In his preface to Very Good, Jeeves!, Wodehouse wrote: ‘It is now some fourteen summers since, an eager lad in my early thirties, I started to write Jeeves stories: and many people think this nuisance should now cease. Carpers say that enough is enough. Cavillers say the same … But against this must be set the fact that writing Jeeves stories gives me a great deal of pleasure and keeps me out of the public-houses.’ All fans can only exclaim, ‘Thank heavens! Good show!’
Produced in series with the novels of Jeeves and Wooster previously published by The Folio Society, these three volumes of stories form a delicious addition for fans, or a superb introduction for those not yet acquainted with the delights of Wodehouse. The lively brush of Paul Cox has been employed in creating over 50 illustrations for each book, capturing some exquisitely funny moments: Aunt Agatha confounded when Bertie produces her stolen pearls; the unspeakable Oswald pushed into the lake; or even Bertie and the Right Honourable Filmer trapped on a tower by an aggressive swan. Robert McCrum, author of an acclaimed biography of Wodehouse, introduces the set, combining personal memories of discovering Wodehouse in his school library with a fascinating account of how the author came to create his most famous characters.
Shimmering unobtrusively into a room, hangover cure at the ready, Jeeves is the finest of all gentlemen’s personal gentlemen ever to press a trouser-crease or lay out a heather-tweed suit. Always discreet, skilled at exerting the old cerebellum, Jeeves rouses every reader to exclaim with Bertie, ‘There is none like you, none.’
P. G. Wodehouse first introduced Jeeves in a short story in 1916. ‘I blush to think’, he wrote later, ‘of the offhand way I treated him at our first encounter.’ It was not long before Wodehouse recognised the possibilities of the clever servant and the ‘mentally negligible’ master, and created one of the most beloved duos in comic literature. The stories, collected here for the first time in Folio Society editions, are the fruits of that creative spark. Initially published on both sides of the Atlantic as magazine stories, the first volume in this Jeeves and Wooster collection, The Inimitable Jeeves, appeared in 1923. Two further volumes followed, and they were, as Robert McCrum writes in his introduction to the set, ‘the heights of sublime lunacy’.
‘Most fellows, no doubt, are all for having their
valets confine their activities to creasing the trousers
and what not without trying to run the home;
but it’s different with Jeeves. Right from the first
day he came to me, I have looked on him as
a sort of guide, philosopher, and friend.’
In this gloriously sunny world, Bertie’s troubles stem from various sources: the matrimonial suggestions of the dreaded Aunt Agatha; the imprudent behaviour of his friends, cousins and unwanted protégés; or his own often too-trusting nature. He need not fear – with Jeeves at his side even the daunting Sir Roderick Glossop or Lady Malvern can be faced and overcome. Of course, there is a price, and after a spirited show of independence, some rather wonderful purple socks, a dashing hat and even a scarlet silk cummerbund must be sacrificed to Jeeves’s notions of taste. As Bertie acknowledges, ‘It was a wrench, but I felt it was the only possible thing to be done.’
Amongst these superb stories, is the account of how Jeeves first came to be employed by Ber tie. In ‘Jeeves Takes Charge’, Bertie discovers that his valet Meadowes has been stealing his silk socks and is ‘compelled to hand the misguided blighter the mitten’. Fortunately the agency sends a new man round right away: Jeeves, who floats noiselessly into Bertie’s life ‘like a healing zephyr’. Some of the stories are set in New York, Wodehouse’s adopted home for much of his life and where he enjoyed success in these early years as a lyricist for Broadway musicals. A special treat is the unique story narrated by Jeeves himself. ‘Bertie Changes His Mind’ tells of the worrying day that Bertie decides to adopt a child, only to be dissuaded by Jeeves’s careful manoeuvres. As Jeeves modestly says, ‘I have usually contrived to show a certain modicum of what I might call finesse in handling those little contretemps which inevitably arise from time to time in the daily life of a gentleman’s personal gentleman.’
Over 35 stories are collected in these three volumes, stories in which Wodehouse perfected the characters he would later launch into full-length novels. The ‘cleverest plotter in the business’, Wodehouse was a master of the short story. In a few pages he could delineate a cast of comic characters, create a deliciously improbable situation, have Jeeves save the day with an inspired scheme, and never suffer a pause in the sparkling dialogue.