Book Corner – March 2020 (2)

The Code of the Woosters – P G Wodehouse

The seventh in the series of books featuring Bertram Wilberforce Wooster and his inscrutable gentleman’s personal gentleman, Reginald Jeeves, it was published in 1938 and in my view the best of the lot. That’s saying something as any Wodehouse cannot fail to lift the jaundiced spirit of the reader and put a smile on their face, but this is the bee’s knees.

One of the qualities of a timeless classic is that a reader from any period can find something which resonates with them. For me in these parlous political times, there is the oafish figure of Sir Roderick Spode, the self-proclaimed leader of the Black Shorts, clearly an allusion to Oswald Mosely. What resonated with me was Wodehouse’s take on the Voice of the People. “The trouble with you, Spode, is that just because you have succeeded in inducing a handful of half-wits to disfigure the London scene by going about in black shorts, you think you’re someone. You hear them shouting “Heil, Spode!” and you imagine it is the Voice of the People. That is where you make your bloomer. What the Voice of the People is saying is: “Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags! Did you ever in your puff see such a perfect perisher?” Never a truer word.

The plot is as usual convoluted and involves Bertie visiting Totleigh Towers, the country residence of Sir Watkyn Bassett, uncle of Madeline. Bertie is persuaded to visit, against his better judgment as he has previous with Sir Watkyn having appeared before him on a charge of pinching a policeman’s helmet, an encounter that left him £5 lighter in the pocket, on a double mission – to save his chum Gussie Finknottle’s impending nuptials with Madeline and to steal a silver cow creamer that his uncle wants.    

There are many twists and turns and Bertie is in danger of being married to both Madeline and Stiffy Byng, who has an on-off relationship with another of his pals, the curate “Stinker” Pinker. Sir Watkyn, given Bertie’s previous, suspects that he is there solely to steal the creamer. Initially, he dragoons the violent Spode to keep a watch on proceedings but Bertie has his number, courtesy of some dirt that Jeeves from his network of gentlemen’s gentlemen has been able to unearth, and so has to resort to the local policeman, Oates. Oates, inevitably, has his helmet stolen and Wooster is the number one suspect.

Suffice it to say, that the superior intellect of Jeeves manages to cut through this Gordian knot and peace and tranquillity is restored. There is a lot of fun to be had in getting there.

Wonderfully eccentric and preposterous as the plots are, what makes a Wodehouse book so special, and this one in particular, is his marvellous use of language. He is on fire with his one-liners, any one of which I would have been proud of penning. Take these for example:

He paused and swallowed convulsively, like a Pekingese taking a pill”.

“She was fully aware that she was doing something that even by female standards was raw, but she didn’t care”.

It was a confusion of ideas between him and one of the lions he was hunting in Kenya that had caused A. B. Spottsworth to make the obituary column. He thought the lion was dead, and the lion thought it wasn’t.”

“I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled. “

“Memories are like mulligatawny soup in a cheap restaurant. It is best not to stir them. “

The leitmotif of this marvellous book and hence the title is the code of honour by which the Woosters conduct themselves. As Bertie says, “One doesn’t want to make a song and dance about one’s ancient lineage, of course, but after all the Woosters did come over with the conqueror and were extremely pally with him.”  A wonderful, uplifting book and one of Wodehouse’s best.

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