Mini-reviews of the Jeeves novels of P. G. Wodehouse

Wodehouse is unusual among authors in that the title of his novels are virtually useless. To keep track of the plots and merits of his Jeeves novels, I wrote these (admittedly opinionated) mini-reviews many years ago. “Ratings” are out of four stars; comments are welcome.

I also have mini-reviews of Wodehouse's Blandings novels and others.

(** 1/2) The Inimitable Jeeves (1923 - short stories)

Eighteen chapters of short stories, but most of the stories stretch over more than one chapter. A decent collection, though Wodehouse was obviously still fine-tuning his craft. The central character may be Bingo Little, who falls in love no fewer than seven times, finally (and suddenly) marrying Rosie M. Banks. Another oft-cited story involves Roderick Glossop and the mysterious appearance of cats and a dead fish in Bertie's bedroom.

(**) Carry On, Jeeves (1925 - short stories)

Ten stories, including one narrated by Jeeves. The writing style is somewhat unpolished; in particular, Bertie uses the word “rummy” far too many times for my taste. Many of the stories take place in New York City. The first story depicts Jeeves entering Bertie's employment; the last is narrated by Jeeves.

(** 1/2) Very Good, Jeeves (1930 - short stories)

Eleven stories, generally of higher quality than the previous collections. Several stories star Tuppy Glossop, including the much-cited episode of Roderick Glossop and punctured hot-water bottles. Bonus: the original edition has a priceless preface.

(****) Thank You, Jeeves (1934)

Scene: Chuffnell Regis. Major characters: Marmaduke “Chuffy” Chuffnell, Pauline Stoker, J. Washburn Stoker, Roderick Glossop, Brinkley, Police-Seargeant Voules, Constable Dobson, Seabury, Dwight.

Despite Jeeves' not even being in Bertie's employ for most of this first full-length Jeeves and Bertie novel, this is an extremely fun book. Pauline Stoker escapes from her father's yacht and ends up in Bertie's heliotrope pajamas; Bertie sleeps in potting sheds and summer houses; valet Brinkley (“versatile chap”) burns down a cottage and runs amuck with carving knives, choppers, and potatoes; Bertie spends much of his time covered in burnt cork; and Glossop and Bertie reach détente.

(*** 1/2) Right Ho, Jeeves or Brinkley Manor (1934)

Scene: Brinkley Manor. Major characters: Augustus “Gussie” Fink-Nottle, Madeline Bassett, Angela Travers, Aunt Dahlia, Uncle Thomas, Hildebrand “Tuppy” Glossop, Anatole.

An enthralling book, with fine comic characters and gleeful verbiage (“And yet you come bringing me Fink-Nottles. Is this a time for Fink or any other kind of Nottle?”). Gussie, originally engaged to Madeline, gets engaged instead to Angela, infuriating her ex-fiancé Tuppy; the chef Anatole blows his top; Gussie drinks too much; and Bertie has to bicycle eighteen miles in the night.

(****) The Code of the Woosters (1938)

Scene: Totleigh Towers. Major characters: Aunt Dahlia, Gussie Fink-Nottle, Madeline Bassett, Sir Watkyn Bassett, Stephanie “Stiffy” Byng, the Rev. H. P. “Stinker” Pinker, Roderick Spode, Constable Oates, and the dog Bartholomew.

My personal favorite among these books. A wonderful novel, full of high spirits and plot twists. Bertie accidentally steals Bassett's umbrella; Gussie loses a leather-bound book containing insults, to disastrous results; various people try to steal a cow-creamer; Stiffy blackmails Bertie by threatening to sabotage Gussie's and Madeline's engagement; Jeeves and Bertie scramble on top of furniture to avoid Bartholomew; and Spode is thwarted by the word “Eulalie.”

(*** 1/2) Joy in the Morning or Jeeves in the Morning (1947)

Scene: Steeple Bumpleigh. Major characters: Zenobia “Nobby” Hopwood, Boko Fittleworth, D'Arcy “Stilton” Cheesewright, Florence Craye, Lord Worplesdon, J. Chicester Clam, and Edwin the Boy Scout.

Sometimes called the best of the Jeeves and Bertie novels, and certainly an enjoyable read. Lord Worplesdon and J. Chicester Clam meet surreptitiously at a costume ball; Edwin the Boy Scout gets on everyone's nerves with his daily good deeds, which include burning down Bertie's cottage; brutish policeman Stilton is out to get Bertie; and Bertie smooths the romantic paths of two couples, Nobby and Boko, and Florence and Stilton.

(**) Mating Season (1949)

Scene: Deverill Hall. Main characters: Cora “Corky” Pirbright, Esmond Haddock, Claude “Catsmeat” Pirbright, Gertrude Winkworth, Madeline Bassett, Gussie Fink-Nottle, Constable Dobbs, Queenie, “Uncle” Charlie Silversmith, the aunts of Deverill Hall.

This seems to be one of Wodehouse's more popular books, but I don't understand why. What might have been a clever and intricate plot is dampened by a lack of joie de vivre. The writing style seems not quite up to par. Bertie impersonates the incarcerated Gussie; Gussie impersonates Bertie; Catsmeat impersonates a valet; Corky fascinates Gussie; Bertie steals a letter from Madeline; Esmond is a hit at the village concert; and Gussie rescues a dog from Constable Dobbs.

(***) Ring for Jeeves or The Return of Jeeves (1953)

Scene: Towcester Abbey. Main characters: Bill Towcester, Jill Wyvern, Sir Roderick “Rory” Carmoyle, Monica “Moke” Carmoyle, Rosalinda Spottsworth, Captain C. G. Brabazon-Biggar.

The only novel involving Jeeves but not Bertie. The characters are delightful, but without Bertie, the inclusion of Jeeves seems extraneous and awkward. Bill gets chummy with Mrs. Spottsworth to sell her Towcester Abbey, much to fiancée Jill's dismay; Captain Biggar hunts down miscreant bookie “Honest Patch Perkins” (Bill); and the images of Tubby Frobisher and the Subadar try to dissuade Captain Biggar from proposing to Mrs. Spottsworth.

(**) Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit or Bertie Wooster Sees It Through (1954)

Scene: Brinkley Court. Main characters: Stilton Cheesewright, Florence Craye, Percy Gorringe, L. G. Trotter, Mrs. Trotter, Roderick Spode (Lord Sidcup).

Much of this book was done better in previous novels, and the near absence of Jeeves doesn't help. Bertie, in a nightclub with Florence, is arrested; Aunt Dahlia tries to convince Trotter to purchase Milady's Boudoir; Stilton is prevented from harming Bertie by drawing his name in a darts contest; Spode reappears as Lord Sidcup; Bertie steals Mrs. Trotter's fake pearls; and Florence gets engaged to soupy poet Percy.

(***) Jeeves in the Offing or How Right You Are, Jeeves (1960)

Scene: Brinkley Court. Main characters: Reginald “Kipper” Herring, Roberta “Bobbie” Wickham, Aubrey Upjohn, Willie Cream, Phyllis Mills, Roderick Glossop, Aunt Dahlia.

Four stars for the first half of the book; two for the second. The verbal humor is crisper than ever, but many plot devices are clearly recycled from earlier novels. Aunt Dahlia employs Bertie to stop Willie from proposing to Phyllis; Upjohn threatens to sue Kipper's periodical for slander; Glossop goes undercover as the butler Swordfish; Bertie is caught searching Willie's room twice for a cow-creamer; and Jeeves disappears for most of the novel.

(***) Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves (1963)

Scene: Totleigh Towers. Main characters: Stiffy Byng, Stinker Pinker, the dog Bartholomew, Madeline Bassett, Roderick Spode (Lord Sidcup), Gussie Fink-Nottle, Emerald Stoker, Sir Watkyn Bassett, and Major Plank.

Reunites the cast from The Code of the Woosters for another go-around, with agreeable but sometimes mixed results. As these novels progress, the de rigueur acts of larceny begin to seem less plausible. Here, a black amber statuette is repeatedly stolen and returned; Gussie becomes a vegetarian before rebelling and eloping with the cook, Emerald; Jeeves fingers Bertie as the dangerous criminal Alpine Joe; Stiffy secures for a vicarage for Stinker; and Spode gets engaged to Madeline.

(** 1/2) Much Obliged, Jeeves or Jeeves and the Tie That Binds (1971)

Scene: Market Snodsbury. Main characters: Harold “Ginger” Winship, Florence Craye, Aunt Dahlia, L. P. Runkle, Bingley, Madeline Bassett, Roderick Spode (Lord Sidcup).

Makes up for a dull plot by piling on the literary references, including a boatload of Biblical allusions invariably linked to Bertie's Scripture Knowledge prize. Florence forces fiancé Ginger to run for Parliament; Bingley (mysteriously rechristened after being called “Brinkley” in Thank You, Jeeves) steals the infamous Junior Ganymede club book with an eye toward blackmail; and Aunt Dahlia inexplicably pinches L. P. Runkle's porringer. The resolution seems a bit forced.

(* 1/2) Aunts Aren't Gentlemen or The Catnappers (1974)

Scene: Maiden Eggesford. Main characters: E. Jimpson Murgatroyd, Vanessa Cook, Orlo Porter, Aunt Dahlia, Major Plank, a cat, and a horse named Potato Chip.

Something seems to be missing from this novel. Originality? Ingenuity? Jeeves doesn't have much to do, and the plot and Bertie-isms seem to be largely recycled from previous novels. Wodehouse steals E. Jimpson Murgatroyd from the Blandings novel Full Moon, and even uses the same name (Wee Nooke) for Bertie's abode as in Joy in the Morning. For what it's worth, Bertie is commanded alternately to steal and to return a cat.

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