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on August 2, 2017
Perfectly Wodehouse
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They don't write 'em like this anymore! Or if they do, I wanna see them!
The pleasantly bewildered Bertie Wooster and his Vulcan valet Jeeves return to Totleigh Towers, in Totleigh-on-the-Wold (now Wodehouse KNEW how to make great names) to the house of the Bassets. They must contend with enormous curate Harold "Stinker" Pinker, his devious fiancee Stiffy Byng, the perpetually creepy Sir Watkyn Basset, his wannabe-Nazi friend Roderick Spode, fish-faced Gussie Fink-Nottle, and--worst of all--the soppy Madeleine Basset, who constantly believes that Bertie is madly in love with her.
With a cast like that, things are bound to go wrong. To steel up his courage for fiancee Madeleine, Gussie writes down degrading things about Sir Watkyn and Spode in a leather notebook--and promptly loses it. The blackmailing Stiffy Byng takes the notebook and will give it to Gussie if Bertie convinces her fiancee, Stinker Pinker, to steal a policeman's helmet.
Still here?
The characters are caricatures, but they're GOOD caricatures! Stiffy is almost amoral, the yin to the conscientious Stinker's yang. Spode is his usual blustering, swaggering self. Sir Watkyn reminded me of a small yipping dog just waiting to be squished. Madeleine is still mooning about fairies and bunny rabbits. And poor Bertie is mixed up with them, an innocent soul in a world of very strange people.
Read the book, and for heaven's sake watch the TV adaptation!
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on September 12, 2002
Previous: Right Ho, Jeeves
This was my first excursion into the Wonderful World of Wodehouse, and remains my favorite (though others are in close contention). The plot is simply brilliant, tightly woven together with twists and turns and ingenious irony, and flows directly from the story in Right Ho, Jeeves. Between silver cow-creamers, little leather notebooks, ferocious dogs named Bartholomew, police constables and their helmets, angry neo-Nazis with buried secrets, and the looming threat of the soppy Madeline Bassett, laugh-out-loud comedy is inevitable. Funnier still is the fact that once Bertie arrives at the dreaded Totleigh Towers, all the action takes place in one day and night, making this the most fast-paced of the Jeeves books. This is one instance in which Bertie is never to blame for the soup in which he finds himself-it is thrust upon him by others, either by cajoling or blackmail, and Bertie's ever-good-hearted nature is taken advantage of to full extent. It is Jeeves to the rescue once again. The ending will leave you smiling-and finally able to take a deep breath and relax!
Next: Joy in the Morning (Jeeves in the Morning)
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on February 26, 2001
There are very few novels that can guarantee five good laughs a page and chuckles during all the spaces between, but the Bertie Wooster/Jeeves novels of P.G. Wodehouse fill the bill. It is even jollier when a good British comedian simply reads the novel to you, as does Jonathan Cecil in the Audio Partners release of the 1938 <The Code of the Woosters: Jeeves to the Rescue> (1-57270-182-X).
Here on 6 audiocassettes with a total running time of 7 hours is one of the stories you might have seen dramatized on Masterpiece Theatre a while ago. Oh, you know, the one about Bertie having to steal a cow-shaped creamer from Sir Watkyn Bassett for his Aunt Dahlia. Along the way, he becomes entangled in the on again, off again engagement between the newt-loving Gussie Fink-Nottle and the simpering Madeline Bassett, Roderick Spode who heads the Black Shorts (since all the Black Shirts have been bought up by an Italian of the period) and harbors a shameful secret), Stiffy Bynge who wants to marry the local clergyman H.P. "Stinker Pinker," and the local Constable whose helmet has been pinched.
The plot is simple at first and then, as in any good farce, rapidly accelerates into the complexity of a Baroque French clock and with about as much socially redeeming value. We simply sit back and marvel at the mechanism as (to carry on the analogy) Wodehouse's puppet-like characters perform their intricate movements around the hapless Bertie Wooster who not for the first time in these stories tends to lose faith in Jeeves just as that master of intrigue is at his brainiest. All this in the inimitable Wodehouse upper-class British twit jargon and a world every bit as real as that of Damon Runyon and W.S. Gilbert, providing you accept certain premises.
Jonathan Cecil was very badly miscast as Arthur Hastings in two or three Poirot films in which Peter Ustinov played the sleuth. Here he is a gem, reading as he does every word of the novel and acting out every character, male and female, in a different voice. His reading, Wodehouse's literary style and plotting, and all the rest made 7 hours on the exerciser pass pleasantly quickly.
Highly recommended even for more relaxed listeners.
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on September 26, 2002
This tape, which our library has since lost or destroyed, is terrific. The reader, Jonathan Cecil, is amazing, entertaining and amusing, of course. After discovering this taped book I went on to read all of the Jeeves books, and I rented, borrowed or bought all the taped versions of this series read by Jonathan Cecil. Readers voices are a matter of taste but, for my money, this guy is the best.
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on June 16, 2015
Not my cup of tea. Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie are delightful to watch as Jeeves and Wooster, but that's because the scripts and the direction are a well edited version of the overly stylized writing of Wodehouse. I like escapist reads and slapstick, but this bored me to tears. I can only take so much of the foppish, clumsy, vapid upper class even though the intent is supposedly to satirize the public school/country house life of the gentry. Reading between the lines, Wodehouse adores the lifestyle of his characters far more than he satirizes their nothing better to do than get in stupid scrapes lifestyle. I got very tired very quickly of the comic quips/metaphors after almost every bit of dialogue or plot development. That may be quintessential Wodehouse, but it left me cold. Perhaps I just need to be in the right mood, but while I can see chuckling over a short story, 200 pages is way too long. I met someone who has read every single thing he has written - can't imagine investing the time.
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on April 13, 2001
In the circles I run in, Wodehouse is not a well-known name. Thus it doesn't surprise me that it's taken this long for my first trip through the tulips with Jeeves and Wooster. It saddens me, but it doesn't surprise me. "Saddens" for this confection is the perfect mix of all of the elements of comedy.
On one level, the story is classic bedroom farce. The action takes place in a country house, where people are constantly running from one room to another. Everytime one door opens, a new misunderstanding occurs and the plot is violently thrown in another direction. It makes one realize how effective a well-constructed bedroom farce can be in delivering sparkling comedy.
On top of the farcical elements, Wodehouse also manages to throw in some biting satire. There are well placed but subtle jabs at fascism, fashionable psychology, and upper class morality. They never trip up the story, only serving as wonderful little digressions that do much to add weight to the lighter elements.
The book is populated by a wonderfully motley crew of snooty misfits, each doing their bit to stoke the fires of the story. But the cake is taken by Jeeves and Wooster themselves. Neither could exist without the other (at least in a literary sense). The first fifty or so pages prove this, as Wooster heads up to the country house ahead of his manservant. The character flounders during these sections. Only when Jeeves arrives (to save the day, natch) does the narrative gain an even greater head of steam. I can't imagine how tedious it would be to listen to Bertie Wooster's mindless meanderings for a whole book, without the simple and economic replies of his man Jeeves. They are the pins in the balloons that release Bertie's hot air. As I said before, this is my first foray into Jeeves and Wooster country, so I can't say if the other tales in the series live up to the standard set here. It would seem like an impossible task.
The brilliance of the Jeeves/Wooster dichotomy is that Wodehouse doesn't take the easy route; that is, telling the story through Jeeves narration. It would be too easy to allow us into Jeeves brain, where we would either be confronted by his undying loyalty (which the reader could never understand, given the ignorance of his charge) or his hatred for Bertie (which would undermine the whole tale). Rather, we get Bertie's side of things, and his ambiguous depiction of his man makes Jeeves that much more intriguing a character. And furthermore, it allows Bertie to be a very interesting "unreliable narrator". We cannot trust -- but can laugh at -- his recollections of past events (the book is told entirely through recollections), or his characterization of hisself (in which he tries to pass himself off as an intellectual, rather than a pompous boob). The "unreliable narrator" is my favourite of the current post-modern literary fads, one which Wodehouse gleefully saunters through a half century before its time (side note: for a fine example of a case where the modest butler also serves as the "unreliable narrator", see Kazuo Ishiguro's book "The Remains of the Day", a personal favourite of mine).
One cautionary note, though: in this edition, don't read the introduction first. Alexander Cockburn can't help but give away some key plot points in the examples he provides of Wodehouse's comedic prose. It is a finely written essay, but it belongs at the end rather than the beginning, so to not spoil the reader's fun of discovery. Other than that mild criticism, this is a perfect piece of comedy.
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on September 7, 2000
In his excellent introduction, Alexander Cockburn notes that "the true Wodehouse fan has the concentration of a butterfly, fluttering inconsequently over Wodehouse country and prattling foolishly about favored features of the region. Very irritating, for serious tourists and new arrivals."
Do not fret. Within a few pages both the initiate and the expert will be won over. This is a superb book in the Wooster-Jeeves series, full of Wooster's malapropisms, preposterous schemes, boggled literary quotes ("the snail was on the wing and the lark on the thorn--or rather, the other way around . . . ") and memories of hi-jinks at Eton and the Drones' club. Then there is Jeeves, the gentleman's gentleman, aware of his subordinate position to Wooster, but--as admitted by all-- possessing a greater knowledge of "the psychology of the individual." Consider the following exchange between Bertie and the ever-troubled Augustus "Gussie" Fink-Nottle: "this is frightful, Bertie." "Not too good, no." "I'm in the soup." "Up to the thorax." "What's to be done?" "I don't know." "Can't you think of anything?" " Nothing. We must put out trust in a higher power." "Consult Jeeves, you mean?"
The book's events appear to take place soon after those described in "Right Ho, Jeeves," and before "Joy in the Morning." As mentioned above, one is easily drawn into the humorous misadventures of our protagonists and their screwball plotting against Gussie's fiancé's father and his neo-Fascist friend, Spode, modeled after England's Sir Oswald Mosley. Written in 1938, even the humorous hand of Wodehouse touches on the threat of the fascist "black shorts" (the shirts, apparently, had already been taken).
Lighthearted fare, but perfectly crafted by a master of modern farce. This book is simply a delight, a compote of impossibly funny personalities sweetened with a meringue of wit and satire. P.G. Wodehouse, along with those other two-initialed humorists of the early to mid-20th century (E.B. White, S.J. Perelman, A.J. Leibling) is one of our most treasured writers. Give "The Code of the Woosters" a try; I think you'll soon join his legion of fans. Most highly recommended!
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on April 9, 2004
THE CODE OF THE WOOSTERS is one of the few novel-length works about "intellectually negligable" young aristocrat Bertie Wooster and his titan of a valet Jeeves. I found the CODE OF THE WOOSTERS somewhat entertaining, though about two-thirds of the way through it starts to drag and all in all left me unimpressed.
Summarising the setup of the novel would be difficult, but it begins with a battle over a cow-shaped creamer. The cow creamer is desired by Bertie's Aunt Dahlia and Uncle Tom, but is bought instead by Sir Watkyn Bassett, the retired magistrate who once fined Bertie five pounds for stealing a policeman's helmet. Aunt Dahlia gives Bertie a choice between infiltrating Bassett's house and stealing the cow creamer, or never again tasting the wonderful meals of her French chef Anatole. Two related problems are the engagements of Bassett's niece Stephanie "Stiffy" Byng and Bertie's school chum Harold "Stinker" Pinker, and Basset's daughter Madelaine and Wooster friend Gussie Fink-Nottle. There's also Roderick Spode, Watkyn's menacing associate and the leader of a fascist group called the Saviours of Britain. The book was published in 1937, and through Spode Wodehouse makes a few jabs against Hitler and Mussolini.
In spite of its observation of human social interactions which really are often zany, the novel does seem somewhat far-fetched. A character hears a major revelation but reacts too tamely, the plot's resultion in the last couple of pages seems like an easy way out of a book starting to run out of steam.
There are a few moments in THE CODE OF THE WOOSTERS which made me laugh out loud, and therefore I do cautiously recommend the book. However, it is a somewhat insubstantial novel, and falls into a three-star rating. If you've never read Wodehouse before, you might want to try one of his many short stories before tackling an entire novel.
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on September 28, 2001
As with most Wodehouse books, this has enough plot twists and turns to keep the impossible situations running for as long as possible. Which is not to say that they are difficult to see coming, but even when you know that Gussie is about to pop up again with bad news, it's still fun to read. Jeeves' solutions are always fascinating, as is his "sang froid", as Bertie would say. I must strongly suggest to the first-time reader, read the introduction LAST. Alexander Cockburn does a decentish job of analyzing the story, but not without doing some major spoiling of plots. Lastly, I would argue my own opinion that the Wodehousian plots are not the strongest point of the book, but the breezy, conversational narrative style of the main protaginist, Bertram Wilberforce Wooster. This (funny in and of itself) is hilarious agaisnt the backdrop of his hyper-intelligent valet (or "gentleman's personal gentleman", as Jeeves refers to himself), strong-willed women, clutzy or (dare I use the word to describe a character of the 30's) nerdy friends, and comical villains. If you like British comedy in the least, you should read Wodehouse as he is a giant of the genre.
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