Tag Archives: The Cat-Nappers

P.G. Wodehouse reading list: the Jeeves and Wooster stories

This second article in my reading guide for new Wodehouse readers offers a reading list for the Jeeves and Wooster stories.

Jeeves and Wooster Reading List

*The World of Jeeves is currently available in print for around £8, and includes the short stories contained in Inimitable Jeeves, Carry On, Jeeves, and Very Good Jeeves.

Notes on the series

The Right Hon. was a tubby little chap who looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say `When’.

Very Good, Jeeves

Bertie Wooster and his resourceful manservant Jeeves appeared in over thirty short stories between 1915 and the publication of their first novel, Thank You, Jeeves, in 1934. Wodehouse was a master of the short story format, and the stories include some of Bertie’s most memorable adventures. They’re a terrific introduction to the series and its characters. Reading them first will avoid plot spoilers, and ensure you appreciate all the ‘in jokes’ throughout the series.

The short stories first appeared in magazine format before their publication in three volumes as The Inimitable Jeeves (1923), Carry On, Jeeves (1925) and Very Good, Jeeves (1930). Their order of appearance in these volumes differed from the original publication order, and some of the titles were changed. Wodehouse also included reworked versions of earlier stories, featuring a character called Reggie Pepper, as Bertie Wooster stories.

The three short story collections were collated in a 1967 Omnibus, The World of Jeeves, with an introduction by P.G. Wodehouse. The stories were reordered to better resemble their original publication order, and some are listed under their original titles.

The World of Jeeves also includes two later Jeeves stories, ‘Jeeves Makes an Omelette’ and ‘Jeeves and the Greasy Bird’, which appeared in A Few Quick Ones (1959) and Plum Pie (1966). The stories refer to characters and events from the later novels, so if you can exercise an iron will and leave off reading them until later, you’ll avoid spoilers. But no great harm will befall you by reading them first.

The ‘first’ Jeeves and Bertie story, ‘Extricating Young Gussie’ (1915) is not included in any of these volumes. Originally published in The Saturday Evening Post, it appeared in the 1917 short story collection The Man with Two Left Feet. There is some debate about whether the Bertie in this story should be rightfully considered Bertie Wooster, or some other Bertie of the Mannering-Phipps variety. These are the sorts of debates you may find yourself entering once you’ve become hooked on the series.

As the early collection My Man Jeeves (1919) was rewritten and incorporated into the later stories, it is recommended for enthusiasts and collectors, but not as a starting point for new readers.

The novels introduce memorable new characters to the Jeeves and Wooster cast including Augustus Fink-Nottle, Madeline Bassett, Sir Roderick Spode, the Stoker gang, ‘Catsmeat’ Potter-Pirbright, and his sister Cora.

He spoke with a certain what-is-it in his voice, and I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.

The Code of the Woosters.

code-of-the-woostersMany people start their Wodehouse reading with The Code of the Woosters. As a highly-regarded classic, it’s a volume most booksellers tend to stock. The Code of the Woosters is also a favourite with fans, who recommend it to new readers with enthusiasm. No great harm will befall you by reading this, or any other book, out of order.

Finally, if this reading list leaves you wanting more, there’s also the 1953 novel Ring for Jeeves featuring Jeeves without Bertie Wooster.

Next in the series: A reading list for Wodehouse’s Blandings stories

Happy Reading!

HP

Watching the Birds

After my recent piece in defence of Aunt’s Aren’t Gentlemen (aka The Cat Nappers) I was compelled to read it again – and found it ripe with good stuff.

 

… his idea of a good time was to go off with a pair of binoculars and watch birds, a thing that never appealed to me. I can’t see any percentage in it. If I meet a bird, I wave a friendly hand at it, to let it know that I wish it well, but I don’t want to crouch behind a bush observing its habits.

 Aunt’s Aren’t Gentlemen

This little bit on Birdwatching struck an instant chord with me, as someone whose childhood was spent being lugged about by a conscientious parent from one bit of dismal scrub to another, watching birds. Birthdays were marked with the excitement (not mine) of new binoculars, sturdy walking boots, and the latest compendium of Australian Birds. If Muriel Singer’s work The Children’s Book of American Birds existed outside the realms of Wodehouse (‘The Artistic Career of Corky’) it would undoubtedly have been presented to me. When I was older, I progressed to the joys of learning the Latin names for local species.

Sadly, like Bertie Wooster‘s chum Corky, I never had any enthusiasm for the subject: “  …birds, except when broiled and in the society of a cold  bottle, bored him stiff.”

Nor was there any respite at home, where my happiness was thwarted by the presence of a Budgerigar. I cannot abide Budgerigars! Ours flapped about the house with carefree insolence, landing on whatever took its fancy – including me. When I took refuge under a bed, the blighter followed. Subsequent encounters with chickens, pigeons, seagulls and magpies have turned my distaste for the fowl species into a phobia.

My phobia has presented me with a few difficulties as a cat owner, because I am incapable of removing feathers and carcass from the premises. But preventing domestic cats from catching birds is not difficult, and I have no sympathy with bird lovers who advocate the destruction of cats (as if birds hold some kind of moral high ground when everyone knows Cats are the superior beings). And I believe Wodehouse would agree with me. As discussed in Cats will be Cats, Wodehouse was ruthless with any character he caught flinging cats – or worse.

Despite my phobia I am content, like Bertie Wooster, to wish birds well from a respectful distance. It is only when the plumed party-of-the-second-part attempts a closer relationship that I object. Pigeons are completely lacking in this courtesy and the use of Hawks to manage the feral pigeon population in London was a stroke of genius. I have great respect for birds of prey and I like to see them encouraged. Perhaps I shall become an anti-Pigeon campaigner – it’s a stance which I fear would not meet with Wodehouse’s approval. But these are desperate times.

HP

Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen

A response to the critic Emsworth

Emsworth, that worthy critic with an equally worthy name, suggests “P.G. Wodehouse had hung on too long when he wrote The Cat-NappersThe Cat-Nappers being an alias for the work known to British readers as Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen. Emsworth provides some good evidence that this 1974 work of a nonagenarian is not Wodehouse at his finest.  For those unacquainted with Emsworth’s excellent piece, I suggest reading it for yourself.  When my considered response (however unqualified I am to make it)  ran to half a page, I decided to post it here instead.

Wodehouse was a careful and proficient editor in the habit of  re-working his stories thoroughly until he was satisfied with them. I wonder whether this book received a less scrupulous reworking than Wodehouse was accustomed to. Perhaps Wodehouse felt he was running out of time…

Emsworth’s comments on Wodehouse’s repeated use of abbreviations (telegram-speak being a forerunner of SMS) illustrates my point. Wodehouse used this sparingly to great comic effect in other novels, but the criticism of overuse here could be indicative of writer’s shorthand – perfectly acceptable in a draft manuscript. Similarly, the issues with repetition.

I have often wondered whether publishers their treat star authors differently when it comes to editing. J.K Rowling’s work might make an interesting study in this regard. The first Harry Potter novel is fine, tight writing, but the same cannot be said of the later instalments — there are all sorts of issues with them, which I feel would have benefited from a firm editorial hand.

Emsworth notes instances of rambling and dithering, which could also be attributed to editing. Most writers ramble and dither, and need to cut material from their first drafts, age notwithstanding. But Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen certainly isn’t a rambling final novel, in the way that Agatha Christie’s Postern of Fate is.

Emsworth also believes that in Aunt’s Aren’t Gentlemen Wodehouse reveals his true political colours, citing the following example:

Being a Communist, Orlo Porter was probably on palsy-walsy terms with half the big shots at the Kremlin, and the more of the bourgeoisie he disembowelled, the better they would be pleased.

Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen

Bertie Wooster is hardly a mouthpiece for expressing the political views of his author. Bertie’s position on Communism, made clear in  The Inimitable Jeeves (1923), is one of genial self-preservation. While Wodehouse made Comrade Bingo’s Heralds of the Red Dawn appear ridiculous, he was an egalitarian writer who created the equally ludicrous fascists (Roderick Spode), crooked Conservatives  (Sir Gregory Parsloe Parsloe), loathsome Lords, and grotesque Captains of Industry.

The trouble with you, Spode, is that just because you have succeeded in inducing a handful of half-wits to disfigure the London scene by going about in black shorts, you think you’re someone. You hear them shouting “Heil, Spode!” and you imagine it is the Voice of the People. That is where you make your bloomer. What the Voice of the People is saying is: “Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags! Did you ever in your puff see such a perfect perisher?
The Code of the Woosters

Wodehouse’s consistent treatment of political activists – if it tells us anything at all – suggests that he found them all equally ridiculous, and ripe for picking as excellent sources of ‘material’

If I were find fault with Aunt’s Aren’t Gentlemen I would tend to agree with FretfulPorpentine’s  response to Emsworth:

I wonder whether one of the problems with Aunts Aren’t Gentleman / The Catnappers is that its setting was more or less contemporary to when it was written, with its Sixties student demos and jokes about Billy Graham. Better, perhaps, had it been set in the classic (and, if it’s not a contradiction to say so) Wodehousian interwar era. The sixties bits really jar with me.

FretfulPorpentine

It’s not that the setting doesn’t work – it’s just different from what we’ve become accustomed to. We want more of the old stuff we know and love. But it shows us that Wodehouse was still striving to write something new.  A younger Wodehouse might have popped this manuscript in his bottom drawer and reworked it again later, but at 93, one can be forgiven for not putting things off.

As is stands, Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen still offers much of the usual Wodehouse to enjoy and I am reluctant to damn it as the work of a man who had lost his touch. I would gladly ‘suffer’ another 20 books of this quality.

I would gladly have continued our conversation, but I knew he must be wanting to get back to his Spinoza. No doubt I had interrupted him just as Spinoza was on the point of solving the mystery of the headless body on the library floor.

Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen

HP