My Man Jeeves, first published in 1919, introduced the world to affable, indolent Bertie Wooster and his precise, capable valet, Jeeves. Some of the finest examples of humorous writing found in English literature are woven around the relationship between these two men of very different classes and temperaments. Where Bertie is impetuous and feeble, Jeeves is cool-headed and poised. This collection, the first book of Jeeves and Wooster stories, includes “Leave it to Jeeves,” “Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest,” “Jeeves and the Hard-Boiled Egg,” “Absent Treatment,” “Helping Freddie,” “Rallying Round Old George,” “Doing Clarence a Bit of Good,” and “The Aunt and the Sluggard.”
It grieves me to award a relatively low grade to My Man Jeeves, because I truly did want to like it, but the trouble is, if I may be allowed to borrow Bertie’s manner of speech for a moment, that the stories it contains are “dashed repetitive, don’t you know?” In fact, you too can write a story just like the ones in this book! Make a selection at each parenthetical prompt and you’re halfway there!
A friend of (Reggie Pepper/Bertie Wooster) is having trouble with a (rich aunt or uncle/woman) and is despondent because said person has threated to (cut off his allowance/break off their engagement). (Reggie/Jeeves) comes up with a kooky idea to achieve the friend’s desired result and hijinks ensue.
The outcomes of the stories are all different, of course, and usually at least somewhat amusing. The story that varies the most from the formula above is “Doing Clarence a Bit of Good,” in which Reggie is summoned to the home of his former sweetheart, who has manipulated him thither with tales of an excellent golf course nearby but who really wants him to steal an ugly painting by her husband’s father. I probably should’ve seen the end result coming, but didn’t.
The relationship between Jeeves and Wooster is also enjoyable, with Wooster being terribly impressed by the “devilish brainy” Jeeves and occasionally rewarding him for his achievements by casting off ties, hats, or mustaches that have offended Jeeves’s delicate sensibilities. I’m a little sad that Jeeves’s intellect is used primarily for schemes of deception, though, and hope that won’t always be the case. There are a couple of occasions where he quietly works a solution of his own while Bertie is away, and I found those better examples of his cleverness than simply advising someone to pretend to have written a book on birds in order to appeal to a rich uncle with an ornithological bent.
There’s actually one story featuring Bertie and Jeeves that is even older than those collected here. “Extricating Young Gussie,” first published in 1915 and collected into The Man with Two Left Feet in 1917, finds Bertie tasked with preventing the marriage of his cousin to a chorus girl. I had thought it was safe to save this ’til later, since Jeeves’s part is extremely small, but Bertie mentioned it a couple of times here so I’ll probably go ahead and tackle that one next.