Any excuse, frankly, to include some Wodehouse. The only problem being that he wasn’t much of a bird person. Pigs, yes. Cats and dogs, certainly. The odd newt from time to time. But birds featured seldom.
Praise be, then, for ‘Jeeves and the Impending Doom’, from his 1930 collection Very Good, Jeeves. And praise be for its menacing swan.
There’s no shortage of the Wodehousian wit. You know the kind of thing, I’m sure. “Bingo uttered a stricken woofle like a bulldog that has been refused cake.” “When it is a question of a pal being in the soup, we Woosters no longer think of self; and that poor old Bingo was knee-deep in the bisque was made plain by his mere appearance – which was that of a cat which has just been struck by a half-brick and is expecting another shortly.”
There is also a welcome appearance of the word ‘oojah-cum-spiff’.
And there is that swan.
Bertie finds himself, as you do, trying to rescue a cabinet minister from an island in the pouring rain, a project fraught with problems even if it weren’t for “one of the largest and shortest-tempered swans I had ever seen.”
The swan, of course, had reckoned without Jeeves.
“As swans go, he may have been well up in the ranks of the intelligentsia; but, when it came to pitting his brains against Jeeves, he was simply wasting his time. He might just as well have gone home at once.
Every young man starting life ought to know how to cope with an angry swan, so I will briefly relate the proper procedure. You begin by picking up the raincoat which somebody has dropped; and then, judging the distance to a nicety, you simply shove the raincoat over the bird’s head; and, taking the boat-hook which you have prudently brought with you, you insert it underneath the swan and heave. The swan goes into a bush and starts trying to unscramble itself; and you saunter back to your boat, taking with you any friends who may happen at the moment to be sitting on roofs in the vicinity. That was Jeeves’s method, and I cannot see how it could have been improved upon.
First published in The Strand Magazine 1926. Collected in Very Good, Jeeves, Doubleday 1930
Henry James says that the short story, being so condensed, can give a particularized perspective on both complexity and continuity.
I’ve paired James and Wodehouse partly because I can’t help thinking ‘The Master’ would be outraged, while Wodehouse would be tickled pink, and partly because “complexity and continuity” captures perfectly the essence of a Wodehouse story. Blandings will never change: the inadequacies of foolish young men and officious private secretaries will always be overcome by a combination of smart, attractive young women and the apparently accidental interventions of the ninth Earl; there will never be a tenth; the Empress will sicken and fatten, but never be slaughtered for pork chops. That we know all this is part of the joy, allowing us to wallow in the glory of the comic engineering like … well, like pigs in mud.
There are those, of course, who prefer the world of Jeeves and Wooster, and a handful with a soft spot for Psmith, against whom I say nothing; but for me, in the short form at least, nothing Wodehouse wrote could better ‘The Crime Wave at Blandings’.
First appeared in the Saturday Evening Post, October 1936, and the Strand, January 1937. It was included in the collection Lord Emsworth and Others, 1937, which is currently available from Everyman, 2002. The story is included in a number of collections and available alone as a ‘Penguin Modern Mini Classic’, Penguin, 2011
This is really a placeholder for the platonic ideal of the Jeeves story, because I can’t realistically be expected to choose. Wodehouse is fun to read and even more fun to read aloud, ideally to your partner whilst doing the voices. I advise starting with this one – Bertie Wooster has to babysit an Aberdeen terrier, provide lunch for an American theatre impresario and avoid upsetting his Aunt Agatha, all in the space of one day. Any number of funny voices are required.
First published in The Strand Magazine, 1929 as “Jeeves and the Dog McIntosh”. Collected in Very Good, Jeeves,Herbert Jenkins, 1930. Currently findable in The World of Jeeves, Arrow, 2008
In the sad days before Bertie Wooster’s chum Bingo Little found wedded bliss in the arms of the romantic novelist Rosie M Banks, he sought high and low for love, including an infatuation with would-be revolutionary Charlotte Corday Rowbotham. Before long, Bingo finds himself an entryist to the Heralds of the Red Dawn, a group committed to the overthrow of the aristocracy and to ushering tumbrils along the streets of Mayfair. The story contains an important life lesson: if emotional fulfilment requires you to disguise yourself with a false beard and heckle your family and friends at Speakers’ Corner, the relationship is unlikely to progress to a happy conclusion. Jeeves, Wooster, Aunt Dahlia, Gussie Fink-Nottle and Bingo himself were my constant companions through teenage years (along with Stalky & Co and Nancy Mitford’s aristocrats, make of all that what you will), and their misadventures still make me laugh.
(First published in The Stand in 1992 and collected in The Inimitable Jeeves, currently available from Arrow, which itself is in the Hutchinson Jeeves Omnibus 1 along with two other books.)