Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Joy in the Morning by P.G. Wodehouse

Yet another novel from the Jeeves canon, Joy in the morning is a joy to read.

Joy in the Morning is a novel by P.G. Wodehouse, first published in the United States on August 22, 1946 by Doubleday & Co., New York, and in the United Kingdom on June 2, 1947 by Herbert Jenkins, London. Some later American paperback editions bore the title Jeeves in the Morning.

The title derives from an English translation of Psalms 30:5:

"Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning."

About Jeeves: After having read three novels (Carry On, Jeeves, Thank You, Jeeves and Right Ho, Jeeves) from the Jeeves cannon, I was (understandably) curious to know Jeeves' full-name. ... And soon enough, I found out: Reginald Jeeves. Its got a nice ring to it, what say?

But wait till you hear Bertie's full-name. It is: Bertram Wilberforce "Bertie" Wooster.

Phew! Wonder how he managed with such a tongue-twister of a name when he was knee-high.

It seems: Bertie's middle name, "Wilberforce", is the doing of his father, who won money on a horse named Wilberforce, in the Grand National - the day before Bertie was born, and insisted on Bertie carrying that name for the rest of his life. [I guess: a horse-loving parent will be a horse-loving parent. Always.]

Lets get back to Jeeves: Created in 1915, Jeeves continued to appear in Wodehouse's work until his final completed novel Aunts Aren't Gentlemen in 1974. He was Wodehouse's most famous character. [No disputes there, what?!] 

In his 1953 semi-autobiographical book (Bring on the Girls!), written with Guy Bolton, Wodehouse suggests that Jeeves was based on an actual butler called Eugene Robinson that Wodehouse employed for research purposes. He recounts a story where Robinson extricated Wodehouse from a real-life predicament. Wodehouse also recounts that he named his Jeeves after Percy Jeeves (1888–1916), a then-popular English cricketer for Warwickshire. Percy Jeeves was killed at the Battle of the Somme (WWI) during the attack on High Wood in July 1916, two months before the first appearance of the eponymous butler who would make his name a household word.

Well, all I can say is that: there probably have been few tributes that has matched or surpassed this one.

The most invaluable nugget contained in the book ("Wodehouse at the Wicket" by P. G. Wodehouse and Murray Hedgcock) traces the origin of the name Jeeves to Percy Jeeves, a Warwickshire professional cricketer known for his impeccable grooming, smart shirts and spotlessly clean flannels. Wodehouse probably saw him take a couple of smooth, effortless catches in a match between Gloucestershire and Warwickshire. The name, the immaculate appearance and the silent efficiency stuck... and the inimitable manservant appeared first in 1916, just weeks after the original Percy Jeeves died in the war in France.

As for the 1915 or 1916 conflict:

Jeeves and Bertie first appeared in "Extricating Young Gussie", a short story published in September 1915, in which Jeeves's character is minor and not fully developed and Bertie's surname appears to be Mannering-Phipps. The first fully recognizable Jeeves and Bertie story was "The Artistic Career of Corky", published in early 1916. As the series progressed, Jeeves assumed the role of Bertie's co-protagonist; indeed, their meeting was told in November 1916 in "Jeeves Takes Charge".

And that should explain Percy Jeeves' influence: the fictional character of Jeeves taking off in such a big way from 1916 onwards.

Frankly: Thank God for Percy Jeeves! Else a lot of our laughs would have remained un-laughed.

Here's why: apparently the Jeeves (of 1915) was originally intended for one-time use with two speaking lines!

Its good that this changed, 'coz no Jeeves, ... no Bertie, as we know him that is; and no Jeeves and Bertie, ... no P.G. Wodehouse - as we know him either. 

[It reminds me of that popular nursery rhyme: For want of a nail the shoe was lost. For want of a shoe the horse was lost. For want of a horse the rider was lost. For want of a rider the battle was lost. For want of a battle the kingdom was lost. And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.]


Jeeves has inspired an Internet search engine as well: Ask Jeeves, and is now a generic term in references such as the Oxford English Dictionary too.

Jeeves's first name of Reginald was not revealed for 56 years, until the penultimate novel in the series, Much Obliged, Jeeves (1971), when Bertie hears another valet greet Jeeves with "Hullo, Reggie." The readers may have been surprised to learn Jeeves's first name, but Bertie was stunned by the revelation "that he had a first name" in the first place.

Well, so am I. :)

My twopennyworth: In Joy in the Morning, there is no bothersome banjolele, but Spinoza makes its appearance.

Spinoza is Jeeves' favourite philosopher. He likes to relax with "improving" books such as the complete works of Spinoza, or to read "Dostoyevsky and the great Russians". He finds Nietzsche "fundamentally unsound".

Which means: Wodehouse may have found Spinoza's work invigorating.

As for moi: Spinoza reminds me of a witch's spindle - the type one finds in Fairy Tales ... and pizza. And since neither Spinoza nor Pizza interests me sufficiently, I will quickly opt for the freshly-made ginger bread instead - anytime. :)

Jeeves has an encyclopedic knowledge on everything under the sun and above it as well: philosophy, literature, poetry - especially romantic poetry, science, history, cuisine, psychology, politics, geography; even medicine - remember his legendary and magical concoctions?!

He is perhaps the original Prof. Google, the one that held forth when the creators of the modern 'Google' were invisible and floating in the air.

Incidentally, Satyajit Ray too thought of 'Google' long before 'Google' existed. Google's creators were not yet born when Ray created 'Sidhujyatha' whose formal name is Shiddeshwar Basu. Ray's extremely popular fictional detective character - Feluda - describes him as 'the walking encyclopedia'. While Sidhujatha describes himself thus: 'Sherlock Holmes had an elder brother, Mycroft Holmes. Although he was very lazy, he was really a big brother to Sherlock in intelligence. Even Sherlock often used to pay visits to Mycroft for his help. Similarly, I am the Mycroft to Felu.'

Sidhujyatha lives in Sardar Sankar Road, Lake Market, Calcutta. He is a bibliophile and has an extensive base of general knowledge, current and historical affairs. He is a close friend of Feluda's father, being neighbours in their ancestral village. Feluda's jyatha (uncle - "jyatha" is the endearing word for father's elder brother in Bangla) is said to have a photographic memory and is a vast source of information and comes in handy when Feluda is in need of some. His vast knowledge comes from his collection of varied kinds of newspaper clippings that he has accumulated over the years. The role was played by Harindranath Chattopadhyay in 'Shonar Kella' ('The Golden Fort'), Ajit Bandopadhyay in 'Baksha Rohoshya' ('The Mystery of the Kalka Mail') and by Haradhan Bandopadhyay in 'Kailashe Kelenkari' ('A Killer in Kailash') and 'Gorosthane Sabdhan' ('Caution in the Graveyard').

Harindranath Chattopadhyay was also seen in the Hrishikesh Mukherjee directed classic (and Rajesh Khanna starrer) - 'Bawarchi'. He has by far been the best Sidhujyatha, and it is unlikely that he (or his portrayal) can be bested.

The word 'potential' is a big favourite in Bengal and Bengalis are big on all the unsung geniuses (heroes or otherwise) who could have made it but didn't. The workaholic Ray too reveals a soft corner for the unsung genius; in the way he wrote Sidhujyatha (played brilliantly on screen by Harindranath Chattopadhyay.) When complimented by Felu ("If you had been a detective, we would have been out of work"), Sidhujyatha simply responds: "If I had done a lot of things, a lot of people would have been out of work. So, I don't do anything. I just sit here and keep the windows of my mind open... "


[The suffix "da" (short for "Dada") means 'elder brother' in Bangla, and not the lumpen elements of aamchi Mumbai, mind you. "Da" is also a sort of honorific, used to address an older unrelated male. It essentially signifies: respect.]

The storyline: In Joy in the Morning we meet a host of characters, besides Bertie and Jeeves of course. They are: Bertie's formidable Aunt Agatha and her husband Lord Worplesdon aka Uncle Percy (Percival "Percy" Craye); his fetchingly attractive former fiancée and yet another Spinoza-fan, Lady Florence Craye; her impish brother Edwin and her currently oafish and formerly dumb brickish suitor - 'Stilton' Cheesewright aka G. D'Arcy Cheesewright - the possessor of a "beefy frame, pumpkin-shaped head and a face that looked like a slab of pink dough."

Well, I had heard of several Cartwright, but Cheesewright (?) - this is the first.

Stilton is an old chum of Bertie from their days at Eton and Oxford; here he appears as the local bicycle riding copper at Aunt Agatha's rural village - Steeple Bumpleigh. He is also engaged to Florence Craye who was in residence there.

There's also the (almost celebrity) writer George 'Boko' Fittleworth (who's had his photograph in the Tatler) and Zenobia ('Nobby') Hopwood. 

Boko's dress sense is bohemian-unique to say the least; he is never seen without his grey trousers with a patch on the knee. On meeting Boko for the first time, the extremely sartorially-sensitive Jeeves had "winced visibly and tottered off to the kitchen, no doubt to pull himself together with cooking sherry" - as per Bertie.

Boko and Nobby "are planning to leap in among the orange blossoms" - thanks to Cupid's dart, but Uncle Percy is the looming obstacle. 

Bertie, given his charitable disposition and spirit... volunteers to de-obstacle Uncle Percy sufficiently enough for the lovebirds' "leap in among the orange blossoms" to materialize.

However, as usual, fate has something else in store. And our dear ol' Bertie finds himself at the center of some renewed romantic attention from the Spinoza-loving formidable intellectual and the author of 'Spindrift' - Lady Florence Craye. This sets off the proverbial Newton's Third Law of Motion: for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction - from Stilton of course, but from a handful of others as well. The impish Edwin too chips in. So what does Bertie do? Well, read the book (or re-read it) - to find that out and enjoy some laughs.

There's some mention of Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright. Funny name. [There's no Dogsmeat though. And no Harry Potter or Fulbright either.]

Much of the action happens in the precincts of Steeple Bumpleigh Hall and Wee Nooke, some of it at the East Wibley Town Hall. A brooch and a Sindbad the Sailor costume too play their respective parts. And so does a 'porpentine'.

Wodehouse is a great fan of Sherlock Holmes (and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle). He is a 'fan' of Agatha Christie, but a fan of Monsieur Poirot. I'm not sure of his opinion about Jane Austen though.

There's a bit about Othello and Romeo, Longfellow and Tennyson. But there is also something about Shakespeare going about stealing ducks, and an old Bacon and Shakespeare gag about Bacon having written Shakespeare's stuff for him and then, possibly because he owed the latter money or it may be from sheer good nature, allowing him to take the credit for it. 

Umm, this must be one of the earliest instances of 'outsourcing' and 'exploitation' or is it free labour or some sort of barter system? [What say you?]

There is something about Cyrano de Bergerac too.

Hmm. Guess Wodehouse is rather ambivalent about Shakespeare.

But he is quite effusive about Sir Walter Scott. 'Coz Young Lochinvar appears a few times.

[Just in case you want to re-read this lovely poem (that most of us read way back in school), here is a link.]

... Wodehouse is undoubtedly a diehard romantic.

Verdict: Joy in the Morning is a single story that runs through 29 chapters and 296 pages. As usual, the chapters are short and make for a breezy read. Like Carry on, Jeeves, Thank You, Jeeves, and Right Ho, Jeeves, this one too is an any-time, all-weather read. There is a reasonable amount of interplay between Jeeves and Bertie here... and what could be better than that?!

The production quality of the book is good; I don't quite recall any editing errors either, so if at all they exist, ignore them.

The book jacket cover is in a (sort of) parrot green and cherry red combo. PG Wodehouse appears in bright cherry red. It shines. Joy in the Morning appears in white. Nice. There is a figure clad in the colourful Sindbad the Sailor costume (whiskers and all) riding a bicycle and pedaling hard. Who do you think it could be?

Details of the book: Joy in the Morning/ Author: P.G. Wodehouse/ Publisher: Arrow, an imprint of Random House/ Binding: Paperback/ Publishing Date: 01/07/2008/ Genre: Classics/ ISBN-10: 978-0-09-951376-6/ ISBN-13: 9780099513766/ Pages: 296/ Price: $19.95

Picture: The book jacket cover of Joy in the Morning. Courtesy: link.

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