Carry On, Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse

Carry On, Jeeves is a collection of ten of P.G. Wodehouse's early Jeeves and Wooster short stories. Nine are told from the point of view of Bertie Wooster, a wealthy, genial, mentally negligible young Englishman; the tenth is narrated by Jeeves, Bertie's unflappable and infinitely resourceful valet. There are no surprises in a Jeeves and Wooster short story: they're all set in an idealized, early 20th century world of stately homes and expensive flats, and they follow a consistent pattern—Bertie (or one of his equally dim-witted pals) finds himself in a financial/romantic crisis, and Jeeves comes to the rescue, usually via a complicated plot that requires Bertie to look like a colossal ass.

Of the thirty-five Jeeves and Wooster stories, this collection features only three of my favorites: “Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest”, “The Rummy Affair of Old Biffy”, and “Clustering Round Young Bingo”. It's not that I dislike the remaining stories, but they're missing many of Wodehouse's most memorable recurring characters—Bertie's Aunt Dahlia, Anatole the chef, and Bingo Little play very limited roles, while Tuppy Glossop, Bobbie Wickham, and the dread Aunt Agatha are never featured at all. But no matter who appears in the story, Wodehouse's prose is a consistent delight, featuring his gift for blending sunny good cheer with utter ridiculousness. Check out a few paragraphs from “The Aunt and the Sluggard”, the fifth story in the bunch:
The affair of Rocky Todd broke loose early one morning of spring. I was in bed, restoring the physique with my usual nine hours of the dreamless, when the door flew open and somebody prodded me in the lower ribs and began to shake the bedclothes in an unpleasant manner. After blinking a bit and generally pulling myself together, I located Rocky, and my first impression was that it was some horrid dream.

Rocky, you see, lived down on Long Island somewhere, miles away from New York; and not only that, but he had told me himself more than once that he never got up before twelve, and seldom earlier than one. Constitutionally the laziest young devil in America, he had hit on a walk in life which enabled him to go the limit in that direction. He was a poet. At least, he wrote poems when he did anything; but most of his time, as far as I could make out, he spent in a sort of trance. He told me once that he could sit on a fence, watching a worm and wondering what on earth it was up to, for hours at a stretch.

He had his scheme of life worked out to a fine point. About once a month he would take three days writing a few poems; the other three hundred and twenty-nine days of the year he rested. I didn't know there was enough money in poetry to support a chappie, even in the way in which Rocky lived; but it seems that, if you stick to exhortations to young men to lead the strenuous life and don't shove in any rhymes, American editors fight for the stuff. Rocky showed me one of his things once. It began:

   The past is dead.
   To-morrow is not born.
   Be to-day!
   Be with every nerve,
   With every muscle,
   With every drop of your red blood!

There were three more verses, and the thing was printed opposite the frontispiece of a magazine with a sort of scroll round it, and a picture in the middle of a fairly nude chappie with bulging muscles giving the rising sun the glad eye. Rocky said they gave him a hundred dollars for it, and he stayed in bed till four in the afternoon for over a month.
That's the kind of comedy that endures, and—apart from a sprinkling of period-specific references and attitudes—most people should find these stories just as amusing as when they were first published. If you're already a Wodehouse fan, I'd suggest buying a more complete anthology (although the larger collections do expose the author's weaknesses, like his habit of recycling jokes and his inability to keep his characters' backstories straight), but if you're new to the world of Jeeves and Wooster this a perfectly reasonable place to start.
Posted by: Julianka


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