My Man Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse (1919) 125 p.

P.G. Wodehouse is an author I’ve been meaning to read for a while, and was a prime candidate for my current unemployed trend of reading free, public domain ebooks. Of his hundreds of humourous short stories, the most famous is the “Jeeves and Wooster” series, in which wealthy young British aristocrat Bertie Wooster relies upon his far more intelligent manservant Jeeves (the origin of the polite, dependable butler archetype) to extract him from various sticky social situations and conundrums.

My Man Jeeves contains eight stories, four featuring Wooster and Jeeves and four featuring Reggie Pepper, who is effectively the same character as Wooster and apparently served as a prototype for him. It’s always pleasantly surprising to read fiction more than 100 years old (the oldest story in this volume was first published in 1911) and find it easy, relatable, and above all hilarious. Wodehouse is a master of comic prose, with pitch-perfect dialogue and timing, and his stories reminded me not only of Terry Pratchett (who no doubt considers him an influence) but, weirdly, the general plot of many modern sitcoms. All of Wodehouse’s stories revolve around some unpleasant scenario which the protagonist and his friend seek to avert by devising a complicated deception to fool a third party, usually with unforeseen consequences demanding an ever greater web of lies. Put like that it seems like a lazy cliche, but it’s obviously a solid foundation for comedy, since it worked just as well for Wodehouse as it does in countless episodes of Fawlty Towers, Seinfeld and Friends.

My personal favourite line:

I was so darned sorry for poor old Corky that I hadn’t the heart to touch my breakfast. I told Jeeves to drink it himself.

Wholly recommended, and I’ll be reading the rest of Wodehouse’s bibliography.

(As an aside, it’s worth mentioning that many people still disapprove of Wodehouse these days for being a “Nazi collaborator” after he was captured from his villa in France in 1940 and did a few non-political broadcasts for the Germans. He was later cleared by an M15 investigation and even at the time contemporaries such as Evelyn Waugh and George Orwell considered the claims a beat-up. Orwell’s essay about the whole drama can be read here, worth reading as always, and his opinion is good enough for me.)