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P G Wodehouse, or Pelham Grenville Wodehouse, to give him his full name, was born in Guildford in 1881, the grandson of a baronet. During his writing career he was responsible for creating several humorous and unforgettable characters, including Psmith and Lord Emsworth, the pig breeding aristocrat residing at Blandings Castle. But it was for his creation of archetypal Englishmen, servant and master, Jeeves and Bertie Wooster, that P G Wodehouse achieved universal acclaim. Some thirty five years after P G Wodehouse's death, Jeeves and Wooster are characters who remain as popular today as when they were first created
During his writing career Wodehouse was responsible for creating many wonderfully engaging characters, usually bearing incredibly silly names such as Gussie Fink-Nottle and Boko Fittleworth, who are lovingly described using early twentieth century dialogue littered with delightfully dated English expressions such as "topping", "by Jove" and "spiffing".
'My Man, Jeeves' is a collection of eight short stories, four of which feature the inimitable Jeeves, the other four starring Reggie Pepper, another very Wooster-like "chappie". The stories all demonstrate Wodehouse's unique interpretation of English (and American) society as it was between the Wars and at which he pokes gentle fun.
The eight stories are:
Leave it to Jeeves
Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest
Jeeves and the Hardboiled Egg
Rallying Round Old George
Doing Clarence a Bit of Good
The Aunt and the Sluggard
The four stories featuring Jeeves and Wooster are all set in New York where Bertie has been residing for about a year accompanied, of course, by the indispensible Jeeves. His Aunt Agatha had sent Bertie to rescue his cousin Gussie from the clutches of a music hall artiste. Suffice to say, Bertie failed and Gussie was now married to said artiste and treading the boards himself, so Bertie had decided that a discretionary absence would be the better part of valour and has remained in America until the dust of Aunt Agatha's ire settles. As he says "England is a jolly sight too small for anyone to live in with Aunt Agatha, if she's really on the warpath."
Needless to say, his absence from jolly old England doesn't prevent Bertie was bumping into old friends and making new acquaintances, all of whom need his, or rather Jeeves', help.
I'm a huge Jeeves and Wooster fan and am old enough to remember the original TV series starring Dennis Price and Ian Carmichael, who for me were the perfect Jeeves and Wooster, although Stephen Fry came a very close second. These stories are very much of their day, filled with somewhat louche young men enjoying the finer things of life in the Twenties and Thirties. The pages are filled with their escapades involving sweet, innocent husband-hunting young girls protected by older women who can only be described as dragons, all involved in the most convoluted situations, usually brought about by Bertie's ineptitude and requiring Jeeves' skill and ingenuity to extricate him.
It isn't the storylines, however, which makes these tales so appealing but more the interplay between Jeeves and Wooster and Bertie's total inability to see what a complete ass he is, although he does sometimes gets an inkling that he's not quite as bright as he should be. Inevitably, it's the clever yet unctious Jeeves who reigns supreme always leaving Wooster wondering who is master and who the servant.
The Reggie Pepper stories aren't quite as engaging, or at least not to me. I don't know the chronological dates for these stories but Reggie comes across as a possible forerunner of Bertie. Although Reggie has the same upper-class silliness, he is slightly more gifted with intelligence than Bertie because he has to solve his friends' problems without the aid of a Jeeves, however, it has to be said he does this more by luck than judgement.
Like Bertie Wooster, Reggie is a young man about town, a bachelor although he very nearly married one Elizabeth Shoolbred who promptly jilted him and married another, for which Reggie is eternally grateful. In one of the stories, 'Doing Clarence a Bit of Good', Reggie is somewhat taken aback when he eventually meets Elizabeth's preferred spouse. "First of all, when you hear about the marriage, you say to yourself, "I wonder what he's like." Then you meet him, and think, "There must be some mistake. She can't have preferred this to me!"
That statement, I think, personifies the young men who appear in the pages of Wodehouse's stories. They are unfailingly assured of their place, not only in polite society, but in the world. Most of them are upper class twits of the first order but it's impossible to dislike or even despise these chaps and it's so fitting that Wodehouse named Bertie's club 'The Drones' because that's exactly what these men are!
I highly recommend this book as either an introduction to the wondeful world of Wodehouse and two of his best creations or, for more seasoned Wodehouse readers, these tales will be enjoyable additions to the longer Jeeves and Wooster stories.
Price and availability:
This book is available from Amazon (although not the edition shown above) with a starting price of £6.95 new or £1.39 used.