Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse

Trouble at Totleigh Towers…

😀 😀 😀 😀

When told that Stiffy Byng requires his presence at Totleigh Towers to perform a little task for her, Bertie issues a strong nolle prosequi. This young menace to society, Stiffy, while undoubtedly easy on the eye, is well known for landing her friends in hot water up to their chins. Plus Totleigh Towers is the home of Sir Watkyn Bassett who, due to an unfortunate misunderstanding, is convinced that Bertie is a habitual thief. Only Jeeves’ brilliance in the past has prevented Bertie from serving time at His Majesty’s pleasure, and Bertie has no desire to risk another encounter with Sir Watkyn. But storm clouds are gathering. There is a rift in the lute of love between Madeline, daughter of Sir Watkyn, and Gussie Fink-Nottle, keeper of newts, over the issue of steak pies – Gussie would like to eat them while Madeline is insisting on him sticking to a vegetarian diet. In the past, Madeline has made it clear that, should she find it necessary to return Gussie to store, Bertie will be expected to fill the vacancy for prospective bridegroom. Madeline, as readers will recall, believes that every time a fairy sheds a tear, a wee bit star is born in the Milky Way, so one can readily understand why Bertie is so keen to see Madeline and Gussie reconciled. The only way to make sure of it is to go to Totleigh Towers after all…

….‘Jeeves,’ I said, ‘as always, you have found the way. I’ll wire Miss Bassett and ask if I can come, and I’ll wire Aunt Dahlia that I can’t give her lunch as I’m leaving town, and I’ll tell Stiffy that whatever she has in mind she gets no service and co-operation from me. Yes, Jeeves, you’ve hit it! I’ll go to Totleigh, though the flesh creeps at the prospect. Pop Bassett will be there, Spode will be there, Stiffy will be there, the dog Bartholomew will be there. It makes one wonder why so much fuss has been made about those half-a-league half-a-league half-a-league-onward bimbos who rode into the Valley of Death. They weren’t going to find Pop Bassett at the other end. Ah well, let us hope for the best.’
….‘The only course to pursue, sir.’
….‘Stiff upper lip, Jeeves, what?’
….‘Indubitably, sir. That, if I may say so, is the spirit.’

PG Wodehouse

This is one of Wodehouse’s later novels, written in 1963 when he was in his eighties. While it’s still a lot of fun with all of his trademark lightness and charm, it doesn’t really compare to the books he was writing at his peak. In fact, the plot is largely a re-hash of elements that have appeared in previous books – Stiffy and the favour, stealing objets d’art from Sir Watkyn, Spode threatening to break the neck of anyone who upsets Madeline, etc., – and Wodehouse frequently refers back to those earlier episodes, going over what happened in them with the pretext of bringing new readers up to date. Wodehouse always carried plot elements and jokes from book to book, but each time changing them enough so that they achieved a feeling of being both fresh and familiar at the same time, like variations on a theme – the ultimate comfort reading, in fact. But in this one it feels more like repetition than variation. I hesitate to use the word stale – Wodehouse could never be that – but certainly not straight from the oven. However, I suspect that might only be obvious to people who have a good familiarity with the earlier Jeeves books.

….She was heading for the piano, and something told me that it was her intention to sing old folk songs, a pastime to which, as I have indicated, she devoted not a little of her leisure. She was particularly given to indulgence in this nuisance when her soul had been undergoing an upheaval and required soothing, as of course it probably did at this juncture.
….
My fears were realized. She sang two in rapid succession, and the thought that this sort of thing would be a permanent feature of our married life chilled me to the core.

Jonathan Cecil

There are some new elements in it, though, which lift it and make it still an enjoyable read . For example, Major Plank is a retired bastion of the Empire, giving Wodehouse the opportunity to poke some fun at the British attitudes to its colonies at the time – though the book was written in the ’60s, it’s set in the ’30s, I’d say. And, while Bertie’s Aunt Dahlia doesn’t appear in person, we have the fun of some of her phone conversations with her much-loved but exasperating nephew.

I listened to the audiobook version with Jonathan Cecil narrating and, as always, he does an excellent job, giving distinct voices to all the different characters and doing an excellent Bertie. Even though this isn’t one of the all-time bests, it’s still great, mood-enhancing entertainment, as are all of the Jeeves books.

Audible UK Link
Audible US Link

42 thoughts on “Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves by PG Wodehouse

  1. Wodehouse is always fun to read, I think, FictionFan. Even the later entries have at least some of the ‘sparkle’ for which he was famous. I’m glad you featured this one today, as it reminds me that it’s been too long for me. I need to re-acquaint myself with Wodehouse, I think…

    • I love reading Wodehouse – he should be prescribed as a form of anti-depressant! And the Jeeves books are my particular favourites – Bertie’s such a nice chap, even if he does have to rely on Jeeves for brainpower… 😉

  2. I suppose he was getting on a bit, so perhaps can be excused the odd novel that doesn’t quite reach the heights of his previous work. That’s the problem with being so brilliant – the minute a writer isn’t quite as utterly brilliant (although doubtless still very good) it becomes really noticeable. I can forgive him anything – his characters are among the very finest in not only English literature, but any literature anywhere in the universe. (Perhaps someone will say that about Head Porter one day 😉 )

    • Actually it’s remarkably good considering how late in his life it was written – so many authors’ later books are almost cringe-makingly bad in comparison to their peak. To be honest, I reckon someone who didn’t know the other books would think this was brilliant – one of the penalties of having read them all so often is that I could see when he was repeating himself. Still great fun though – and Jonathan Cecil is wonderful at getting the tone right! 😀

    • He’s so prolific it’s actually hard to say, but although the characters recur, each book works fine on its own – when I read them first I just randomly picked them according to what was on the library shelves at the time. However, my own favourites are the Jeeves books, and I’d recommend Right Ho, Jeeves as one of the very best – or The Code of the Woosters which I hope to re-read soon for the Classics Club. They’re very light, so nice quick reads for over a lazy weekend! 😀

    • You know, although I’m a big fan I can actually understand that. I love the Jeeves books because I adore the Bertie Wooster character, but don’t always find that magic in some of the other ones. The Blandings books for instance never worked so well for me, though I keep meaning to give them another try… So I forgive you! 😉

  3. I must confess there is a joyous sameness for me in the Jeeves books. But when you are at least three cocktails, a plate of cucumber ssndwiches and a rich aunt ahead of everyone else ….

    • Hahaha! Yes, I love that feeling of familiarity too, which is why I prefer the English ones to the American ones – I love all the Drones Club characters reappearing. But somehow parts of this one feel just a little too familiar. Still great fun, though… 😀

  4. The worst of these books is probably better than 99 percent of other writers. Everything about them, from the names, the language and the sense of visiting old friends makes me happy.

    • Funnily enough, I was thinking the other day that it’s odd that an audiobook should be twice the price of a movie on blu-ray. They’re cheaper if you take out a subscription but any time I do that I end up with zillions of unused credits.

  5. I was excited when I saw that your review would be of a PG Wodehouse book. I haven’t read him, but I love every time someone reviews his work! The quotes tend to be so funny! However, as I read your review, I found the opening paragraph of plot to be confusing to me. Perhaps Wodehouse made things more convoluted than necessary? I will applaud him for A) living into his 80s, and B) writing a novel in his 80s. #Goals

    • Haha! Good goals! His plots are always ridiculously convoluted but that’s the fun of them – and they’re very easy to follow. In fact, I love the books particularly because they don’t require any braincells to be switched on – total relaxation!

  6. I think I will choose one his earlier books when I get around to reading him. Good to know these things when the man writes so many books!

  7. I love all PG Wodehouse’s books and am incapable of viewing them through a remotely critical lens–I’ve read this one and loved it, even though I suspect you’re right and it’s not his best. (And I do really like it when Wodehouse takes the mick out of his own social group’s values/attitudes–I like that he isn’t just parroting them himself).

    • I know – I felt bad about criticising it at all because even Wodehouse’s less good books are still so enjoyable. I can’t imagine a world that didn’t have Wodehouse in it! (Yes, actually he says quite a lot about the society of his time, but in such a light way it never feels like preaching…)

      • Yes–I have been trying for ages to write a “Wodehouse’s women” post, because I think that the way he writes women (in contrast with so many of the male authors of his day) is quite extraordinary and deserves a good look. Jeeves’ asides and wry humour in some of the novels also calls attention to treatment of the working class/servants, as well.

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