Many decades ago, in a BBC broadcast, famed English novelist Evelyn Waugh spoke the following words about the writings of fellow Englishman P. G. Wodehouse:
“Mr. Wodehouse’s idyllic world can never stale. He will continue to release future generations from captivity that may be more irksome than our own. He has made a world for us to live in and delight in.”
Wodehouse (1881-1975) wrote well over 90 books, mostly of humorous fiction. The quality varied, as one would expect in so vast an output, but the quality was often incredibly high. In my opinion the very best of his work is the series of books centering around Bertram Wooster, well-to-do man about town, and his gentleman’s gentleman Reginald Jeeves.
“Bertie” Wooster narrates these books. He is of negligible intelligence. (More on this in a minute.) Jeeves is his all-knowing, incredibly well-informed valet, who manages always to bring triumph out of the disasters that Bertie has fallen into. There are 11 novels and about 35 stories in the Jeeves/Wooster cycle. They are incredibly entertaining.
I’ll restrict myself to just three quotes.
“I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.” (The Code of the Woosters)
“It was my Uncle George who discovered that alcohol was a food well in advance of modern medical thought.” (The Inimitable Jeeves)
“My late Uncle Henry, you see, was by way of being the blot on the Wooster escutcheon. An extremely decent chappie personally, and one who had always endeared himself to me by tipping me with considerable lavishness when I was at school; but there’s no doubt he did at times do rather rummy things, notably keeping eleven pet rabbits in his bedroom; and I suppose a purist might have considered him more or less off his onion. In fact, to be perfectly frank, he wound up his career, happy to the last and completely surrounded by rabbits, in some sort of a home.” (The Inimitable Jeeves)
Bertie is often dragged, to help out an aunt or a friend, into performing acts of questionable wisdom and legality. He tries to avoid doing them. He knows he is putting himself in danger, and prefers not to do so. He is not naturally brave. But he does them anyway. Is this not one aspect of courage? He is, with all his faults, in his own way a “parfait gentil knight.”
Now, to return to the topic of Bertie’s supposed negligible intelligence. Granted, one might come to that conclusion, given what he writes about himself. But one person has written all these incredibly entertaining novels and stories, earning a fortune for P. G. Wodehouse. Who is that? Bertram Wooster. It is his writing style that makes the stories irresistible. In fact, there is one novel, Ring for Jeeves, which is written not by Bertie, but rather in the third-person narrative style. It is vastly inferior to all the other Jeeves/Wooster stories! This should warn us that perhaps Bertie is not as stupid as we might think at first (or seventh) glance. Have you written a long list of stories which will quite possibly be read with delight as long as the world endures? Have I? Probably not, for both of us. But Bertram Wooster has.
I admire and enjoy Bertram Wooster’s writings. But I also love and admire his character.
Where to begin, if you have not read Jeeves/Wooster before? Anywhere (except Ring for Jeeves). The Code of the Woosters, and the Inimitable Jeeves, quoted briefly above, are both good places to start. But any other of the books would do as well.
Ever since I read, many years ago, the Waugh quote (given above), it has stuck in my mind. Part of the reason was Waugh’s notion that future generations would need to be released from captivity “more irksome than our own.” Right now, in this country, in Waugh’s and Wodehouse’s (and Jeeves’ and Wooster’s) England, in Europe, powerful forces seem to want to put us in a more irksome captivity. Waugh may have sensed something coming. That doesn’t mean we are defeated or done for yet, by any means. Christian civilization will survive somewhere, and eventually God will evangelize the whole world. But temporarily, we may have to endure some irksome captivity. Waugh is right that the books of P. G. Wodehouse–and in my opinion most especially those books written by Bertram Wooster about himself and Jeeves–offer us a release from captivity.
If you find many things about modern life to be discouraging, and you see the forces of barbarism winning a lot of battles, well, join the crowd. Don’t take it sitting down. Or rather, do take it sitting down. Sit down in your easy chair with one of the Jeeves/Wooster novels written by Bertie Wooster, and enjoy a release from discouraging things.
For my part, I intend to go out happy to the last and completely surrounded by rabbits. Probably in some sort of a home.