Monday, March 02, 2009

Reader's Diary #462- P.G. Wodehouse: Leave it to Jeeves

It's only been in recent months that I've even heard of P.G. Wodehouse, but as is often the case, suddenly I'm seeing his name everywhere. I had, however, long since heard of "Jeeves," and I think we even managed to work a Jeeves character into our make-believe scenarios as children. Our Jeeves, however, differed from Wodehouse's Jeeves in two important ways:

1. Ours was always a butler character, while Wodehouse's was a valet. See here for the subtle difference between a valet and a butler.

2. Ours was a villain. No, we didn't imagine a butler out of some fantasy of being rich enough to afford one, we imagined one because we constantly played at being detectives and even amateur sleuths such as us knew that "the butler did it." Wodehouse's Jeeves, however, is usually the hero of the story, the brains behind his employer Bertie Wooster.

I'm hoping "Leave it to Jeeves" isn't one of the better Jeeves stories that made Wodehouse so popular. It was cute enough. I enjoyed the friendly conversational tone of Wooster who relates the story as if talking to me and me alone. That he acknowledges Jeeves' superior intellect makes both men more endearing.
It beats me sometimes why a man with his genius is satisfied to hang around pressing my clothes and whatnot. If I had half Jeeves's brain, I should have a stab, at being Prime Minister or something.
Nowadays I think any man of Wooster's wealth, especially one with a personal servant, would more likely be shown as pompous or condescending. Wooster is neither. In order for Jeeves to have a continuing series, I think it was important that Wodehouse made Wooster likable. Otherwise readers would get to caught up in the politics of oppression and maybe want Jeeves to exact revenge-- neither of which would give the Jeeves stories the humour Wodehouse intended.

However, the humour of "Leave it to Jeeves" wasn't all that spectacular. I smiled a few times but I certainly don't think it's a memorable tale. As for the sit-comish set-up that Jeeves is smarter than his employer, I can't imagine how that didn't get old really quick.

For a vast collection of Wodehouse's short stories available online, click here.

Did you write a post for Short Story Monday? If so, please leave your link below.


Stacy said...

I enjoyed the personal anecdotes in your review. I always thought Jeeves was a butler and didn't even know that gentlemen's gentlemen had existed until I watched the Jeeves and Wooster series. Some of his short stories are stronger than others but I have enjoyed them all. They are my light reading in between the heavier stuff. Wodehouse is, in a sense, my comfort read. The difference in intelligence levels is a common theme throughout all the Jeeves and Woosters tales but seeing that I keep reading them, it hasn't gotten old for me yet:)

Gentle Reader said...

I discovered Jeeves and Wooster as a teen, and I always loved how lovable both characters were. I think you're right, you wouldn't like Wooster if he was drawn as pompous or overbearing. His haplessness makes him just perfect! Like the commenter above, Wodehouse is one of my comfort reads. Thanks for sharing :)

Ali said...

I made it a point to finish the story I was reading so I could post about it today, and now it looks like I won't have time to post! Drat.

Anonymous said...

Now I kind of wish I was reading Wodehouse instead of what I did read...

I can't remember where 'Leave it to Jeeves' falls in the overall scheme, but Wodehouse stories definitely vary greatly in quality. And, in fact, though I am now devoted to them, as a Appalachian American sort, I found them a bit inaccessible until I watched the classic BBC productions from the early 90s with Hugh Laurie & Stephen Fry. To me, those two are pitch perfect, and now that I have the milieu, the stories are smooth as butter.

Allison said...

This post reminded me of that search engine that existed before Google. AskJeeves.

Okay, now I'm going to go and read the story. ;)

John Mutford said...

Book Psmith: I haven't seen the series. While I wasn't thrilled with the story, it wasn't unpleasant. I can see how the stories and characters could become comforting.

Gentle Reader: Hapless and modest. Good combination!

Ali: I hope you share next week!

Alisa: It's great that you can slip from the show back into the stories. I can see how that could have the opposite effect.

Allison: Apparently the website was named for Wodehouse's character. I'm sure if we'd asked, he would have told us.

Unknown said...

I love Jeeves, but I wouldn't want a steady diet of him. The stories are a kind of comfort food. They are to literature what grilled tuna sandwiches are to cuisine. And I'm a big fan of grilled tuna.