In 1917 PG Wodehouse began writing his series of short stories about aristocratic gentleman Bertie Wooster and his all-knowing loyal butler Jeeves. Arguably one of the reasons the series went down so well is that it caught the political agenda of the time, examining the wealth inequalities of 1900s Britain, but in true Wodehousian style, with a light-hearted spin. The series concerns the calamities of man-about-town Wooster and the way the brilliant Jeeves is able to rescue Bertie and his friends from any arbitrary situation they find themselves in.
'Leave it to Jeeves' was one of the earliest short stories in the Jeeves & Wooster collection. It follows Wooster to the high life of New York City and dramatises his friend ‘Corky’s’ troubles with his new wife-to-be. The trouble, however, lies with his hard-to-please uncle. The scheme, another brain-child of Jeeves, to present Corky’s new lover to his uncle backfires, and upon his return to the Big Apple Wooster discovers his once-girlfriend was soon to be married to another man. That man was, of course, the uncle.
One failing in the text when read today is its somewhat lacklustre presentation of women, though on a second reading it is possible to find reasons for this. Muriel Singer, the girl in the story, is rarely given direct speech, just reported speech. The modes of address are a tell-tale sign too, as sometime she is not referred to as ‘Muriel’ but simply as ‘the girl’. This foreshadows that what she has said at this moment is of little importance to the narrator, which is telling at the climax of the text, where it is revealed that Muriel is simply driven by money. But is she? In a testosterone-filled world where women are indeed dismissively referred to as ‘the girl’, where opportunities for women are so few and far between, can you blame poor Muriel for trying to do the best for herself?
But, I hear you ask, what is its relevance today? Well, if you’re a fan of the hit Sky Atlantic show Game of Thrones, the
resemblance between Olema Tyrell and Dahlia, one of Wooster’s many rich aunts, are there if you’re willing to seek them. You could argue that the series has a didactic element, subliminally teaching us that wealth does not always provide knowledge, as in the case of the omniscient Jeeves – whose intellectual capabilities earned him his own internet search engine.
The Wodehousian style is ever in attendance throughout 'Leave it to Jeeves'. His light-hearted London clubroom slang offers a positive light even on subjects like death, a sort of gallows humour, if you will. For example: “He was looking anxious and worried, like a man who has done the murder all right but can’t think what the deuce to do with the body”. Also present and correct are the other usual Wodehouse elements, such as his unique way with the English language. The entertaining and humorous aspect of his style comes from the unique way he arranges a sentence. Unforgettable catchphrases like ‘old bean’ and a constant use of eccentric pre-modifiers provide a satirical picture at the upper classes of the time, as well as a cheerful pre-bedtime read.