Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves

Bertie Wooster is in trouble again. His friend Gussie Fink-Nottle’s engagement to Madeleine Bassett looks likely to end, leaving Bertie to face the grave danger of having to do the gentlemanly thing and marry Madeleine Bassett himself. Unable to bear the possibility of spending his life attached to a woman who thinks stars are “God’s daisy chain,” Bertie decides to go to Totley Towers, home of the Bassetts, and try to bring about reconciliation. Visiting Totley is not a trivial matter for Bertie. The last time he visited, there was no end of trouble when he tried to nick a cow creamer for his uncle’s collection. Can he avoid further trouble on this visit? Or will his valet Jeeves be forced to rescue him from yet another ridiculous caper?

I first discovered P.G. Wodehouse and Jeeves and Wooster in college by way of the Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry television series, which was playing on Masterpiece Theatre at the time. I laughed myself sick at several episodes and proceeded to read—and laugh myself sick at—several of the books. But as so often happens, I let Wodehouse fall to the back of my mind and didn’t read any more Jeeves and Wooster (let alone any of his other books) for years.

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves is the ninth Jeeves and Wooster novel. Past experience taught me that the order doesn’t matter much when reading these books, but I’d make an exception in this case. The novel is filled with characters from past books; besides Gussie and Madeline, there’s Stiffi Bing, Stinker Pinker, Roderick Spode, and Pop Bassett. In recounting this adventure, Bertie usually provides enough background so that readers can follow the story, but I think the humor is enhanced when you’ve met the characters before. Roderick Spode seems all the goofier when you remember his stint as head of the Black Shorts. And the peril of marrying Madeline Bassett just doesn’t seem so perilous if you haven’t met her before this book. (From Wikipedia, I’ve gathered that Right Ho, Jeeves and The Code of the Woosters are the ones to read before this one.) I’ve rewatched the television series recently enough that I remembered the characters well, so it wasn’t an issue for me. I might feel differently if I were dropped in the middle of the chaos without having seen any of these people before.

As for the humor, it’s pretty typical of a Jeeves and Wooster story. There are misunderstandings, minor incidents that get blown all out of proportion, and people concocting ridiculous schemes but acting as if they were perfectly sensible. I didn’t laugh myself sick over it, but it was sufficiently amusing. I don’t think it was quite as over-the-top as some of the earlier books, but it’s been so long since I’ve read them that I can’t be sure.

I listened to this novel on audio, and it works well as an audiobook. My only complaint is completely unfair. Because the book is written in first person, it’s Bertie himself who tells the story. Jonathan Cecil provides the narration, and he does a fine job as Bertie. But for me, Bertie Wooster will always be Hugh Laurie, and to hear someone else’s voice in the role was disconcerting. I got used to it and was generally pleased, but it took a while. Some of the other characters’ voices were on the cartoony side, but that’s appropriate for Jeeves and Wooster, so it didn’t bother me much.

I’m glad that, thanks to Audiobook Jukebox’s Solid Gold Reviewer program, I finally took the time to revisit Wodehouse. Now I’ll have to make time for more!

Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse. Narrated by Jonathan Cecil. 5 hrs., 12 minutes. Audio edition published by AudioGo, 2011.

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28 Responses to Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves

  1. mumble says:

    Yes, indeedy, Right Ho, Jeeves and The Code of the Woosters are the oojah-cum-spiff of Jeeves-’n-Bertie books. If you’re only ever going to read one, The Code of the Woosters is your man, and, if you’re going to read two, add Right Ho, Jeeves: if you haven’t snuggled up to a corn-chandler, you haven’t lived. But, of course, you want to read lots and lots.

    I think your taste has just matured: I, too, used to laugh myself sick but now am merely richly amused.&esnp;I suppose almost knowing them by heart will do that.

    Yes, of course we want Hugh Laurie’s voice, but we want his young voice. I think Gregory House has successfully cut us off from that.

    My first thought was that Stephen Fry would be the ideal narrator, but that would be out of the question, of course.

    • Teresa says:

      You may be right that my taste has matured or evolved or something. It’s probably just as well that I was merely amused because I did listen while driving, and laughing myself sick could have been hazardous!

      Stephen Fry would be a great narrator for these, if it weren’t for the obvious problem. Now that would be disconcerting!

  2. Lisa says:

    It is probably heresy to say that the Bertie stories sort of blur together in my mind, except for Roderick Spode and the cow creamer (The Code of the Woosters being my favorite). That’s not to say I don’t enjoy them very much, but they don’t stand out like the Uncle Fred books or Psmith.

    • mumble says:

      Have you tried the Blandings Castle books?

    • Teresa says:

      They blur together for me, too. I have no idea which ones I’ve read, but I’m pretty sure Code of the Woosters was one. I really ought to read some of the non-Jeeves stories at some point!

      • mumble says:

        I think you might like Mr. Mulliner: he sits in a pub telling stories about the scrapes his illimitable number of nephews get up to. It’s a sort of deadpan humour, and the advantage is that the stories tend to be stand-alone so you don’t have to worry too much about order or completeness.

        And The Clicking of Cuthbert introduces a series of golf stories, played with obsolete clubs called mashies and niblicks. Don’t worry: I don’t know or care about golf either, but the stories remain enchanting.

        And then there’s Ukridge, a perennially unemployed upper-class Artful Dodger, always with a new get-rich-quick scheme.

  3. Steph says:

    I’ve only read two J&W books, but they both made me snicker and guffaw so very much. I love precisely the kind of English humor that these novels are overflowing with so I really ought to: a) read more of them; and b) try the tv series! I can only imagine how incomparable Hugh Laurie is as Bertie, and I’m sure anyone else would pale in comparison (much like how I feel that David Suchet IS Hercule Poirot).

    • Teresa says:

      If you already love the books, you must watch the series. Netflix has it, and there’s lots on YouTube, as Mumble has linked to below. And Stephen Fry is amazing as Jeeves. He does that single raised eyebrow just perfectly.

  4. I love these novels. They’re so fun, and this past year was the first time I ever picked any up. I don’t think I’ve actually read this one. Back to the library!

  5. softdrink says:

    Hugh Laurie??? I’m gonna have to do some You Tube research!

  6. Jenny says:

    Hugh Laurie <3. He looks just like my dad's oldest brother. I am awfully fond of him. I wish he didn't hate himself as much as he apparently does. :/

    I need to read the other Jeeves books! I've only read two or three of them, because I like Psmith better. But I like Jeeves definitely enough to read the other books.

    • mumble says:

      Hugh Laurie is not Gregory House; Hugh Laurie is boringly well adjusted and normal and a good and loving husband and father. When he serendipitously ran into Stephen Fry and Emma Thompson as an undergrad, his career plan was to go and join the Hong Kong police.

      • Teresa says:

        Apparently Laurie does suffer from clinical depression, which is probably what Other Jenny was referring to, not his House persona.

    • Teresa says:

      And I need to check out the Psmith books. You’re not the first person to tell me those are better.

      • mumble says:

        The Psmith books are odd: the story starts with Mike at Wrykyn, which doesn’t even feature Psmith and which is an Edwardian English-public-school story about cricket. It’s prolly even pushing it to call it YA.

        The sequel, Mike and Psmith, also a school/cricket story, introduces Psmith and, to my mind, is the best Psmith story of all.

        And, when Psmith leaves school and enters adulthood, he changes genres and isn’t, I think, so good.

        The Psmith books are odd.

  7. Aarti says:

    I have only read the first Jeeves & Wooster book, mostly because I am having trouble finding the other books at used bookstores! I just found a standalone one, The Damsel in Distress, and am looking forward to reading it soon. This one sounds wonderful, too – I LOVE THE NAMES.

    • mumble says:

      The way forward is to buy second-hand copies through Amazon. I’ve bought many and many a book this way, surprisingly often for a penny + P&P (although P.G. Wodehouse, being vintage, usually holds his second-hand prices better).

      Have a look here: here.

    • Teresa says:

      I can’t remember whether you have an e-reader, Aarti, but Project Gutenberg has several of his books, both in the Jeeves series and not.

  8. I love the Jeeves stories. The only problem is I keep finding the same ones in every collection I’ve tried.

  9. Christy says:

    I listened to The Inimitable Jeeves on audiobook, read by Frederick Davidson (a.k.a. David Case) and it was hilarious. I have not seen the famous Fry & Laurie adaptations, but Davidson did just a splendid job with it. I can still hear his voice in my head when I think of it.

    • Teresa says:

      It’s hard for me to imagine anyone supplanting Hugh Laurie as the voice of Bertie Wooster. Jonathan Cecil was good, but it just wasn’t the same.

  10. Sean DePalma says:

    The Jeeves series is my absolute favorite from Woodhouse and Woodhouse is my favorite author. I haven’t listened to any of the audio books for fear it would soil the internal voice I have designed for all the characters. I’ve read and re-read all the books and even have first editions of each. I love the humor. I’ve found a view comparable authors : Andrew Taylor with his Dougal Series comes immediately to mind but nobody does it quite like Woodhouse.

    • Teresa says:

      It was startling to hear a different voice for Bertie than the one I’m accustomed to, but it was good all the same. I do find it difficult to find authors who do humor well, but Wodehouse has so far been reliably funny.

  11. While I have read almost all of the Bertie and Jeeves books, and a few Mulliner ones, and the Lord Ickenham ones and a lot of the miscellaneous ones, a thing that grieves me sorely is that P. G. Wodehouse is occasionally a bit of a racist and ethnocentric not in Bertie Wooster’s voice, which would just be in the voice of a foolish character, but in the “over” voice itself, and when it is in Bertie’s voice, it’s never corrected by another viewpoint. Of less moment is the fact that in several of the later books, he repeats comic “turns” word for word that he’s used already in the earlier books. I will always value his comedy for the many enjoyable hours I got out of it, but he definitely has his faults. I would like very much to see or hear Hugh Laurie in the role of Bertie, and I never have. I feel sure that he would be perfect in the part.

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