Classic of the Month: Carry On, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse (1925)

I’d never read any P.G. Wodehouse before, but of course I was familiar with his two most famous creations, empty-headed aristocrat Bertie Wooster and his omniscient manservant, Jeeves. Many people are turning to cheerful, witty reads during lockdown, so this seemed like a perfect time to give one of the books a try. The bio in my secondhand paperback calls this the first set of Jeeves and Wooster tales, while Goodreads lists it as the third book in a 14-strong series. I didn’t realize when I bought this or picked it up to read that it was a collection of 10 short stories, but that makes sense – these are such silly, inconsequential plots that they couldn’t possibly be sustained for more than about 20 pages each.

It doesn’t take long to get the hang of a Jeeves and Wooster story. Bertie or one of his rich, vapid pals will get into a spot of trouble, usually because of an aunt’s expectations, and a madcap plan – swapping places, impersonation, kidnapping or the like – is required to get out of it and/or get the girl. Jeeves has a brilliant idea and saves the day, all while commenting disapprovingly on Bertie’s fashion choices. Most of the stories are set in London and its environs, but a few also have the pair transplanted to New York City, where Bertie seems to have nothing better to do than lend his chums money. The first nine tales are narrated by Bertie, while the final one has Jeeves as narrator – on a visit to a girls’ school he plays a rather wicked prank to disabuse Bertie of the notion that he might like to adopt a daughter.

These stories were amusing enough, yet quickly blended into one. Pretty much as soon as I finished a story, I forgot what it was about. Looking back, not even the story titles can spark a memory. I made the mistake of not taking notes, so I’ve retained only general impressions. I enjoyed Bertie’s voice and the period slang as well as the dynamic between master and servant – it’s clear who’s really in charge here. “[T]his was obviously a cove of rare intelligence, and it would be a comfort in a lot of ways to have him doing the thinking for me,” Bertie says. “It’s a rummy thing, but when you come down to it Jeeves is always right.” Though I’ve never seen the adaptations, I couldn’t get the faces of Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry out of my head. That’s no problem, though, as the casting couldn’t be more perfect.

I’m not sure if I’ll bother picking up another Wodehouse book, as I expect that his work is all of a piece. However, you could certainly do worse if you’re after a lighthearted read.

My rating:

32 responses

  1. Alyson Woodhouse | Reply

    These stories are complete nonsense of course, and you are right, they kind of blend into each other after a bit, as they are all basically the same story re-hashed again and again. In a way though, I think that is probably the point of them, as they require no thinking from the reader, and are very funny in their own way. Certainly great for lite reading in Lockdown.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. From Wodehouse to Woodhouse! Thanks for stopping by and commenting. I think many people do find predictable reads comforting. Perhaps that’s also the case with series mysteries.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. How would Bertie have coped with lockdown? I’m not sure even Jeeves could have brought him through that successfully.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good question! With many a B&S (brandy and soda), I expect.

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  3. I’ve not read any Bertie for ages, though I do remember enjoying them. But definitely no specifics – they’re hugely entertaining but do blur into one!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Maybe I’ll look for a way to watch the adaptation instead.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I read loads of them in my youth but retain very little. We did amazingly see the play that went round a bit ago (OK, years ago) with Robert Webb playing Bertie, which was very good.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. That sounds fun! Who was Jeeves?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Someone called Jason Thorpe, I think – it wasn’t Mark Heap, who worked with Webb originally, as I’d have remembered that.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I think my mother believes them to be accurate representations of English society – and she certainly expected me to meet such people when I first moved to the UK!!! I do like the Blandings Castle novels and Duchess the pig, but have only ever read a few of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! I must not hang around with the upper crust enough.

      I might well prefer reading one of his books that isn’t a Jeeves/Wooster, to get more of a sense of his range. [I realize I’d mistakenly thought the source material for the Cary Grant film Mr. Blandings Builds His Dream House was Wodehouse.]

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  6. I do have a very soft spot for these stories. But I suspect you have to have been born a Brit to engage with them. I’m not surprised that they seem to mystify you, slightly. What’s your husband’s take on them?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. He’s not read any Wodehouse, but knows the Fry/Laurie sketches. I like jolly ol’ English stuff … up to a point.

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  7. My husband likes the stories, but we both enjoy the show. Those comic actors at their best, I think!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I love Stephen Fry (who doesn’t?). It would be weird for me to see Hugh Laurie NOT playing an American, though — I’ve only ever seen him in House.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. And I’ve never watched House!

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    2. Ha! He does the American accent so perfectly there are probably many people who have no idea he’s English.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think you’re right!

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  8. You might try at least one of the longer novels as they do manage to sustain a plot over a longer period – still silly, but perhaps more satisfying. I think my favorite is Thank You, Jeeves, if that’s the one with the exchange of telegrams.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Good to get a personal recommendation of a longer one — thank you!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. You’re welcome! Actually Right Ho Jeeves is the one I was thinking of, but either would do. Others plump for The Code of the Woosters as the funniest. Take your pick.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. I’ll see which ones my libraries have.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. I’ve never read Wodehouse properly either – keep trying but fail. However I loved the stephen fry/hugh laurie series from back in the 1990s?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I fancy watching that. Getting a series on DVD might be the best way?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’ve got the complete box set – it was cheap.

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    2. That’s tempting, especially if lockdown continues much longer!

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      1. Just checked – I paid £12 for the complete 8 disc set. Sorry – now going for 5x that! Let me see if I can find mine, I can send/lend…

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      2. No, don’t worry — I wouldn’t expect you to post it to me!

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  10. buriedinprint | Reply

    You’ve described the very idea that I have of these books/stories. That doesn’t put me off, but I would definitely want to be in a very particular mood. Same-y can be good, under the right circumstances? And I like Lori’s suggestion that they’re not going to seem as samey if there’s a higher page count!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Between the public library and university library there are loads of Wodehouse novels to choose from. I’ll wait until I think I’m in the right mood (maybe pre-Christmas jollity?) and then get one of the longer ones Lori suggested.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. I think the novels are probably much more satisfying than the short stories – there’s more room to have an expansive and yet flawless plot in them (and he is, really, a flawless plotter). The Code of the Woosters would be my recommended starting point.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Awesome, thanks! I think my public library has a copy.

      Liked by 1 person

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