In such divisive times as these, it is always good to turn to a friend and be able to count on him to buck you up, lift you from the doldrums and otherwise stiffen the upper lip! But then that is The Code of the Woosters, to “never let a pal down.”
I habitually turn to Plum Wodehouse’s most sublime farce when I am feeling down, and Bertie and his man, Jeeves never fail me. My worn paperback edition has a terrific introduction by Alexander Cockburn that I enjoyed reading tonight.
He writes: P.G. Wodehouse, when asked once what stimulated his creative juices, replied laconically, “Oh, I don’t know. I just sit down at the typewriter and curse a bit.”
On Bertie’s dependency upon Jeeves: Bertie has no sexlife and so indubitably Jeeves, in the mother role, is his closest confidant. But a mere foil to the Wooster magic is what he remains, a counterpoint for linguistic jokes.
“Very well, then,” says Bertie to Jeeves, “you agree with me that the situation is a lulu?” “Certainly a somewhat sharp crisis in your affairs would appear to have been precipitated, sir.” Wodehouse never tired of variations of this low/high joke about language where Jeeves’ somewhat sanctimonious precision of speech is followed by the loose idiomatic torrent of Wooster’s blather.
On Jeeves’ fealty to Bertie: But there is a mystery to Jeeves – the evident incongruity of the adroit and learned schemer working for an ass like Bertie. It’s as though one suddenly found Bosola or another of those Jacobean adventurers dressed up as a butler and handing round cucumber sandwiches. Jeeves is a little like Iago, in benign retirement from villainy, redeeming himself with good-natured and stoic penance. [emphasis mine...because I love that! - admin]
On Wodehouse and Fascism: Since Wodehouse was accused after (WWII) of having collaborated with the Nazis (in that he foolishly made some broadcasts from Berline to an American network, light-heartedly narrating his adventures as an internee in a prison camp), it is pleasant to find (wannabee fascist character, Roderick Spode) resolutely mocked. Gussie Fink-Nottle explains to Bertie about him:
“Don’t you ever read the papers? Roderick Spode is the founder and head of the Saviours of Britain, a Fascist organization better known as the Black Shorts. His general idea, if he doesn’t get knocked on the head with a bottle in one of the frequent brawls in which he and his followers indulge, is to make himself a Dictator.”
…”Well, I’m dashed (says Bertie) I thought he was something of that sort. That chin…Those eyes…and, for the matter of that, that moustache. By the way, when you say ‘shorts,’ you mean ‘shirts,’ of course.”
“No. By the time Spode formed his association, there were no shirts left. He and his adherents wear black shorts.”
“Footer bags, you mean?”
“How perfectly foul.”
Then, later in the story when Bertie has been primed by Jeeves with Spode’s dark secret, mere mention of which will turn him from Menace into Midget, Bertie lets Spode have it between the eyes:
“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?”
Cockburn: This may not be the most fierce piece of anti-Fascist prose ever composed, but for Wooster it was saeva indignatio at its most potent. We should remember Bertie’s limitations and respect him all the more for his stand.
Indeed. Bertie has lots of limitations, but he never lets a pal down, and tonight, he’s good company! The new paperback edition has a kind of deplorably ugly illustration on the cover, but what can you do? Meanwhile, Bertie is conspicuously absent from The Bookshelf; it will the work of an instant to remedy that situation.