
I've always enjoyed Bingo's presence in the Wodehouse 'verse: he's hilariously described as "the hero of a musical comedy who takes the centre of the stage, gathers the boys round him in a circle, and tells them all about his love at the top of his voice." No one can write a well-meaning, but ridiculous buffoon like Wodehouse, and Bingo is in rare form in The Inimitable. The thing I enjoy most about his presence is that he gives Bertie a chance to (occasionally) act as the voice of reason rather than the source of lunacy. Wooster's habit of calling his friend "young Bingo" is not just an affectionate figure of speech; it's a reminder that Bingo is one of the few people that Bertie can legitimately feel superior to. It's quite an accomplishment to be more insane than Bertram Wooster, but Bingo manages it. I think it was the false beard that put him over the edge.
As usual, other recurring characters from Wodehouse's stable pop in at various points in the book. Bertie's fearsome Aunt Agatha makes a particularly memorable appearance when, during a trip abroad, Bertie gets a rare opportunity to put her in her place. His tirade is a goofy, glorious masterpiece and probably the closest he's ever gotten to being triumphant in a struggle against his diabolical aunt.

There are some truly brilliant comic setpieces in the book, including an uproariously disastrous Christmas pageant with Bingo at the helm that brings to mind Gussie's iconic prize-giving scene from Right Ho, Jeeves (1934). The sequence where a group of bored small-towners begin betting on the lengths of their pastor's sermons is another gem. And let's not forget the interlude where Bingo joins up with a group of radical Communists. The whole book runs like a Wodehouse highlights reel. The fact that the main storyline is artfully and hilariously tied up at the end is just icing on the cake.

NEXT UP: Henry James's classic ghost story, The Turn of the Screw.

No comments:

Post a Comment