I love the work P.G. Wodehouse, in particular the Jeeves and the Blandings books, not only because of the sublime–and sometimes surreal–silliness they involve, but also because, in his best works, of the language, the minute details of the precisely crafted contrasts between the sublime and the ridiculous, the sentimental and the absurd, the flights of sly wit and the pratfalls. Not all of Wodehouse’s books are equal in this respect; The Inimitable Jeeves is not one of the mightiest, but it’s still a jolly good romp, with bits of parody and mockery and a course of true love that runs through several inventive disasters involving pushing small boys off bridges and oranges being flung at opera stars.
The true love in question does not mainly involve the affable narrator Bertie Wooster, but rather his friend Richard “Bingo” Little, whose adventures the narrative loosely follows. Bertie does have a couple of narrow escapes from being set up by his Aunt Agatha, but Bingo’s follies are what bind the story together. His penchant for falling in love with waitresses, fervent socialists, opera singers and upper-class ladies provide amusement for the reader and frustration for his hapless friend Bertie, who always gets dragged into his scrapes, only to be rescued by his wise and wonderful man-servant Jeeves.
Wodehouse pokes fun at the clichés of the light romance genre:
There is none like her, none. Bertie, do you believe in love at first sight? You do believe in love at first sight, don’t you, Bertie, old man? Directly I saw her she seemed to draw me like a magnet. I seemed to forget everything. We two were alone in a world of music and sunshine. I joined her. I got into conversation. She is a Miss Braythwayt, Bertie – Daphne Braythwayt. Directly our eyes met, I realized that what I had imagined to be my love for Honoria Glossop had been a mere passing whim. (70)
By contrast, Bertie’s own romantic situation in this chapter is dire; said Honoria Glossop (I love Wodehouse’s character names) is trying to improve Bertie as a complicated plot to attach her to Bingo has led her to believe that Bertie proposed to her:
I gave one of those hollow, mirthless laughs, and went downstairs to join Honoria. I had an appointment with her in the drawing-room. She was going to read Ruskin to me. (71)
The chapter ends here; the understatement of this brief passage is telling. Bingo does not end up with Daphne Braythwayt, by the way. This all occurs about a fifth of the way through. But it’s Jeeves’s schemes that are the real marvel, and the interaction between Bertie and his faithful “gentleman’s personal gentleman”, particularly when it is strained by Bertie’s insistence on loud waistcoats and purple socks, remains enjoyable even as it becomes a familiar pattern.