The Code of the Woosters was my first experience of P.G. Wodehouse’s work. It follows the tumultuous life of Bertie Wooster; an upper-class bachelor who, as far as I could tell, had no profession other than being an upper-class bachelor. He frequently finds himself in trouble and often in very ridiculous circumstances from which his butler, Jeeves, usually has to rescue him.
The novel’s plot centres around a cow-creamer (and I still am not exactly sure what that is), that Sir Watkyn Bassett acquires using underhand tactics. Bertie’s quest to retrieve this antique object leads to him becoming embroiled in many other plots and the novel bounces from one crisis to another. Although inconsequential, the events lead to many hilarious and ridiculous situations and give the reader a glimpse at a pocket of English history which no longer exists; when keeping one’s name free from slander and maintaining one’s position in society is the only occupation necessary. Of course, the novel is a comedy and very tongue in cheek – I’m sure that no one in the nineteen-thirties ever lived exactly like Bertie Wooster. Yet I can’t help but feel that Wodehouse’s characters and observations were based on a good deal of truth, even if the events of the novel are fictional.
The characterisation in the novel is excellent, and I suspect is what has made these books classics. Despite his shortcomings and lack of intelligence, Bertie Wooster is a very likeable character. He is more complex than would initially appear and, despite his faults, his heart is in the right place. Bertie often puts himself in the line of fire to protect his friends, albeit sometimes unwillingly:
“A fearful situation, beyond a doubt, and if there had been anything I could have done about it, I would have done same without hesitation. But it seemed to me that I was helpless, and that Nature must take its course.”
Of course, he is soon drawn in to the situation, however unwillingly, and in this way he stumbles through the novel’s narrative. It is his narration of and misunderstanding of certain things that lends the book much of its comedy, such as when a small action taken on his part is compared to the sacrifice made by Sydney Carton in A Tale of Two Cities (despite Bertie being in complete ignorance of who this character is and what he did). Unfortunately, his friends seem to be less well-endowed in the intelligence department than Bertie and sometimes the only character who seems to have any sense is the butler, Jeeves.
Jeeves is the star of the show, and manages to maintain the “stiff upper lip” that Bertie prides himself upon much better than Bertie himself manages. As a result we don’t learn much about him, though I would have loved to heard the narration from his point of view. He seems to accept his master’s outlandish requests without comment or protest, although at one point Bertie reflects he seems less keen when asked to break in to a young lady’s room:
“Willing service and selfless co-operation were what I had hoped for, and he was not giving me them. His manner from the very start betrayed an aloof disapproval.”
Nevertheless, Jeeves proves his loyalty time and time again and comes to the rescue countless times. He is also the driving force behind Bertie’s actions, either directly or through a more subtle influence. Throughout most of the novel Jeeves hovers in the side lines, ready to come to his master’s rescue:
“Presently I was aware that Jeeves was with me. I hadn’t heard him come in, but you often don’t with Jeeves. He just streams silently from spot A to spot B, like some gas.”
This novel had me laughing out loud in parts, and was a very entertaining read. Wodehouse wrote prolifically if the dust jacket of my edition of the book is anything to go by and, although I can’t see myself reading everything he has written, I will definitely pick up another of his series in the future. If you are looking for some intelligent, light-hearted fun then Wodehouse is definitely at the top of my list of recommendations.