Friday, June 15, 2012

PG Wodehouse - The Jeeves Series

Where can one begin with Wodehouse? He is often described as the greatest English comic novelist of the twentieth century. He has written 96 books over a remarkable 73 year career. His works include novels, collections of short stories and musical comedies. I will describe here what is arguable called his most popular series of novels, the Jeeves and Wooster series.

PG Wodehouse

The stories follow a simple pattern and are virtually interchangeable. Bertram Wilberforce Wooster, a genial if somewhat dim-witted young aristocrat and his valet Jeeves get entangled in a scenario that inevitably involves an aunt, a friend from Bertram's schooldays, one of his many nemeses and several ex-fiancees. In the course of the story, one or several of the ex-fiancees proposes to a panicked Bertie, knowing full well that he would never turn a lady down, while Bertie does his best has to safely reattach her to his school chum. Also, there is usually a prank/robbery that Bertie has to perform in order to help blackmail a nemesis into allowing his daughter to marry the school chem and/or parting with vast amounts of money for a similar good cause.

Some of the books in the Jeeves Series

And now enter Jeeves, he of the infinite sagacity. A fish-eating, Spinoza-reading valet who all but controls Bertie, Jeeves is the magnificent intellect who ultimately manages to extricate his form his self-inflicted troubles.
One might find a storyline childish, even boring. But the books are highly intricate in a comic sort of way and manage to create rib-tickling humour. But what makes these stories so immensely enjoyable is Wodehouse's language. It is truly a class apart.
Take for example Bertie describing his former love interest, Honoria. It is a typical Wodehousian mixture of simile.
Honoria - is on of those robust, dynamic girls with the muscles of a welter-weight and a laugh like a squadron of cavalry charging on a tin bridge.
Or this:
As a rule, you see, I'm not lugged into Family Rows. On the occasions when Aunt is calling to Aunt like mastodons bellowing across primeval swamps... the clan has a tendency to ignore me.
Or the oft-quoted.
If not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.
They are also classically informed as in:
He groaned slightly and winced, like Prometheus watching his vulture dropping in for lunch.

To sum up, in the words of Christopher Hitchens His attention to language, his near faultless ability to come up with names that are at once ludicrous and credible, and the intricacy of his plotting are imperishable.

Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie in the roles of Jeeves and Bertie

PS: Also see the wonderful TV adaptations of the Jeeves and Wooster series where Bertie's role is played marvelously by none other than Hugh Laurie (of 'House' fame) with Stephen Fry in the role of Jeeves. This role of Laurie's is poles apart from his other, more recent one and that he manages to excel in both is a testimony to his testimony to his tremendous acting abilities.

Hugh Laurie as Bertie in the TV adaptation

Contributed by Malhar Mehta