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With this collection of eleven short stories, the prolific English humorist who created Jeeves and Wooster proves that his style of adventures can be fun even without the ever-resourceful Jeeves. All of the stories feature upper-class chumps of the Bertie Wooster set, who are constantly getting caught in wacky situations involving girls, country mansions, daffy uncles, hard-nosed aunts, money troubles, mistaken identities, and various dangers ranging from a punch on the nose to (even worse) social embarrassment.
Eight of the stories are told as gossip by, for, and about members of the Drones Club—a fictional gentlemen’s club in London whose members subdivide, seemingly at random, into Eggs, Beans, and Crumpets. (I guess this has something to do with such endearments as, “I say, old bean,” etc.) Wodehouse wrote dozens of Drones/Egg-Bean-Crumpet tales throughout his career. Towards the end of the book, three of the stories are told at the Angler’s Rest pub, where a certain Mr. Mulliner holds his audience (identified by their drinks) spellbound with “fish stories” about his boundless supply of nephews, cousins, and so forth. Mr. Mulliner’s far-fetched yarns also form a recurring theme in the work of Wodehouse, to the tune of some 41 stories. Besides these common factors, this book also includes four stories starring Freddie Widgeon and two featuring Pongo Twistleton, both recurring Wodehouse heroes.
Even though some readers may come to this book looking for more on Bertie and Jeeves, few to none will go away unhappy. The stories are outrageously silly. A good third of the fun is imagining what it would be like to live the comfortable life of a Drone, doing nothing for a living and yet living well, having nothing to worry about but the kinds of problems many of us almost wish we had. Another third part is the rib-tickling enjoyment of seeing these empty-headed chaps go through nervous hell (and sometimes, but not always, make a clean getaway), brought on in many instances by their fundamental lack of character. The third third of the laughs flows straight out of the impish charm of Wodehouse’s language: the narrators’ and characters’ colorful way of expressing themselves; the over-educated twits’ talent for mangling classic literary references, each ingeniously selected to suit the most trivial occasion; the clipped, high-society slang with which club members and pub crawlers make light of bizarre and shocking doings.
Such doings include an uncle passing himself off as a series of perfect strangers, forcing his nervous nephew to play along; an accident-prone suitor setting fire to the family home of the girl he loves; a Drone plagued by a houseful of cats and dogs, who can’t seem to take a step without stepping on one or being attacked by the other; a comedy duo whose top-hats get mixed up, with romantically ridiculous results; and one Mulliner nephew (who also happens to be a Drone), whose daftness is featured in two stories. First the fellow risks his engagement to the love of his life by getting over his head in utopian ideals; then, thinking he must break off his engagement for the good of his intended, he hires a small-time actress to ham up a scene in the theater of life. With these and many other absurdities on parade, you are sure to run the full range from giggles to guffaws.
If Mr. Mulliner’s stories grab you, you can find most of the others collected in Meet Mr Mulliner (1927); Mr Mulliner Speaking (1929); Mulliner Nights (1933); Blandings Castle and Elsewhere (1935); and Lord Emsworth and Others (1937). There is also a 1972 omnibus volume titled The World of Mr Mulliner. As for the Drones club, apart from novels featuring club members (among whom Bertie Wooster is numbered), the remaining stories are scattered among several collections—most notably Eggs, Beans and Crumpets (1940) and A Few Quick Ones (1959).