This is my favorite of the Jeeves and Wooster stories. In most (all?) of the Jeeves and Woosters novels Bertie is accused of stealing something; and, because of his code, he usually ends up betrothed to a woman he has no desire to marry. In this story, Wodehouse doubles down on these themes; he is accused of stealing two things – a silver cow creamer and a policeman’s helmet. He also gets in deep water trying to help two separate couples. You can imagine how convoluted the plot gets, but Wodehouse is a master and keeps it all straight and strews about endings at the finish.
Bertram has two antagonists in these events: Sir Watkyn Bassett, CBE, who years before fined our hero 5 pounds for stealing a policeman’s helmet on Boat Race Night. The other is Roderick Spode, a would-be dictator of England.
“It was as if Nature had intended to make a gorilla, and had changed its mind at the last moment.
But it wasn’t merely the sheer expanse of the bird that impressed. Close to, what you noticed more was his face, which was square and powerful and slightly moustached towards the centre. His gaze was keen and piercing. I don’t know if you have ever seen those pictures in the papers of Dictators with tilted chins and blazing eyes, inflaming the populace with fiery words on the occasion of the opening of a new skittle alley, but that was what he reminded me of.” [p 13]
Written in 1938, that mustache brings Hitler to mind. Wodehouse’s treatment of the brute – including his followers known as the “Black Shorts” which is a send up of the Black Shirts – is a fantastic satire of the rising dictator.
But the intertwining plot lines are really just the backdrop for Wodehouse’s charming prose. In this interchange with Jeeves, Bertie has laid out some troublesome facts:
“Jeeves does not often smile, but now a distinct simper had begun to wreathe his lips.
‘A laughable misunderstanding, sir.’
He saw that his mirth had been ill-timed. He reassembled the features, ironing out the smile.
‘I beg your pardon, sir. I should have said “disturbing”‘.” [p 32]
And here he is going to a dreaded meeting with Madeline Bassett to whom he will – of course – become engaged because of the Wooster code:
“She was standing by the barometer, which, if it had had an ouynce of sense in its head, would have been pointing to ‘Stormy’ instead of ‘Set Fair.’ [p 45]
There are a number of expressions I have taken for my own:
“I want to know what the devil you mean by keeping coming into my private apartment, taking up space which I require for other purposes.” [p 124]
As ever, Bertie is chivalrous and describing the actions of Augustus Finknottle he notes that Gussie “was more to be pitied than censured.” [p 184] I’ve actually tried to take this to heart in my real life conflicts. As Bertie says, ‘to understand, is to pardon’ – though Bertie uses the French.
With all the worrisome events in our world: COVID-19, raging fires displacing tens of thousands of people in the west, the political climate, and more. This novel is just the medicine for putting a smile on your face.