June 23, 2004

Ring for Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse

Now this book is a genuine oddity--it's a Jeeves novel without Bertie Wooster. Nor is Bertie's absence the only anomaly.

In general, Bertie Wooster and his man Jeeves live in a world on which the passing years leave no mark. This novel, on the other hand, is firmly set in a time after World War II in which, thanks to punitive taxation and other social legislation, the stately country became a larger than usual albatross about the neck of its owners--and in which, consequently, the landed gentry have all had to seek employment. Sir Roderick Carmoyle, for example, is a floorwalker at Harrige's department store, and our hero, Lord Rowcester (pronounced "Roaster"), has embarked on a career as a Silver Ring bookie, taking bets on horses.

This might seem an odd occupation for one of England's younger earls, but it is easily explained. It seems that, thanks to the winds of change blowing so strongly through England's mighty oaks, Bertie has decided that he must learn to fend for himself, just in case, you understand, and so has taken himself off to a boarding school dedicated to teaching upper-class drones how to darn socks and fry an egg. This has left Jeeves at a loose end, and to fill in the time he has taken service with Lord Rowcester. It was at his suggestion that Lord Rowcester has taken up his new trade, having gone through the classified section of the telephone book from A to R without finding anything for which he was suited and then stumbling upon Silver Ring in the S's.

Because Bertie's absent, we don't get his usual first person narration; instead, the book is told in third-person. And if I'm not mistaken, that makes this the only book in which we see Jeeves from a relatively objective point of view, rather than filtered through another's eyes. Jeeves remains himself, of course; yet he seems a little freer with the literary quotations, and perhaps a little more likely to take liberties than when he's with Bertie.

There's one Jeeves and Wooster short story told from Jeeves' point of view, in which it becomes clear that Jeeves' entire aim is to make sure that Bertie never dispenses with him (or marries anyone who would force Bertie to do so); for he'd have the dickens of a time trying to find anyone so easily managed as Bertie. Jeeves comes off as rather cold-blooded, really. And I think something of the same is going on here. I don't think that Jeeves is really working for Lord Rowcester, however much he's paid and however satisfactory his service is. I think he's just having fun seeing how much he can get away with.

Well, anyway, it's a fun book; if perhaps not one of Wodehouse' best, it's still much better than Much Obliged, Jeeves.

Posted by Will Duquette at June 23, 2004 04:50 PM