“I was doing my best to skim through this bright little volume when the bell rang. I crawled off the sofa and opened the door. A kind of darkish sort of respectful Johnnie stood without. ‘I was sent by the agency sir,’ he said. ‘I was given to understand that you required a valet.’
I’d have preferred an undertaker, but I told him to stagger in, and he floated noiselessly through the doorway like a healing zephyr. That impressed me from the start. Meadowes had had flat feet and used to clump. This fellow didn’t seem to have any feet at all. He just streamed in. He had a grave, sympathetic face, as if he, too, knew what it was to sup with the lads. ‘Excuse me, sir,’ he said gently…presently he came back with a glass on a tray.
‘If you would drink this, sir,’ he said, with a kind of bedside manner, rather like the royal doctor shooting the bracer into the sick prince. ‘It is a little preparation of my own invention. It is the Worcester Sauce that gives it its colour. The ray egg makes it nutritious. The red pepper gives it its bite. Gentlemen tell me they find it extremely invigorating after a late evening.’
I would have clutched at anything that looked like a life-line that morning. I swallowed the stuff. For a moment I felt as if somebody had touched off a bomb inside the old bean and was strolling down my throat with a lighted torch, and then everything seemed suddenly to get all right. The sun shone in through the window, birds twittered in the tree-tops, and, generally speaking, hope dawned once more.
‘You’re engaged,’ I said, as soon as I could say anything. I perceived clearly that this cove was one of the world’s workers, the sort no home should be without.
‘Thank you, sir. My name is Jeeves.’”
Thus P. G. Wodehouse’s unlikely duo of Jeeves and Wooster embarks upon a sixty-year journey of wild hilarity and cutting satire. Wodehouse is widely regarded as the best humorist of the 20th century, poking fun at the upper crust and proletariat alike.
His comedic talents are best exemplified in the misadventures of this famous pair. Jeeves, straight-laced and quietly brilliant, is a classic example of the “gentleman’s gentleman.” He constantly seems to be saving his employer, Bertie Wooster, from the most awkward and absurd situations imaginable. Wooster is jolly, debonair, idle, and an incurable bachelor…in other words, a perfect parody of a well-off 20th century English gentleman.
The idea of a fully-grown man requiring the assistance of another fully-grown man to tie his tie seems absurd to most people today, but a little less than a century ago no one would have batted an eye at the concept. Except Wodehouse, of course. In fact, he did a lot more than bat an eye by using his literary gifts to preserve the foibles of polite society in a massively popular series of books.
Wodehouse was a prolific writer, to say the least. The Jeeves and Wooster canon contains roughly eleven novels and thirty-five short stories. Luckily, one can dive in anywhere without fear of confusion; despite recurring characters, one can usually read these novels individually. If books aren’t your cup of tea, the BBC adapted the series into a fantastic television show starring Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie as the title characters. However, I highly recommend picking up one of the books first.
Wodehouse’s charm (and occasionally, his wisdom) lie in the fact that he rarely took himself or his life too seriously. Neither do his stories. Reading Wodehouse is like eating comfort food or listening to a favorite song – it never fails to lift one’s spirits.
Works Cited: Wodehouse, Pelham Graham. Carry On Jeeves. 1915.