not merely superfluous, but ridiculous
this post was originally published on my Goodreads account.
“Give Bertram Wooster a good, clear story to unfold, and he can narrate it well.”
Bertie Wooster is not one for modesty or understatement, but here he sells himself short. The great pleasure of Wodehouse’s most famous country-house farces is his mastery of Wooster’s unique dialect, which sets classical allusion and pre-war slang on more or less even footing, and stumbles through the intricacies of the English tongue with transcendent grace- one is reminded of old Mr. Magoo cartoons, the nearsighted old man obliviously navigating scenes of outlandish bodily peril. Wodehouse does the same thing with Wooster’s narration. At one point, Wooster says of his butler Jeeves, “if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled,” and if you cannot appreciate the sublime beauty of this sentence, I recommend you consign yourself to the outer d., where there is much wailing and gnashing of etc.
“I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a stout bark buffeted by the waves?”
“No, sir. My visits to the seaside have always been made in clement weather.”
The pleasure of Wodehouse’s writing is doubled any time he has Bertie Wooster speak to his butler, Jeeves, whose mode of expression is a perfect complement to his master’s: succinct and precise where Wooster is labyrinthine and obstreperous, Jeeves is able to resolve in two sentences a quagmire of entangled subplots that Wooster inevitably sets into motion any time he leaves his London flat. It is one of the books’ many unspoken jokes that Wodehouse’s convoluted plots are related by the character least capable of keeping up with them, which has the advantage of keeping the reader half a step ahead of the characters for most of the novel, making it all the funnier when Wodehouse pulls the rug out from under us. The ramp-up is particularly impressive in The Code of the Woosters, with Bertie Wooster employed to steal a valuable cow creamer by three different people, all to different purposes, and enjoined from approaching said cow creamer by two others under pain of imprisonment- all within the first four chapters. The story does not wrap up nearly as well as its immediate predecessor, Right Ho, Jeeves, but then that story’s initial conflict is much slighter. Wodehouse’s novels are endlessly inventive reiterations of the same 3 or 4 basic plots, and somehow manage to never get old because of the skill with which he pulls them off. And this is Wodehouse at his best, or very near it.