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If you're expecting a review of Sid James as Jeeves and Kenneth Williams as Wooster (or the other way round), you've been had. There never was such a thing.. No, long before the 1950s and 1960s 'Carry On' team started carrying on, P.G. Wodehouse, one of the most prolific and long-lived (1881-1975) writers of the twentieth century, was publishing tales about the gentleman's perfect gentleman and his kind-hearted silly-ass employer. Some of the ten short stories in this book, published in 1925 and regularly reissued over the years, first appeared in the 'Saturday Evening Post' and others were slightly rewritten versions of those from another title, 'My Man Jeeves', first published in 1919.
Although this was not the first Jeeves and Wooster title to come out in book form, in a sense this was where the whole saga began. The first story introduces Jeeves as he begins work in the employment of young Bertram W., or as the title itself demonstrates, 'takes charge'. His predecessor, Meadowes, has just been given the sack for pilfering. Almost as soon as the resourceful new employee starts his duties, he realises that his master is engaged to a Florence Craye, an attractive but also very determined young woman who is determined to make a fine upstanding citizen of him and improve his intellectual horizons, such as they are, by making him read the works of the philosopher Nietzsche. Jeeves suspects that when Miss Craye becomes Mrs Wooster, his services will no longer be required.
Moreover, as a writer Nietzsche is fundamentally unsound - Mr J's opinion, not mine, although I will take his word for it. It only takes a little subterfuge to put things right. Mademoiselle Craye asks Bertie to do her a small favour, which involves intercepting a parcel containing the manuscript of a book of rather spicy memoirs relating to the misspent youths involving some of her family. Thanks to Jeeves, the theft of the parcel is, shall we say, unthefted and posted safely to the publisher, and a furious young woman coldly tells Bertie that their engagement is at an end. Jeeves is accordingly dismissed, but after Bertie realises that he has had a fortunate escape, he is forgiven.
Pardon the spoiler, but you might have guessed something of the sort all along.
A commonly recurring theme throughout these stories is that Jeeves instinctively knows what clothes Mr Wooster - come on, let's call him Bertie - should and should not wear. Sometimes he objects to his employer's suits, or his shirts, or his ties. In one case, Bettie decides to grow a moustache. Jeeves finds these various faux pas rather unbecoming, and gently indicates his disapproval. The 'wrong' clothes are disposed of in some way or other, and the moustache soon goes. Jeeves always has his own way. As Bertie informs us in the first story, Jeeves 'had the aspect of a distinctly resolute blighter.' He is right - and in fact Jeeves is right - always.
Just as characteristic are those wonderful little pen portraits and descriptions of the human species. For example, take one of Bertie's friends who is in love. As the besotted fellow describes or tries to describe the young lady in question, he makes 'a sort of curious gulping noise not unlike a bulldog trying to swallow half a cutlet in a hurry so as to be ready for the other half.' A rather miserable female of presumably middle age has 'the aspect of that of one who had had bad news round about the year 1900 and never really got over it.' (In other words, about quarter of a century before).
We also have that unique exhibit in these pages - a story narrated by Jeeves himself. The remaining stories in the book, and indeed every other Jeeves and Wooster volume, be it a short story or a novel - is told in the first person by the latter. The last item in the book is concerned with Mr Wooster's recovery (his employee would never be so familiar as to refer to him by his first name) from a dose of flu', and his desire to have a daughter. This being the 1920s, and he being a bachelor, there is a problem - until he decides that he wants to adopt one. (There is never the merest hint of any hanky-panky in Wodehouse's books, something his biographers have put down to his having had mumps or orchitis in his late teens and, it appears, a total lack of interest in that sort of thing). 'Employers are like horses,' Jeeves notes. 'They require managing.' Adoption, he believes, would not be a good idea. Arranging an impromptu visit for him to a girl's school might put him off the idea for life. It does indeed.
I sometimes wonder if the creators of 'Yes, (Prime) Minister' had a similar principle in mind. Common to both is the dominant theme of the cunning, even manipulative servant (Jeeves, Sir Humphrey Appleby) who always gets his own way over his master (Wooster, Jim Hacker), generally out of his depth although reluctant to admit it.
It's all very dated, of course. (So is Jane Austen. So is Chaucer.) These stories are clearly about people from another age. It's delightfully escapist stuff, of people in an age where young men used to pinch policemen's helmets on boat race night just for fun, and a fortunate few did not need to work, but had nothing better to do but to go out to their club in the evening, get gently hammered, spend the next morning in bed nursing a hangover, and occasionally make a quick trip across the Atlantic to New York if they wanted to avoid a particularly tiresome aunt. Moreover, you might argue that these stories follow a fairly tight formula and never really seem to deviate from it. Bertie is in trouble, and has a half-brained scheme for getting himself out of it, but has to leave it to Jeeves for a really foolproof if occasionally eccentric solution. But they are all so well-written and ingeniously constructed that you really have to have a humour bypass if they don't make you laugh.
Some of the Jeeves and Wooster books are better than others, but having read the lot myself at one time or another, I'll rank this as near the top of the list.
In these fantastic short stories, we see the ever incompetent Bertie Wooster get himself into all sorts of hot water, and the suave, knowledgeable genius we know as Jeeves. Bertie employs Jeeves as a "gentleman's gentleman"; in fact, his role is more to save Bertie from the scrapes he gets himself into. And not being the brightest young lad (some would describe him as having considerably more money than sense), he certainly needs Jeeves's help.
Each of the stories does tend to follow the same general outline: Bertie takes advantage of an offer, only for it to go awry. He attempts to fix it, but it gets worse. He then appeals to Jeeves, who, after usually only a few seconds' thought, has a brainwave.
Each of these beautifully crafted stories shows a different lacking in Bertie's abilities (although it is this endearing quality which makes you love him so much in his ineptitude). Wodehouse's use of Bertie as the narrator lets you see the sudden bursts of enthusiasm he is prone to. A great introduction to the Jeeves books, anyone will appreciate Jeeves's dry humour and other aspects of Wodehouse's wide range of laughable characters.
'Carry on, Jeeves' is regarded as the second of the Jeeves books written by P G Woodhouse ('The Inimitable Jeeves' is the first and there are 12 more afterwards)
In paperback this is 272 pages long and is made up of 10 short stories, roughly the same length as one another and all originally published when written in the 1920's. A little over half the stories are set in England, centred on London (the rest in New York) and are comedies about the society life of a 'young gentleman' (aged about 25) who did not work, indeed did not need to work and largely spent his time in the company of other young men who did not work and all of whom lived on generous handouts from wealthy and frequently titled relatives.
Bertie Wooster, the young man in question, staggers from minor scrape to minor scrape. He is constantly extricated from these mishaps by his seemingly omniscient and omnipotent manservant (or 'gentleman's gentleman'), the Jeeves of the title. Jeeves is rewarded with wodges of cash and usually with some minor victory whereby he is allowed to overrule the young master in the matter of some clothing faux pas or minor indiscretion (the wrong tie or purple socks or something).
You may have seen these characters on TV, most recently played by Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry (Wooster and Jeeves respectively) and these stories are amusing, although I do not find them laugh-out-loud funny (I have laughed until I've cried at some of the other books by this author). The problem in part it, this is basically the same story over and over again and although the language it is written in is fairly joyfully lush and rich, there is only so many references to fate creeping up behind you and smacking you behind the ear that you can find amusing.
An example of the writing is this, from story 7 Without The Option "Abstemious cove though I am as a general thing, there is one night of the year when, putting all other engagements aside, I am rather apt to let myself go and renew my lost youth, as it were. The night to which I allude is the one following the annual aquatic contest between the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge; or putting it another way, Boat-Race Night. Then, if ever, you will see Bertram under the influence. And on this occasion, I freely admit, I had been doing myself rather juicily with the result that when I ran into old Sippy outside the Empire I was in a fairly bonhomous mood. This being so, it cut me to the quick to perceive that Sippy, generally the brightest of revellers was far from being his usual sunny self"
It goes on in this vein (they end up pinching a policeman's helmet and Jeeves has to get them out of the resultant mess) and it is mildly amusing but not, as I said, hysterical. These are period pieces, they were written about and for a 1920's audience and they don't entirely play in the modern world: The world they describe disappeared presumably for ever with WWII and actually I can find the worklessness and unashamed life of indolent luxury mildly annoying - and I do realise that this life itself if being parodied by the books, but still! Bertie has three issues viz a) not unintentionally getting engaged to some 'dreadful scourge' of a female, (many of who pursue him and who all want to 'improve' him) b) occasionally showing his manservant and his aunt that he is not a total fool and c) not being seen out in the wrong shirt - these are not the major concerns of a crusading hero. However, as I say, it is best to not take this all too seriously.
This book would serve to while away a train journey, a flight or an afternoon on the beach, will not overtax your mind, has some nicely turned phrases for those who appreciate some of the wider glories of the English language and it can be safely read by aunts and children. It won't change the world. It may leave you idly wondering if pure hereditary distribution of wealth, land and power is necessarily the best system.
ISBN 978-0-09-951369-8, this edition published by arrow books with a cover price of £7.99 although I bought a set of 10 Jeeves books from 'The Book People' for about £10 the set.
The 10 stories in the book are:
"Jeeves Takes Charge"
"The Artistic Career of Corky"
"Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest"
"Jeeves and the Hard-boiled Egg"
"The Aunt and the Sluggard"
"The Rummy Affair of Old Biffy"
"Without the Option"
"Fixing It for Freddie"
"Clustering Round Young Bingo"
"Bertie Changes His Mind"