December 26, 2004

Wodehouse Update

Previous entries can be found here and here.

Upon my request, the Hennepin County Library system delivered Ring for Jeeves to our local branch and I retrieved it before they shut down for the holiday. While I'm still reading this, and enjoying it tremendously, I wanted something a little frothier to read over the holiday. Of which I do rather a lot as we have no wee ones, who, like a full-powered, freshly bagged Hoover, can be something of a time sucker around this time of year. Or so I'm told.

I finished it last night and it was indeed frothy. Yet...

Well, if you're interested, take the Plum Plunge and read on after the jump.

I'm finding I have more questions than answers about Wodehouse's work.


This book left me with a not-unpleasant taste in my mouth, yet it certainly wasn't the most flavorful thing I've ever tasted. For as much as Wodehouse is heralded as the "funniest writer ever!" I certainly didn't fall off my chair at any of the hijinx in this particular novel. While I enjoyed finally being introduced to Jeeves, I'm up in the air about him as a human being. He may be a good and devoted servant, entirely unflappable, and one of the cleverest characters ever to grace the page, he was so above every other character in this novel that his talents seemed wasted on this lot of slackers. Finally, while I adored the language, the story the language was employed to tell was predictable. I certainly don't have any problem with formulaic novels, but this novel---and how do I write this politely?---bored me. I know. Heresy. But before you light the fire at my feet, know that it is possible for an author to make me green with envy with their prose and still bore me to tears with the story they're choosing to tell. Ask Don DeLillo about my reaction to his Underworld and I think he'll give you a clue.

Yet so many people love Wodehouse. They revere his work. They can't all be boring stories. It simply cannot be. I have a hard time believing that people would be obsessed with this man's work almost thirty-years after his death and would, essentially, be revering what are beautifully worded boring stories. While I found much to be adored in Ring for Jeeves the storyline wasn't included in their number. How to reconcile the two issues? It occurs to me that I must be missing something.

Or is the fact that Bertie is missing in this Jeeves adventure the problem?

The copy on the back of the books reads:

The only Jeeves story in which Bertie Wooster makes no appearance, involves Jeeves on secondment as butler and general factotum to William Belfry, ninth Earl of Rowcester (pronounced Roaster). Despite his impressive title, Bill Belfy is broke, which may explain why he and Jeeves have been working as Silver Ring bookies, disguised in false moustaches and loud check suits. All goes well until the terrifying Captain Brabazon-Biggar, big-game hunter, two fisted he-man and saloon-bar bore, lays successful bets on two outsiders, leaving the would-be bookies three thousand pounds down and on the run from their creditor. But now the incandescent Captain just happens to be the former flame of Rosalinda Spottsworth, a rich American widow to whom Bill is attempting to sell his crumbling stately home...

Robert, in his all-encompassing Wodehouse List, claims that Ring for Jeeves "...{P}roduces violent reactions from some people. It's kind of a hybrid Bertie and Jeeves story with one of Wodehouse's standard third-person romantic comedies. I personally have no problem with it, but I'm glad Plum only tried this formula once."

While I'm sure this isn't the best of the Jeeves catalogue, it's leaving me wondering about the rest. Is the rest different? What does Bertie add? Or is Bertie just like Bill and is completely uninteresting? (I know some will consider that last sentence to be slanderous, but hey, I'm a newbie. Cut me some slack.) My much beloved Hennepin County Library System hasn't coughed up the rest of the requested novels yet, so I'm unable to compare.

{Insert much pondering here}

Posted by Kathy at December 26, 2004 06:11 PM

(Resisting urge to look for my matchbox!)

The hallmark of the Bertie and Jeeves stories is the fact that they're told as first person narratives - as related by Bertie. (Ring for Jeeves and one short story are the sole exceptions.) The joy of the writing is the way in which Plum unfolds the plots in Bertie's particular jargon, which is a collection of half-remembered quotes from school, advertising jingles, news headlines, catch-phrases and slang, and also the way in which he manages to maintain Bertie's half-witted but sympathetic point of view. Jeeves, bless him, is a prop, not a character, whose chief function, aside from serving as the deus ex machina of the plot, is to provide a linguistic foil to Bertie's blather.

The other thing to bear in mind is that Wodehouse's work is light comedy fluff. Exquisitely crafted fluff, but fluff nonetheless, a kind of musical without the music. Searching too deeply for meaning or motive, or trying to judge any of the characters in real world terms, is the equivalent of poking holes in a souffle to find out what's inside. Poof!

Please don't give up yet - I'd recommend either Right Ho, Jeeves or The Code of the Woosters as your next try.

Posted by: Robert the Llama Butcher at December 27, 2004 08:56 AM

Absolutely, Code of the Woosters -- if that doesn't do it for you, then stop trying.

Posted by: quiggs at December 29, 2004 04:41 PM

I find only one boring theme from the bunch of themes that Wodehouse created (Jeeves, PSmith, Ukridge, Blandings Castle stories) through his literary work and that is Blandings Castle. I somehow could not get as much humor from it as I could from Jeeves, Ukridge, etc.

But nevertheless I would suggest that you read "What Ho" (A collection of all the Wodehouse themes in one book) so that you could see why he is regarded as the master that he was.

Posted by: Raj at February 9, 2005 06:45 AM
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