I have written several times in these chronicles of my slow-burn devotion to the works of P G Wodehouse, including my induction (How to read P G Wodehouse: a practical guide), drawing on the excellent advice of fellow WordPress blogger and Wodehouse specialist Plumtopia – strongly recommended for all things Jeeves and Wooster and beyond.
Hence my concern, bordering on panic, at my initial perception that “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit” was not quite such a pearl of the Wodehouse canon as, say, the wondrous Thank you, Jeeves. Bertie Wooster’s early decision to grow a moustache, to the disapproval of Jeeves, felt a little familiar as a plot device. The plot of the first half of the book meandered – well, I am reminded of Bertie’s description of Daphne Dolores Morehead on her first appearance in the novel as having “a figure as full of curves as a scenic railway”.
The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit”
That very reference to Ms Morehead, however, signals my sense of relief that I can in fact recommend “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit”, the seventh P G Wodehouse novel to feature Jeeves and Wooster and his sixtieth book overall, wholeheartedly. From about the half-way point, the story spreads its wings. The subsequent flight is sublime. The scene following the unexpected arrival of the aforementioned Daphne at Brinkley Court is amongst the funniest Wodehouse episodes I have read so far – a high bar indeed. When I started jotting down a few quotations, I found it hard to know when to stop.
So I apologise if the following list is a bit long. Just skip down to the ones you like best. Comments welcome.
- [of Florence Craye’s novel Spindrift:] she wrote this novel and it was well received by the intelligentsia, who notoriously enjoy the most frightful bilge.
- Love is a delicate plant that needs constant tending and nurturing, and this cannot be done by snorting at the adored object like a gas explosion and calling her friends lice.
- For a moment I was under the impression that my visitor’s emotion was due to his having found me at this advanced hour in pyjamas and a dressing gown, a costume which, if worn at three o’clock in the afternoon, is always liable to start a train of thought.
- After one of Anatole’s lunches has melted in the mouth, you unbutton the waistcoat and loll back, breathing heavily and feeling that life has no more to offer.
- As I presented myself, she gave the moustache a swift glance, but apart from starting like a nymph surprised while bathing and muttering something about ‘Was this the face that stopped a thousand clocks?’ made no comment.
- He gave me a long, reproachful look, similar in its essentials to that which a black beetle gives a cook when the latter is sprinkling insect powder on it.
- He eyed me speculatively, heaving gently like a saucepan of porridge about to reach the height of its fever.
- She was looking at me in an odd kind of way, as if at some child for whom, while conceding that it had water on the brain, she felt a fondness.
- ‘Then I’m all for it,’ said Aunt Dahlia, making for the door. Her face was grim and set. She might have been a marquise about to hop into the tumbril at the time when there was all that unpleasantness over in France.
- I spread the hands in a dignified gesture, upsetting the coffee pot, which was fortunately empty.
- ‘Well, there it is,’ I said, and went into the silence. And as he, too, seemed disinclined for chit-chat, we stood for some moments like a couple of Trappist monks who have run into each other by chance at the dog races.
- [The impact of Daphne Morehead on “Stilton” Cheesewright:] Stilton, who was now a pretty vermillion, came partially out of the ether, uttering odd, strangled noises like a man with no roof to his mouth trying to recite ‘Gunga Din’.
- It is at moments like this that you catch Bertram Wooster at his superb best, his ice-cold brain working like a machine.
- her face was shining like the seat of a bus-driver’s trousers
- ‘Oh, Bertie, if I ever called you a brainless poop who ought to be given a scholarship at some good lunatic asylum, I take back the words.’ I thanked her briefly.
- She nodded sombrely. A martyr at the stake would have been cheerier.
- Spode bristled like a hornet whose feelings have been wounded by a tactless remark.
What else struck me about “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit”? Well, for one thing, an unusual bit of existential thought by Bertie Wooster in the novel, when he muses:
- Had circumstances been different from what they were – not, of course, that they ever are…
I would be interested to hear from readers whether they have come across many other examples of Bertie coming across all Rene Descartes in this way.
I noted also the following grin-crinkling exchange between Bertie and Jeeves. Bertie, beginning the dialogue, seeks to explain to Jeeves why he wishes procure a cosh to defend himself against a possible assault from G. D’Arcy “Stilton” Cheesewright, who has threatened to break Bertie’s spine in five places:
‘If I am to stave off the Cheesewright challenge, I shall have need of a weapon His strength is as the strength of ten, and unarmed I should be corn before his sickle.’ ‘Extremely well put, sir, if I may say so, and your diagnosis of the situation is perfectly accurate. Mr Cheesewright’s robustness would enable him to crush you like a fly.’ ‘Exactly.’ ‘He would obliterate you with a single blow. He would break you in two with his bare hands. He would tear you limb from limb.’ I frowned slightly. I was glad to see that he appreciated the gravity of the situation, but these crude physical details seemed to me uncalled for.
I have not noticed before in my perusal of P G Wodehouse an occasion where Jeeves is quite so cruel to Bertie’s face, although I would be pleased to hear of others.
“Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit” is also, perhaps appropriately given the title, distinguished by two separate, detailed descriptions of the effect of drinking one of Jeeves’s special pick-me ups. While Bertie generally uses them as a hangover cure, one is later deployed to tackle a case of dyspepsia being suffered by Mr L G Trotter of which Trotter says “I feel as if I’d swallowed a couple of wild cats”. The two descriptions of the effects of Jeeves’s wonder drink are:
(i) [consumed by Bertie] The effect was magical. That apprehensive feeling left me, to be succeeded by a quiet sense of power. I cannot put it better than by saying that as the fire coursed through my veins, Wooster the timid fawn became in a flash Wooster the man of iron will, ready for anything.
(ii) [described by Bertie] ‘On swallowing the stuff you will have the momentary illusion that you have been struck by lightning. Pay no attention. It’s all part of the treatment. But watch the eyeballs, as they are liable, unless checked, to start from the parent sockets and rebound from the opposite wall.’
Could this have inspired Douglas Adams to create his Pangalactic Gargleblaster, whose effects are described as: having your brains smashed in by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick?
Finally, a few Americanisms caught my eye. They include Wooster describing G. D’Arcy Cheesewright as “That hunk of boloney”; referring to his aunt Dahlia saving his life “on one occasion when I had half swallowed a rubber comforter”; and declining to knock on doors at night with the explanation “Who do you think I am? Paul Revere?” A quick search suggests that Wodehouse was in fact an inveterate user of Americanisms; I would be interested in any other examples.
My next Jeeves and Wooster outing will be “Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves”. Looking forward!