Book Review: My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse

Friday, May 2nd, 2014 at 4:14 pm

Last month’s read for the Reading to Know Classics Bookclub was My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse, selected by Cassandra of Adventist Homemaker.

I’d already read everything my old local library had by Wodehouse (therefore closing him out in my “Read through the Library” challenge), so I wasn’t entirely certain if I’d be reading along here in April.

But when I looked through the list of what I had already read, I didn’t find My Man Jeeves within it – and it so happened that my new local library had an audio version (but not a printed copy.) Considering that the audio was only 4-6 hours long (I don’t remember how long exactly), I figured I might as well play along.

Once I started listening, my first thought was that I had heard this story before. Did I read it in the past and just not log it? I let the CD continue to play and paid it no more mind, listening as the stories became increasingly unfamiliar.

And yes, they are stories with an -ES. I expected this to be somewhat like the other Jeeves and Wooster tales I’ve read, quick-to-read novels with a defined story arc that carries through the entirety. This was not that.

Instead, My Man Jeeves is a collection of short stories about Jeeves and Wooster – and also about Reggie Pepper and his man. The stories were originally written for magazines and then compiled into this volume – and Reggie Pepper was an early incarnation of the man who would be Wooster, the not-so-smart-but-friendly chap who narrates the Jeeves books.

Each story follows a similar plot: Wooster (or Reggie) or one of his friends gets into some sort of scrape, often a love affair or a threat from a wealthy relative to cut off his allowance, which Jeeves (or Reggie’s man) helps extricate him from. Generally, things get worse before they get better, in a comedy of errors that Jeeves almost always anticipates.

But what makes these simple tales shine is Wodehouse’s characteristic wit. He writes in a down to earth style, full of slang (which is sometimes not that comprehensible since it’s from the 1910-1930s and possibly British in origin) but completely delightful. I never fail to laugh at Wodehouse’s descriptions and narratives.

Another delightful aspect of Wodehouse’s style, which appears liberally in My Man Jeeves is his attention to style – that is, to men’s clothing. In almost every one of Wooster’s escapades, Wooster happens upon an article of clothing (or sometimes a way of wearing his facial hair) which he considers all that but of which his dignified valet disapproves. When Jeeves expresses his opinion (always subtley, of course), Wooster bristles and tries to assert his authority – only to find that he’s now getting the cold shoulder. Jeeves still does his job, of course, but Wooster relies on him for much more, such that the cold shoulder is unbearable. Often, once a predicament is resolved through the brilliant ministrations of Jeeves, Wooster rewards him by discarding the offending article.

Listening to my review, I realize you could easily feel that Wodehouse is a tiresomely repetitive writer. And honestly, there is rather a lot of repetition in this particular volume. But, if you’d rather do short stories instead of a full novel, this is a good intro to Wodehouse. (I ended up enjoying the short stories because it meant I didn’t have to remember much of a plot line between ten minute segments of listening!) On the other hand, if you’re up for a little longer read (although still short compared to most novels), you might jump right in with some of the later books about Jeeves and Wooster. Carry on, Jeeves is a more fleshed out version of one of the early stories from My Man Jeeves (the reason it had seemed so familiar when I first started listening) – and that would be a good start for someone who’s wanting to try some Wodehouse.

I’m awfully glad, though, that I read (er, listened) along this month – and am grateful to Cassandra (and her late father-in-law) for suggesting the title. Check out what other readers are saying about Wodehouse at the Reading to Know Classics Bookclub round-up post.


Rating: 3 stars
Category: Comedic short stories
Synopsis: Bertie Wooster (and his literary progenitor Reggie Pepper) gets into a series of scrapes from which his loyal manservant saves him.
Recommendation: If you’re looking for an introduction to Wodehouse that you can easily read in small chunks, check out this collection of short stories. Otherwise, you might as well go for one of Wodehouse’s excellent novels starring the same characters (well, Wooster and his man Jeeves, anyway.)

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Reader Comments (3):

  1. Barbara H. says:

    I had many similar thoughts and feelings about this book. It was nice to listen to it to get the full effect — I don’t often “think in British” when I’m reading British lit, and the accents and inflections really added to it for me.

  2. I also listened to this as an audiobook, and the short story length was perfect. I also enjoyed the narrator’s Jeeves voice. It’s interesting how similar the plots are, yet every story is unique enough to keep you interested. Wodehouse had quite the imagination!

  3. Personally I’m very glad I didn’t read this one. I’ve failed with collections of short stories of late and I’m sure I would have had a hard time with this one as well. I read a full-length J&W novel and loved it. (I can’t remember which titles I have read previously…in part because all of Wodehouse is so familiar…but I hadn’t read this one!)

    Glad you listened and played along. :)

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