I hardly feel qualified to write anything about the brilliant wit of P.G. Wodehouse since I’ve only just made his acquaintance. So far I’ve read his witty introduction to a collection of his short stories, one of his short stories, and now the novel Jeeves and the Tie That Binds. I’m afraid that my thoughts here will be a bit more Wooster-ish than Jeeves-ish; like Bertie, I sometimes grapple for just the word I mean to use, and unlike Jeeves, I do not have perfect recall of every literary reference I hope to make. I had something of a difficult time getting through this book, which is no fault of the book’s at all, but the fault of my own short attention span and lack of long, uninterrupted periods of time for reading. I had a hard time keeping all the characters straight. I think that every character in this novel appears in an earlier Jeeves and Wooster story, so obviously reading the books more-or-less in order might help with this. (Of course, given my poor memory, it might not help me much at all.) Too, these characters have names apparently chosen for their laugh-inducing value but because many of them are unusual and quirky, I had a hard time keeping them straight. Here’s a list of most of the characters, both major and minor:
- Florence Craye
- Magnolia Glendennon
- Gussie Fink-Nottle
- Madeline Bassett
- Ginger Winship (a man)
- Spode, a.k.a. Lord Sidcup
- L.P. Runkle
- Tuppy Glossop
And some of the places in the story:
- Totleigh Towers
- the Junior Ganymede
- Market Snodsbury
See what I mean? How could one possibly write a serious story about these people and places? Wodehouse is quite the witty word engineer.
The plot of this story revolves around Ginger Winship’s run for the House of Commons. Ginger is one of Bertie’s old college chums, so Bertie agrees to travel to Market Snodsbury to canvass the town’s inhabitants in hopes of helping Ginger win the election. While in Market Snodsbury, Bertie and Jeeves stay at the home of Bertie’s Aunt Dahlia, which is quite the happening place. What ensues is a comedy of errors involving (but certainly, certainly not limited to!) a wealthy businesss man who stole a patent from one of his employees, from whom Aunt Dahlia is determined to wring some restitutionary payment since the son of the now-deceased employee happens to be the fiancée of her daughter. (Clear as mud?) Of course, there’s also the matter of a certain notebook, property of the Junior Ganymede, which contains all the fits and foibles of London’s elite, as observed and recorded by their butlers. This notebook has been “pinched,” and its existence threatens to wreak havoc on Ginger’s campaign and his love-life, not to mention potentially the lives of many other a fine gentleman. And then there’s the fact that Ginger’s fiancée (and the moving force behind his run for Parliament) is none other than Florence Craye, former intended of Bertie. My head fairly spun with all the comings and goings of the characters and all of the switching and swapping of love interests. It is pure, absurd fun.
A few things I noticed that are apparently quite common in Wodehouse‘s Jeeves and Wooster stories:
- a tongue-in-cheek approach to romance and marriage, or at least romance and marriage for Bertie. His near miss with Florence Craye is legendary, and by the end of the story yet another girl has declared her intentions toward him. When that falls through, he says that he “would send camels bearing apes, ivory and peacocks” to the address of the person who “saved [him] from a fate worse than death,” marriage to one Madeline Bassett.
- lots of stealing or “pinching” of items. Much of the humor in the stories depends on something being swiped and then Bertie (and therefore, Jeeves) having to get the stolen items back into the room of its owner before its absence is noticed.
- some physical humor. Bertie sometimes finds himself hiding uncomfortably in the bushes to eavesdrop on a conversation, etc.
- Just like any good Butler, Jeeves really doesn’t enter into the story very much, but he always saves the day. I love this description of his reaction to the news of Ginger’s engagement to Florence Craye:
Well, I hadn’t expected him to roll his eyes and leap about, because he never does no matter how sensational the news item, but I could see by the way one of his eyebrows twitched and rose perhaps an eighth of an inch that I had interested him. And there was what is called a wealth of meaning in that “Indeed, sir?” (35)
However, the real star of the show in my opinion are the words, even more than the story itself. This is Bertie on Florence Craye and Ginger’s engagement to her:
Looks, however, aren’t everything. Against this pin-upness of hers you had to put the bossiness which would lead her to expect the bloke she married to behave like a Hollywood yes-man. From childhood up she had been. . .I can’t think of the word. . .beings with an i. . . no, it’s gone. . .but I can give you the idea. When at my private school I once won a prize for Scripture Knowledge which naturally involved a lot of researching into Holy Writ, and in the course of my researches I came upon the story of the military chap who used to say “Come” and they cometh and “Go” and they goeth. I have always that that that was Florence in a nutshell. She would have given short shrift, as the expression is, to anyone who had gone when she said “Come” or the other way around. Imperious, that’s the word I was groping for. She was as imperious as a traffic cop. Little wonder that the heart was heavy. I felt that Ginger, mistaking it for a peach, had plucked a lemon in the garden of love. (32)
And some funny one-liners:
. . . against a woman with a brain like that, Ginger hadn’t the meager chance of a toupee in a high wind. (107)
I suppose if he had been slenderer one might have described him as a figure of doom, but even though so badly in need of a reducing diet, he was near enough to being one to make my interior organs do a quick shuffle-off-to-Buffalo as if some muscular hand had stirred them up with an egg whisk. (198)
Many years ago in our pre-parenthood days, Steady Eddie and I attended a fantastic performance of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest at the Alabama Shakespeare Festival. That and the movie Arsenic and Old Lace are what came to mind while I was reading Jeeves and the Tie That Binds. Although I was often a little fuzzy on who now is engaged to whom and in whose possession the pinched porringer (or the pinched notebook) currently resides, I thoroughly enjoyed this story.