Book Review: The Jeeves Omnibus (#3, #2, #13)

The Jeeves Omnibus (#3, #2, #13), by P.G. Wodehouse

I am in general fond of the works of P.G. Wodehouse [1], but I must say that in my second go around reading many of the Jeeves & Wooster novels, I have to say that I do not like them as much as I did before.  I do not think that the blame for this belongs on P.G. Wodehouse, who had a gifted touch with comic literature, much of which can be found here in these rather tropey novels and short stories about a somewhat dopey young English bachelor named Bertie Wooster and his wise butler Jeeves.  It can be said, though, that there may be too much of a good thing.  While the Jeeves stories are enjoyable one story or one novel at a time, I think reading two complete novels and ten stories, as this more than 500 page book contains, is probably too much Jeeves for the taste of even those who would be inclined to be fond of the hijinks.  One gets the sense that Wodehouse’s novels were rather narrow in their scope and that accounts for a great deal of their charm, in that characters from one series could easily show up or be referred to in another series, showing that they were all part of the same universe.

Included in this omnibus series are:  Carry On, Jeeves, The Inimitable Jeeves, and Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves.  Not much needs to be said about the rather episodic stories themselves.  P.G. Wodehouse in these stories can be said to be the inverse of, say, Jane Austen, except that both are witty writers.  Whereas Jane Austen’s characters were female, generally highly interested in marriage, and not inclined to discuss their personal lives with the help, these novels revel in the relationship between doltish master and almost omniscient servant and show neither Bertie nor Jeeves particularly interested in marriage or family life.  Likewise, while Jane Austen’s characters were deeply concerned with money, the main characters here are not much concerned with that at all, having enough to make it possible to pay fines and support children’s books on ornithology without any difficulty whatsoever.  The novels and stories themselves are rather episodic and show no particular moral and intellectual development of any kind.  They are the stories of boys who have perhaps never entirely grown up, glorying in biblical knowledge and using their savvy to escape from various scrapes but not showing an interest in becoming fully functional adults integrated into the wider world.

And it is perhaps this element that I find wanting at this stage in life.  I simply don’t have much to identify with in these characters.  Indeed, I may be about as opposite a character to Bertie Wooster among the bachelor class as can be imagined, in the presence of brains, the desire for integration with others and intimacy, and in the absence of having servants.  I can see in these novels a great deal to amuse, but the laughter seems a bit hollow some of the time.  These are characters that one would wish would grow up a bit, as they do have something to offer the world but they have no interest in anything except their own games and schemes.  And I view that as somewhat of a shame.  At least when we look at Wodehouse’s Blandings Castle saga we see someone enjoying being in touch with the land and finding pleasure in the simple pleasures of raising animals and dealing with one’s loving family.  Here we have bossy aunts and bossy would-be wives and servants who are too smart and too bossy for their own good and have as a narrator someone who has just enough ambition to breathe and eat and smoke and dress in rather odd ways that his manservant disapproves of.  And life is more than just those things alone.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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