By Chet Yarbrough
My Man Jeeves
By P. G. Wodehouse
Narrated by David Thorn
P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975, British Author, humorist)
Amazon shows there are 46 books written with Jeeves as a main character in the Wodehouse series.
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011, Author, Essayist, Social Critic) was a great fan of the “Jeeves” series written by P. G. Wodehouse, published between 1911 and 1974.
With Hitchens’ Oxford English education, he had a keen understanding of Wodehouse’s skewering of the English upper class; particularly the ridiculously wealthy.
One wonders what delicious comments Hitchens would have for today’s American President.
Hitchens arrives in the U. S. in 1981. He becomes an American citizen in 2007. He dies at the age of 62 in 1975 from the same cancer as his father.
After listening to Wodehouse’s first book, one is inclined to believe Hitchens high praise is partly due to his personal life experience. The books are about an upper class English character who chooses to move to New York to live life as a wealthy New Yorker.
Bertie Wooster and Jeeves.
Hitchens is more like the brilliant butler than the dull-witted upper class Englishman in Wodehouse’s books, but his upper class English education (at Oxford) gives him a prescient understanding of the very wealthy.
Jeeves is a wunderkind working for a slightly dull witted bumpkin that has great family wealth. Wodehouse’s wealthy English aristocrat, Wooster, exhibits “bumpkiness” by wearing garish ties, hats or facial hair that Jeeves steers him (sometimes humorlessly) away from.
Wodehouse’s humor is subtle and somewhat endearing but it is difficult to suspend disbelief. With a man servant like Jeeves who diplomatically surpasses his wealthy patron in every category of being, it stretches credulity to a breaking point.
How could a servant of great intelligence, social grace, and aesthetic taste remain in the service of a moron. In 2019, it appears more possible than one might have believed. ( James Mattis, former Secretary of the Dept. of Defense serving President Trump.)
This first book is a series of short stories with a few that exclude Jeeves. It is funny but not “lol” to those who are not English; a member of the enlightened, or those particularly fond of satire. This is not to suggest Wodehouse is not at times hilarious but Wodehouse, like Mark Twain, is an acquired taste.
Wodehouse’s rich bumpkin is a kind of “helpful Hannah” wishing to do the right thing for his friends. In Wodehouse’s stories, a wealthy “helpful Hannah” inevitably creates more trouble than help. Jeeves comes to the rescue.
Volodymyr Zelensky (President of Ukraine)
As is often the case, doing for others what one thinks another needs leads to unintended consequence.
One is flummoxed by the idea of Jeeves not using his prescient ability to escape servitude. On the other hand, John Steinbeck creates a brilliant minor character in “East of Eden” who makes a case for servitude in order to live a life of contemplation.
Hitchens fascinating mind and skill as an essayist of life, books, and politics suggests he knows more about the value of Wodehouse than this reviewer. Listening to another Wodehouse book remains in one’s mind; maybe not soon, but in the future. If Mark Twain is an acquired taste, so may be Wodehouse.