“Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit” may have a plot “as full of curves as a scenic railway” but includes some of Wodehouse’s funniest scenes ever.
All things Wodehouse
I wrote in these chronicles of my induction to PG Wodehouse in my post How to read P G Wodehouse: a practical guide. That drew on the advice of fellow WordPress blogger and Wodehouse specialist Plumtopia – recommended. In brief, I love Wodehouse.
The book starts slowly…
Hence my concern, bordering on panic, at my initial perception that “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit” was not a true pearl of the Wodehouse canon. I was thinking, for example, of the wondrous Thank you, Jeeves. Bertie’s decision to grow a moustache, to the disapproval of Jeeves, felt a little familiar as a plot device. The plot of the first half of the book meandered a bit. In fact, it is almost as serpentine Daphne Dolores Morehead. Bertie describes her memorably as having “a figure as full of curves as a scenic railway”.
The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit”
… but soon becomes sublime
That very reference to Ms Morehead, however, signals the all-clear. In fact, I can fact recommend “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit” wholeheartedly. From about the half-way point, the story spreads its wings. The subsequent flight is sublime. Plunge into the scene following the unexpected arrival of the aforementioned Daphne at Brinkley Court. It is amongst the funniest Wodehouse episodes I have read so far – a high bar indeed.
The quotations (1)
I apologise if the following list is a bit long. Just skip down to the ones you like best.
- Love is a delicate plant that needs constant tending and nurturing, and this cannot be done by snorting at the adored object like a gas explosion and calling her friends lice.
- For a moment I was under the impression that my visitor’s emotion was due to his having found me at this advanced hour in pyjamas and a dressing gown, a costume which, if worn at three o’clock in the afternoon, is always liable to start a train of thought.
- After one of Anatole’s lunches has melted in the mouth, you unbutton the waistcoat and loll back, breathing heavily and feeling that life has no more to offer.
- As I presented myself, she gave the moustache a swift glance, but apart from starting like a nymph surprised while bathing and muttering something about ‘Was this the face that stopped a thousand clocks?’ made no comment.
- He gave me a long, reproachful look, similar in its essentials to that which a black beetle gives a cook when the latter is sprinkling insect powder on it.
- He eyed me speculatively, heaving gently like a saucepan of porridge about to reach the height of its fever.
The quotations (2)
- ‘Then I’m all for it,’ said Aunt Dahlia, making for the door. Her face was grim and set. She might have been a marquise about to hop into the tumbril at the time when there was all that unpleasantness over in France.
- I spread the hands in a dignified gesture, upsetting the coffee pot, which was fortunately empty.
- ‘Well, there it is,’ I said, and went into the silence. And as he, too, seemed disinclined for chit-chat, we stood for some moments like a couple of Trappist monks who have run into each other by chance at the dog races.
- [The impact of Daphne Morehead on “Stilton” Cheesewright:] Stilton, who was now a pretty vermillion, came partially out of the ether, uttering odd, strangled noises like a man with no roof to his mouth trying to recite ‘Gunga Din’.
- It is at moments like this that you catch Bertram Wooster at his superb best, his ice-cold brain working like a machine.
- her face was shining like the seat of a bus-driver’s trousers
- ‘Oh, Bertie, if I ever called you a brainless poop who ought to be given a scholarship at some good lunatic asylum, I take back the words.’ I thanked her briefly.
- She nodded sombrely. A martyr at the stake would have been cheerier.
- Spode bristled like a hornet whose feelings have been wounded by a tactless remark.
Bertie gets existential
What else struck me about “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit”? Well, for one thing, the existential thought by Bertie Wooster. He muses:
- Had circumstances been different from what they were – not, of course, that they ever are…
Have readers come across other examples of Bertie coming across all Rene Descartes in this way?
Jeeves has fun with Bertie
I enjoyed the following grin-crinkling exchange between Bertie and Jeeves. Bertie seeks to explain to Jeeves why he wishes to procure a cosh to defend himself from G. D’Arcy “Stilton” Cheesewright. Cheesewright has threatened to break Bertie’s spine in five places:
- [Bertie] ‘If I am to stave off the Cheesewright challenge, I shall have need of a weapon. His strength is as the strength of ten, and unarmed I should be corn before his sickle.’ [Jeeves] ‘Extremely well put, sir, if I may say so, and your diagnosis of the situation is perfectly accurate. Mr Cheesewright’s robustness would enable him to crush you like a fly.’ [Bertie] ‘Exactly.’ [Jeeves] ‘He would obliterate you with a single blow. He would break you in two with his bare hands. He would tear you limb from limb.’ I frowned slightly. I was glad to see that he appreciated the gravity of the situation, but these crude physical details seemed to me uncalled for.
I have not noticed before in my perusal of P G Wodehouse an occasion where Jeeves is quite so cruel to Bertie’s face. Do you know of others?
Jeeves’s special pick-me-ups
“Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit” also contains two descriptions of the effect of Jeeves’s special pick-me ups. Bertie generally uses them as a hangover cure. But one is later deployed to tackle a case of dyspepsia being suffered by Mr L G Trotter. Trotter says “I feel as if I’d swallowed a couple of wild cats”.
The two descriptions of the effects of Jeeves’s wonder drink are:
(i) [consumed by Bertie] The effect was magical. That apprehensive feeling left me, to be succeeded by a quiet sense of power. I cannot put it better than by saying that as the fire coursed through my veins, Wooster the timid fawn became in a flash Wooster the man of iron will, ready for anything.
(ii) [described by Bertie] ‘On swallowing the stuff you will have the momentary illusion that you have been struck by lightning. Pay no attention. It’s all part of the treatment. But watch the eyeballs, as they are liable, unless checked, to start from the parent sockets and rebound from the opposite wall.’
Could this have inspired Douglas Adams to create his Pangalactic Gargleblaster, whose effects are described as: having your brains smashed in by a slice of lemon wrapped round a large gold brick?
“Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit”: Americanisms
A few Americanisms caught my eye. They include Wooster describing G. D’Arcy Cheesewright as “That hunk of boloney”; referring to his aunt Dahlia saving his life “on one occasion when I had half swallowed a rubber comforter”; and declining to knock on doors at night with the explanation “Who do you think I am? Paul Revere?” A quick search suggests that Wodehouse was in fact an inveterate user of Americanisms; I would be interested in any other examples.
For all my Wodehouse posts, see my “PG Wodehouse” category.
If you would like to check out my own attempts at comic writing, please take a look at my book Seven Hotel Stories.