P. G. Wodehouse: The Grand Old Man of English Literature

book coverMy first exposure to P. G. Wodehouse was a BBC radio anthology of dramatizations of the short stories of Jeeves, the perfect valet, and Bertie Wooster, 1920s carefree bachelor. I enjoyed the witty dialogue. Jeeves was played by the great gravely voiced actor, Michael Hordern. Richard Briers, famous for his role as Tom Good in Good Neighbors, was perfect as Bertie Wooster. I have been hooked ever since.

The Best of Wodehouse: An Anthology is an excellent introduction to the world of Pelham Grenville Wodehouse (Plum to his friends). Its contents include two full length novels and an excerpt from Wodehouse’s memoir, which bookends 14 of Wodehouse’s short stories.  Some of the stories are about Wooster and Jeeves. Some are about other Wodehouse creations, such as Ukridge, and Mr. Mulliner. John Mortimer, creator of Rumpole of the Bailey, introduces the collection with some biographical information. A chronology of Wodehouse’s life is also included.

The first novel in the collection is  the 1938 Jeeves and Bertie Wooster novel, The Code of the Woosters. The story revolves around an antique silver cream jug, shaped like a cow, which Bertie’s Uncle Tom Travers has his eye on. Bertie’s Aunt Dahlia asks Bertie to go to the antique store and ‘sneer’ at the cow creamer in an attempt to drive the price down.  Tom’s rival Sir Watkyn Basset obtains the creamer before he can. Chaos ensues.

Early in the novel, Bertie Wooster requests that Jeeves prepare one of his bracers, a drink that revives you the morning after a late night of revelry. Bertie Wooster explains the effect of Jeeves’s bracer:

He returned with the tissue-restorer. I loosed it down the hatch, and after undergoing the passing discomfort, unavoidable when you drink Jeeves’s patent morning revivers, of having the top of the skull fly up to the ceiling and the eyes shoot out of their sockets and rebound from the opposite wall like racquet balls, felt better.

The anthology also includes the very first Jeeves and Wooster short story, “Jeeves Takes Charge.”  Bertie’s initial description of Jeeves is positively magical:

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 [Bertie’s previous valet] had had flat feet and used to clump.  This fellow didn’t seem to have feet at all.  He just streamed in.

book coverAfter reading The Best of Wodehouse: An Anthology you may be interested in reading about the life of  P.G. Wodehouse. The definitive biographies in the eyes of many Wodehouse fans is Wodehouse: A Life by Robert McCrum. McCrum has really done his homework, producing a detailed look at Wodehouse’s life.  Wodehouse’s childhood, his rise to fame on the printed page and musical theater,  his time in a German internment camp, his controversial German radio broadcasts (which caused some to brand him a traitor), and the final years of his life in the United States are all covered in the book.


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