I can confidently state that Bertie Wooster is the most beloved unreliable narrator in English literature. I am unanimous in that. Bertie narrated novels and short stories from his first appearance in 1917 to his final bow in 1974. He never did figure out what was really going on. It was always up to Jeeves to save the day.
But Bertie charms none-the-less. Take his description of a grammar school assembly:
In this hall the youth of Market Snodsbury had been eating its daily lunch for a matter of five hundred years, and the flavour lingered. The air was sort of heavy and languorous, if you know what I mean, with the scent of Young England and boiled beef and carrots.
I know what he means.
In Right Ho, Jeeves Bertie attempts to solve twin sets of relationship mix-ups. A typical double marriage plot complicated by Bertie’s refusal to take any advice from valet, Jeeves. We all know what’s going to happen. Things will go from bad to worse until Jeeves can get Bertie out of the way long enough to set them right. But P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves stories are about the journey not the destination. The reader never really cares who ends up with whom, we’re along for the ride. In that spirit, here’s a brief bit of the famed scene at the Market Snodsbury Grammar School where Gussy Fink-Nottle has been given the job of presenting the annual awards. Nervous of public speaking Gussy has had more than a few drinks to help build up his courage. Bertie walks out before the ceremony is over, but Jeeves fills him in afterwards.
“Was there much more of it after I went?”
“No, sir. The proceedings terminated very shortly. Mr. Fink-Nottle’s remarks with reference to Master G.G. Simmons brought about an early closure.”
“But he had finished his remarks about G.G. Simmons.”
“Only temporarily, sir. He resumed them immediately after your departure. If you recollect, sir, he had already proclaimed himself suspicious of Master Simmons’s bona fides, and he now proceeded to deliver a violent verbal attack upon the young gentleman, asserting that it was impossible for him to have won the Scripture-knowledge prize without systematic cheating on an impressive scale. He went so far as to suggest that Master Simmons was well known to the police.”
“Yes, sir. The words did create a considerable sensation. The reaction of those present to this accusation I should describe as mixed. The young students appeared pleased and applauded vigorously, but Master Simmons’s mother rose from her seat and addressed Mr. Fink-Nottle in terms of strong protest.”
“Did Gussie seem taken aback? Did he recede from his position?”
“No, sir. He said that he could see it all now, and hinted at a guilty liaison between Master Simmons’s mother and the head master, accusing the latter of having cooked the marks, as his expression was, in order to gain favour with the former.”
“You don’t mean that?”
“Egad, Jeeves! And then——”
“They sang the national anthem, sir.”
“At a moment like that?”
“Well, you were there and you know, of course, but I should have thought the last thing Gussie and this woman would have done in the cricus would have been to start singing duets.”
“You misunderstand me, sir. It was the entire company who sang. The head master turned to the organist and said something to him in a low tone. Upon which the latter began to play the national anthem, and the proceedings terminated.”
“I see. About time, too.”
“Yes, sir. Mrs. Simmons’s attitude had become unquestionably menacing.”
I first ran this review on my old blog, Ready When You Are, C.B. back in 2011. If Jeeves were here today I think he would sum up recent events in the U.K. with The reaction of those present should be described as mixed. If only Mr. Wodehouse were with us today to add his two-cents. I’m sure whatever he would have to say, it would produce a laugh. All I have to say about Brexit is that no one in the U.K. is allowed to make fun of U.S. politics until at least November. After that, we’ll talk.