Ring for Jeeves is remarkable amongst Jeeves and Wooster masterpieces because Bertie Wooster is not in it. Or is he? His place is taken by a character called Bill Rowcester (pronounced Rooster). Rowcester has many Wooster-like characteristics.
Before reading Ring for Jeeves, I took medical advice not to binge on more than three consecutive PG Wodehouse novels. Intensive research shows this may reduce their impact.
After a three-month no-Wodehouse pause, I found Ring for Jeeves outstanding.
The cover of my Folio Society edition of “Ring for Jeeves”
A Jeeves and Wooster novel without Bertie Wooster
Improbably for a Jeeves and Wooster novel, Ring for Jeeves does not feature Bertie Wooster but rather his doppelgänger, Bill Rowcester. Even the names are near-identical. There is no such place as Rowcester, but Worcester (the city) is of course pronounced Wooster.
Why is Bertie absent from the story? This is because he is attending “a school designed to teach the aristocracy to fend for itself”. The agenda includes “boot-cleaning, sock-darning, bed-making and primary grade cooking”. This leaves Jeeves free to dispense his characteristic pearls of wisdom to Bill Rowcester. Bertie is (mild spoiler alert) expelled from the school at the end for the book for cheating in a sock-darning competition. He smuggles an old woman into his study at night. This requires Jeeves to return to his service. But he never appears in person.
Fine quotes from Ring for Jeeves:
- “For some moments after they had gone the peace of the summer evening was broken only by the dull, bumping sound of a husband carrying suitcases upstairs.”
- “William, ninth Earl of Rowcester, though intensely amiable and beloved by all who knew him, was far from being a mental giant.”
- “…he fancied he had detected in Jill’s eye one of those cold, pensive looks which are the last sort of look a young man in love likes to see in the eye of his betrothed.”
- “‘You know, Jeeves, even in these disturbed post-war days, with the social revolution turning handsprings on every side and Civilisation, as you might say, in the melting-pot, it’s still quite an advantage to be in big print in Debrett’s Peerage.‘”
“Ring for Jeeves” and the life of PG Wodehouse
Ring for Jeeves was published in 1953. Its aristocracy live in crumbling mansions. We sense a quiet sense of desperation around the inhabitants of Bertie Wooster’s world. It is, perhaps, an interesting commentary on Wodehouse’s efforts to depict life in a UK to which he never returned after his move to the US in 1947.
Indeed, it is intriguing to set the life of Wodehouse against the content and qualities of his other novels. He wrote Joy in the Morning, published in 1947, in France in 1939-40 before the German occupation. He wrote Money in the Bank on a typewriter while interned in Germany in 1940. It was first published in Germany in 1943 after his 1941 broadcasts on German radio. He wrote Uncle Dynamite while he was ill in Paris in 1944.
I look forward to reading them all; as well as the next novel on my list, The Mating Season. This was written in France in 1946. At the time, Wodehouse was being accused in the UK of collaborating with Germany during his war-time detention.
If you would like to indulge yourself with more Wodehouse quotations, explore the “Wodehouse” tag at the foot of this post.
Or if you would like to check out something completely different, you can explore my black feminist comedies, Seven Hotel Stories.