Wodehouse to the rescue

Wodehouse to the rescue

Why not try some 'sunlit perfection', as Stephen Fry calls it, from the master of wit and droll.

Joy in the Morning

Does the perfect book exist? A book that transcends seasons and continents and can be read and enjoyed anywhere? A book that one can get lost in, while buried in the depths of an armchair or on a long train ride (remember those?) or under the shade of a tree?

A P G Wodehouse book comes the closest. I picked up my first Wodehouse, Thank You, Jeeves, when I was 14, and years later, when I come across it, I find I still snort and laugh at the same places. I am a much different person now, but a Wodehouse book is one of the few pleasures in life that doesn’t seem to fade.

Wodehouse never pretended to be a serious writer. His stories may seem predictable. They are almost all set in a green and peaceful land where bumbling aristocrats are saved by their intrepid staff from unscrupulous relatives or conmen (sometimes the two overlapped). The England he wrote about was fantastical and his stories were set in a privileged milieu. But, there’s an innocence about the Wodehousian world, its “sunlit perfection” as Stephen Fry called it, that seems to deflect all malicious criticism.

A not-so-peaceful summer

Wodehouse’s most famous bumbling aristocrat is, of course, Bertie Wooster. For Bertie, who likes to think he has an unrivalled stiff upper lip, terror comes in the form of imperious aunts or pushy fiancées or interfering boy scouts. The perfect Wodehouse story finds him usually at the mercy of all three.

In Joy in the Morning, published in 1946 and considered by many critics to be Wodehouse’s finest novel, Bertie finds himself at Steeple Bumpleigh, the village where horror upon horror ensues, minus the helping hand of his valet, Jeeves.

Bertie goes to Steeple Bumpleigh to ensure that his ex-fiancée Florence Craye stays an ex. It’s not just Florence’s attempts to mould him by making him read Nietzsche that scares off Bertie, but also the prospect of being beaten up by her current boyfriend, the former Rugby player and all-round bruiser “Stilton” Cheesewright. Add in Florence’s pyromaniac younger brother, Edwin the Boy Scout, and all the elements are present to set fire to Bertie’s hopes for a peaceful summer in the country.

This, of course, is the barest outline of what happens. There’s also a business magnate attempting to seal a mega merger and another pair of sundered hearts that need to overcome obstacles such as money and birthright in order to be together. It is all tied up together beautifully, with Jeeves, ever reliable and wise, stepping in to save the day and Bertie’s skin.

Yes, it’s formulaic. It might be silly. And there are no real dangers to our hero — well, except for thatched cottages that are a fire hazard. But, if you do take a trip with Bertie Wooster to Steeple Bumpleigh and discover a strange, warm, fuzzy feeling erupting within you as you read, don’t be alarmed. That’s just joy.

The author is a Bangalore-based writer and communications professional with many published short stories and essays to her credit.

That One Book is a fortnightly column that does exactly what it says — takes up one great classic and tells you why it is (still) great. Come, raid the bookshelves with us.