What better book to read at Christmas than Right Ho, Jeeves – a festive winter wonderland of Wodehouse, a rich Christmas pudding of Plum?
Right Ho, Jeeves opens with Bertie once more estranged from the genius of Jeeves. This time, the offending sartorial item to which Jeeves objects is a white mess jacket with brass buttons:
He rose, holding a white object. And at the sight of it, I realised that another of our domestic crises had arrived, another of those unfortunate clashes of will between two strong men, and that Bertram, unless he remembered his fighting ancestors, and stood up for his rights, was about to be put upon.
The cover of my Folio Society edition of Right Ho, Jeeves
When Bertie Wooster arrives to Brinkley Court without Jeeves to help him, he is beset not by one, two or three problems but by an unprecedented five, at my count. Most atypically, Bertie causes the resignation of Aunt Dahlia’s fabulous French chef Anatole, who makes a rare appearance:
This wizard of the cooking stove is a tubby little man with a moustache of the outsize or soup-strainer type, and you can generally take a line through it as to the state of his emotions. When all is well, it turns up at the end like a sergeant-major’s. When the soul is bruised, it droops. It was drooping now, striking a sinister note.
Needless to say, the tsunami of trouble which threatens to engulf Brinkley Court is largely generated by Bertie’s own efforts; and it is not until Jeeves becomes engaged that all is elegantly resolved. I rank Right Ho, Jeeves among my favourite Wodehouse – the set piece where, at Bertie’s urging, an entire tableful of guests declines Anatole’s exquisite fare, only to congregate after midnight to eat a cold pie in the larder, is outstanding. So too is this description of the impact of one of Jeeves’s famous hangover cures:
For perhaps the split part of a second nothing happens. It is as though all Nature waited breathless. Then, suddenly, it is as if the Last Trump had sounded and Judgement Day set in with unusual severity. Bonfires burst out in all parts of the frame. The abdomen becomes heavily charged with molten lava. A great wind seems to blow through the world, and the subject is aware of something resembling a steam hammer striking the back of the head. During this phase, the ears ring loudly, the eyeballs rotate and there is a tingling about the brow. And then, just as you are feeling that you ought to ring up your lawyer and see that your affairs are in order before it is too late, the whole situation seems to clarify. The wind drops. The ears cease to ring. Birds twitter. Brass bands start playing. The sun comes up over the horizon with a jerk. And a moment later all you are conscious of is a great peace.
Other passages which tickled my fancy from Right Ho, Jeeves:
[Gussie’s] face was pale, the eyes gooseberry-like the ears drooping, and the whole aspect that of a man who has passed through the furnace and been caught in the machinery.
He had been looking like a dead fish. He now looked like a deader fish, one of last year’s, cast up on some lonely beach and left there at the mercy of the wind and tides.
I’ve got engaged three times at Brinkley. No business resulted, but the fact remains. And I went there without the foggiest idea of indulging in the tender pash. I hadn’t the slightest intention of proposing to anybody. Yet no sooner had I entered those romantic grounds than I found myself reaching out for the nearest girl in sight and slapping my soul down in front of her. It’s something in the air.
Conditions being as they were at Brinkley Court – I mean to say, the place being loaded down above the plimsoll mark with aching hearts and standing room only as regarded tortured souls – I hadn’t expected the evening meal to be particularly effervescent. Nor was it. Silent. Sombre. The whole thing more than a bit like Christmas dinner on Devil’s Island.
Uncle Tom, who always looked like a pterodactyl with a secret sorrow…
Anatole, God’s gift to the gastric juices.
‘Reflect what proposing means. It means that a decent, self-respecting chap has got to listen to himself saying things which, if spoken on the silver screen, would cause him to dash to the box office and demand his money back.’
I have no doubt that you could have flung bricks by the hour in England’s most densely populated districts without endangering the safety of a single girl capable of becoming Mrs Augustus Fink-Nottle without an anaesthetic.
Aunt Dahlia’s face grew darker. Hunting, if indulged in regularly over a period of years, is a pastime that seldom fails to lend a fairly deepish tinge to the patient’s complexion, and her best friends could not have denied that even at normal times the relative’s map tended a little towards the crushed strawberry. But never had I seen it take on so pronounced a richness as now. She looked like a tomato struggling for self-expression.
‘It’s amazing,’ she said, drinking me in once more. ‘To look at you, one would think you were just an ordinary sort of idiot – certifiable, perhaps, but quite harmless. Yet, in reality, you are a worse scourge than the black death. I tell you, Bertie, when I contemplate you I seem to come up against all the underlying sorrow and horror of life with such a thud that I feel as if I had walked into a lamp post.’
[Jeeves] is magnetic. There is about him something that seems to soothe and hypnotise. To the best of my knowledge, he has never encountered a charging rhinoceros, but should this contingency occur, I have no doubt that the animal, meeting his eye, would check itself in midstride, roll over and lie purring with its legs in the air.
What a splendid collection of quotes! if you would like more, feel free to cast an eye over my reviews of Thank You, Jeeves, Ring for Jeeves, Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen, Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, Jeeves in the Offing and others – or browse the “PG Wodehouse” tab under “Categories”.
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