Book Review: The Code of the Woosters, P. G. Wodehouse

Aunt Dahlia has tasked Bertie with purloining an antique cow creamer from Totleigh Towers. In order to do so, Jeeves hatches a scheme whereby Bertie must charm the droopy and altogether unappealing Madeline and face the wrath of would-be dictator Roderick Spode. Though the prospect fills him with dread, when duty calls, Bertie will answer, for Aunt Dahlia will not be denied.

In a plot that swiftly becomes rife with mishaps, it is Jeeves who must extract his master from trouble. Again.

“There are moments, Jeeves, when one asks oneself, ‘Do trousers matter?'”

“The mood will pass, sir.”

Entitled toffs with silly names basking in their own privilege whilst holed up in stately architecture. Absurd shenanigans.

Hang on, am I reviewing a Wodehouse, or describing our current clutch of MPs?

Nope, definitely reviewing The Code of the Woosters. You can tell the difference easily: the characters in Wodehouse, whilst entitled, privileges and self-obsessed, possess a charm and wit that Members of Her Majesty’s Parliament often fail to exhibit.

In this third full length novel, Wodehouse returns to warmly familiar characters and I do love the way the novels and stories feature recurring characters and call backs to other events. Bertie Wooster and his inimitable valet, Jeeves, are dispatched to the rural idyll of Totleigh-in-the-Wold on the dual orders of Aunt Dahlia who wants him to steal a coveted cow creamer, and of Gussie Fink-Nottle whose engagement to Madeline Bassett, who resides at Totleigh Towers, is in peril – the engagement that Bertie had orchestrated in the preceding What Ho, Jeeves! Throw into the mix Madeline Bassett’s cantankerous father Sir Watkyn Bassett – who had fined Bertie £5 for stealing a policeman’s helmet on Boat Race Night and his friend the fascist Roderick Spode; sprinkle over liberal helpings of Sir Watkyn Bassett’s niece, Stephanie (Stiffy) Byng and her fiance and old school friend of Bertie’s, Harold Pinker, the local curate. Mix vigorously with the local policeman, Constable Oates.

Engagements crumble over misunderstandings; an incriminating notebook is misplaced; a bathtub full of newts are washed away… It is all delightfully absurd and deliciously silly stuff! And this was written as Hitler was in power in Germany, less than a year before the outbreak of World War 2! Part of me wants to decry Wodehouse’s refusal to engage with the atrocities that were already occurring on the continent – more than the satire of Roderick Spode, the amateur dictator with his ridiculous moustache who looked

as if Nature had intended to make a gorilla, and had changed its mind at the last moment

But maybe this was part of the point and the charm of the novels.

Have they stood the test of time? Yes of course they have. Not because of the characters, although they are utterly charming. Not because of the brimming nostalgia they evoke so gloriously. Not for the plotting, which is pitch perfect. What makes these stand out is the effortless ease with which Wodehouse plays with language and literature and allusion. Some example might be called for, such as when Bertie and Madeline are discussing Gussie’s shortcomings.

I saw what she meant.

‘Oh, ah, yes, of course, definitely.’ I remembered something Jeeves had once called Gussie. ‘A sensitive plant, what?’

‘Exactly. You know your Shelley, Bertie.’

‘Oh, do I?’

The relationship between Jeeves and Wooster here felt warmer than in What Ho! Jeeves, even if the valet was wanting to persuade his master to attend a round-the-world cruise, and I loved the moment when, in the act of breaking into Stiffy’s room and being accosted by her terrier.

He was standing on the bed, stropping his front paws on the coverlet, and so easy was it to read the message in his eyes that we acted like two minds with but a single thought. At the exact moment when I soared like an eagle onto the chest of drawers, Jeeves was skimming like a swallow onto the top of the cupboard. The animal hopped from the bed and, advancing into the middle of the room, took a seat, breathing through the nose with a curious whistling sound, and looking at us from under his eyebrows like a Scottish elder rebuking sin from the pulpit.

I mean, the ridiculous similes, the absurdity, the sheer joy.

In fact, effortlessness is probably the defining characteristic of these novels for me – they are effortlessly and wonderfully charming!

What I Liked

  • The effortless joy and playfulness of the language
  • The absurd plotting
  • The charm of the characterisation, even if some individual characters lack it
  • Sheer joyful escapism and nostalgia

What Could Have Been Different

Ratings:

Overall:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Characters:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Plot / Pace:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Worldbuilding:

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

Structure:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Language:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Page Count:

304 pages

Publisher:

Herbert Jenkins / republished by Arrow

Date:

7th October 1938

Available:

Amazon, Publisher

7 thoughts on “Book Review: The Code of the Woosters, P. G. Wodehouse”

  1. One of his very best novels, with helmet-pinching procedures (as prescribe by Bertie), mouth watering dishes by Anatole (after BW comes out of jail), nasty notebook (made by Stiffy Byng), the Eulalie trick to neutralize Spode, Bartholomew and the cop-on-the-bicycle and the almirah-top episode and several other high points in the narrative. The feudal spirit shines.

    Liked by 1 person

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