Book Review: “The Code of the Woosters” by P. G. Wodehouse

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This novel, first serialized in New York and London newspapers in 1938, packs several “Jeeves and Wooster” short-stories’ worth of material into one wickedly dense weave of plot, every stitch of which you will feel in your side as the ridiculous heists, blackmails, rivalries, counter-plots, and romantic complications bearing down on one Gloucestershire manor reveal just how many different shades of laughter your body can produce. In the center of it all is a fashionable fathead named Bertie Wooster and his endlessly resourceful gentleman’s gentleman—Jeeves.

Bertie’s crisis begins when his Aunt Dahlia commissions him to sneer at a silver cow-creamer (don’t ask, just Wiki it). The caper doesn’t come off, thanks to a badly-timed brush with a beak (that is, a magistrate) who had previously fined him 50 pounds for conspiracy to steal a policeman’s helmet. The cow-creamer falls into enemy hands, jeopardizing a silver-fancying uncle’s delicate digestion, as well as Bertie’s chances of being invited to future dinners cooked by the best French chef in all England. With this horrible fate hanging over him, Bertie repairs to Totley Towers (the aforementioned joint in Gloucestershire) to have the first of his four novel-length adventures connected with that place and its inhabitants. (The other three are told in The Mating Season (1949), Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves (1963), and Much Obliged, Jeeves (1971).)

To reveal any further plot points in this book would risk spoiling a moment of hilarious perfection. I might hint, though, that you could be laughing about a brown leather-covered notebook filled with choice insults, a policeman’s helmet (another one!), a confidential club for valets and butlers, a bathtub full of newts, a vicar named Stinker Pinker, two (2) dangerously marriageable young ladies, and a daffy Fascist wanna-be dictator. (Clearly this was before World War II, if such a thing could be played for comedy!) Apart from the fact that nothing feels better to laugh at than a class of people one despises—and for many people even today, the idle rich of Bertie’s set meet that criterion with ease—this is a book that will leave you feeling superb. Laughter, after all, lightens many aches and pains. And this book made me laugh as heartily as few books have done.