“I am so glad you were able to come, Bertie,” she said. “The air will do you so much good. Far better for you than spending your time in stuffy London night clubs.”
“Oh, ah!” I said.
“You will meet some pleasant people, too. I want to introduce you to a Miss Hemmingway and her brother, who have become great friends of mine. I am sure you will like Miss Hemmingway. A nice, quiet, girl, so different from so many of the bold girls one meets in London nowadays. Her brother is curate at Chipley-in-the-Glen in Dorsetshire. He tells me they are connected with the Kent Hemmingways. A very good family. She is a charming girl.”
I had a grim foreboding of an awful doom. All this boosting was so unlike Aunt Agatha, who normally is one of the most celebrated right and left hand knockers in London Society. I felt a clammy suspicion. And by Jove, I was right.
“Aline Hemmingway,” said Aunt Agatha, “is just the girl I should like to see you marry, Bertie. You ought to be thinking of getting married. Marriage might make something of you. And I could not wish you a better wife than dear Aline. She would be such a good influence in your life.”
“Here, I say!” I said, chilled to the marrow.
—-P. G. Wodehouse, Aunt Agatha Makes a Bloomer
These are tough times – in addition to the usual hell we all live in there is the lockdown (although I still get to [have to] go to work every day) and the political situation (no matter what side you are on there is the unavoidable feeling that everything is coming apart at the seams) to deal with. Yesterday, it was getting to be too much for me.
Then I stumbled across an article from the BBC about a writer that “wrote the most perfect sentences” and I could not help but take a look. It was referring to P. G. Wodehouse – a very famous author that I had stumbled across before. Decades and decades ago I had read how crackerjack Wodehouse was, specifically the stories around the butler, Jeeves. This was long enough ago that the internet existed but did not have the breadth of content that it does now. I took a look at a couple of Wodehouse tomes at the local library.
And was not impressed. I was very disappointed. It was so twee, so British, so dry… I read here and there and put it up. I never returned to the author (and the butler) – there are so many other books out there (and so little time).
Today, of course, the internet has vomited itself out across the vast virtual wasteland and everything you could imagine (and so so much that you could never have imagined, not in a million years) is out there in the ether. Specifically, there is Project Gutenberg.
And Project Gutenberg has a healthy selection of out-of-copyright Wodehouse – quite a bit of which contains the magic name “Jeeves.” I downloaded a promising-looking text file, manipulated it (removed line breaks, changed the font to Arial 12) to make it readable and saved it as a PDF. I started in, not expecting much.
What the hell was I thinking all that time ago? This shit is hilarious. A smile spread across my face as I read story after story. It erased my Covid-19 funk, chased the riot-stained clouds away, and I was happy again. Now, I keep that PDF (or others) with me all the time and when I feel the “Mean Reds” coming on I pull it up and read a few pages. Then I smile.
I guess I was simply turned off by the British upper-crust veneer and setting. But there is so much more. The point-of-view character (I can’t call him the hero – maybe not even the protagonist) is young, rich, aristocratic, lazy, and a total idiot. The only bit of wisdom knocking around in his empty skull is that his butler Jeeves is the only thing that allows him to stumble through life halfway successfully. He knows it and so does Jeeves. And Jeeves is a genius. Jeeves knows everybody and everything and exactly what he is doing at every minute of every day.
The stories are all sort of the same: Bertie gets in some awful jam because of his stupidity, sloth, and cowardice until, when all hope is lost, Jeeves swoops in, sets things right, and then you realize the butler had it all under control all along.
Fun. But the best part is the language. Wodehouse is the master if the sardonic quip, the convoluted insult, the silly simile, the dry observation and, especially the unexpected metaphor. It is comic poetry. It really is.
Wodehouse’s writing – and especially the Jeeves stories – are all over the web. The stories are gathered together in several collections available on Project Gutenberg. The first one I downloaded was called The Inimitable Jeeves.
One story I particularly enjoyed was a struggle Bertie had with his horrible Aunt Agatha on a trip to France. She is trying to get him married and he is trying to slither away. It was published in a couple of different versions in a couple of different magazines of the day.
Read my favorite version here:
P.S. One thing about the story that I found odd was the moniker of the con man “Soapy Sid.” I was… not really watching… but I had something or another on the television and it spoke to me about a famous con man from the Old West named “Soapy Smith.” He was named that because he had a con game in Colorado involving money allegedly hidden in bars of soap.
He died a bit before the story and was very well known in his day – I imagine he is the inspiration for that strange name.