I regularly read Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster material as a sort of palate cleanser between whatever more weighty reading I have been occupying myself with and recently set out on tackling the canon, as I have done with many other genre characters and authors. Inevitably my appreciation for the material deepens even as I note the authors recycling, treading water, and otherwise returning to themes, often with what appear to be a lack of volition and sometimes (I appreciate these the most) a lack of self-awareness.
Wodehouse’s stuff is *deeply* controlled and self-aware, his central dictum (or perhaps that should be the latin for the opposite of what is uttered as a rule, beyond my scope) being “don’t talk about the war.”
He repurposed pre-war stories featuring a character called “Reggie Pepper” as Jeeves and Wooster stories. Jeeves is named after a British athlete, a cricketer, who died in 1916 in the Great War. Wodehouse himself was interned during World War Two by the Germans and was induced to participate in wartime propaganda broadcasts. He also introduced a character to his material before the war intended specifically to mock English fascists.
Wooster’s vocabulary in particular relies on prewar British upper-class slang and continues to do so until Wodehouse’s death, tinkerty-tonk. Neither war is ever mentioned. Tonight as I was musing on this it struck me that Bertie Wooster, like Billy Pilgrim, was knocked loose from time by these wars. It’s not unreasonable to suggest that the wars created the market for these comforting, funny stories about a time and place that never existed, where the poor are invisible and the wealthy are fools. It’s a shame that Wodehouse never wrote of Bertie’s life with or without Jeeves in the outer colonies.
The other antecedent to Jeeves and Wooster I keep seeing in this trawl is Holmes and Watson, a resemblance not missed by Wodehouse, down to the recycled stories and repeated plot elements.
(Originally posted on Facebook)
(Relatedly, “What Ho, Gods of the Abyss“)