Saturday, December 8, 2012

The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse

"He spoke with a certain what-is-it in his voice, and I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled, so I tactfully changed the subject."

Words from Bertie to describe Jeeves' reaction re his lack of enthusiasm about going on a Round-The-World cruise. Needless to say, Jeeves has been trying his bestest to get Bertie to go, even procuring some literature from the Travel Bureau... and attempting to give it to him (instead of the morning paper). I mean: right after Bertie has downed one of Jeeves' miraculous 'Worcester Sauce' and has had the top of his skull fly up to the ceiling and back, and right after he has barely retrieved his eyeballs (after they had shot out of their sockets and rebounded from the opposite wall like racquet balls) and replaced them in position.

"... if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled..."


The Code of the Woosters is a novel by P. G. Wodehouse, first published on 7 October 1938, in the United Kingdom by Herbert Jenkins, London, and in the United States by Doubleday, Doran, New York. It was serialized in The Saturday Evening Post (US) from 16 July to 3 September 1938 and in the London Daily Mail from 14 September to 6 October 1938.

This is my fourth full-length novel (after 'Thank You, Jeeves', 'Right Ho, Jeeves' and 'Joy in the Morning') featuring two of Wodehouse's best-known creations, Bertie Wooster and his gentleman's gentleman - the inimitable Jeeves. ['Carry On, Jeeves' consisted of 10 short stories that made for a delicious hors d'oeuvre.]

Actually, it's good that I read 'Right Ho, Jeeves' before venturing into reading this one; 'coz it is a sort of continuation of the Gussie Fink-Nottle and the Madeline Basset saga.

And since the 'Code of the Woosters' is to never let a pal down, Bertie always finds himself totally involved.

Maybe: the Woosters have never heard of PayPal. Or probably think that the considerably high-quality Wooster chickens won't come home to roost - ever. 

Gussie, as you know is Bertie's fish-faced pal and the world's leading authority on newts (and their love life). Here he is conducting an experiment: trying to study the effects of a full moon on newts... and their love life. Apparently: the guy newts wiggle their tails at the gal newts.

Methinks: once Gussie and the proponent of 'stars-are-god's-daisy-chain' (Madeline Basset) are married, they can conduct yet more experiments - together. This time: about the effects of the stars on newts and their love life. They can then spend hours together - gazing lovingly at newts and talking about them.

What a match! Made in heaven, no doubt.

However, in this novel we encounter a much self-assured and confident Gussie: one who is totally unlike his orange-juice guzzling nervous avatar that we encountered in 'Right Ho, Jeeves'. I mean: the one whose orange-juice had to be spiked with lots of gin for him to be able to make a speech in front of some schoolboys and their guardians. Or for him to be able to tell Madeline what he thinks and feels about her.

This new-found self-assurance is courtesy Jeeves' priceless advice, which Gussie follows diligently by first thinking up and then noting down the many character failings of people like the sly Sir Watkyn Bassett and the bulldoggish Roderick Spode - in excruciating detail (in a small, leather-bound notebook).

Unfortunately, while extracting a fly out of (Sir Watkyn's young niece) Stephanie 'Stiffy' Byng's eye, he (unwittingly) drops this precious notebook, which first lands in Stiffy's not-so-safe hands and then finds it's way elsewhere - including lodging itself inside a prized silver 'cow-creamer'. 

Incidentally, Madeline sees Gussie extracting that fly (out of Stiffy Byng's eyes) and then catches him again, this time: when he is innocently searching Stiffy's stocking (while they were adorning her legs!) - for that precious notebook. Result: she instantly calls off their wedding (on both occasions), and decides to 'make Bertie happy' instead.

Bertie manages to keep his composure and pleads Gussie's cause - in all earnestness.

In this novel, there are three covert operations: 1. Operation 'pinch the silver cow-creamer' (or else Uncle Tom loses out on a prized collector's item, or worse: Aunt Dahlia (and by extension Bertie) has to let go of that French culinary maestro Anatole and bid goodbye to his culinary wonders forever.) 2. Operation 'pinch the policeman's helmet' (else Stiffy's wedding plans with Harold 'Stinker' Pinker will come a cropper.) 3. And the most important operation of all: Operation 'to somehow recover a certain leather-covered notebook' (before it falls into the clutches of Sir Watkyn or Roderick Spode.)

And as fate would have it, Bertie finds himself to be a part (rather, at the centre) of all the three operations, thanks to his generous spirit, friendly disposition and gallant, chivalrous nature.

Its another matter though that he has to depend on Jeeves' supreme fish-powered intellect - in order to extricate himself from all sorts of tangle(s) including from being scaffolded, lynched, or engaged (by a sudden quirk of fate).

There is an implied operation too: Bertie's attempts to keep both Madeline and Stiffy at bay and thus safeguard his free-spirited bachelorhood.

Bertie has in fact arrived at Totleigh Towers to achieve a couple of tasks: 1. To swiftly patch up the sudden rupture in the engagement of Gussie and Madeline Bassett. [Gussie has sent him urgent summons.] 2. The recovery of the 'cow-creamer' - which is now being zealously guarded by the hulky Roderick Spode besides a local police constable.

How did Bertie land himself with task # 2?

Well, his (favourite) Aunt Dahlia browbeat him into it. She first sought his help - to dupe an antique dealer into selling an 18th-century 'cow-creamer' - to adorn Uncle Tom's collection. Failing which, he was then asked to show some sleight of hand (and feet) and recover it from right under the nose of Sir Watkyn. [The latter has audaciously duped the good Uncle Tom by employing some underhanded tactics involving lobsters and cold cucumbers; gained possession of the 'cow-creamer' (ahead of Uncle Tom) and then spirited it away to Totleigh Towers. ...And has been diligently guarding it ever since.]

Bertie isn't too keen about taking on the 'responsibility' of recovering that cow-creamer though. However, Aunt Dahlia surmounts all of his vehement protestations by being most un-dahlia-like. She dangles the culinary magic that her French Master-chef Anatole conjures up (and to which Bertie is devoted to) as bait - by threatening to sever his standing invitation to her place (for a meal).

The way to a man's heart is through his stomach. Indeed.

The major characters: apart from Aunt Dahlia, Uncle Tom, Gussie, Madeline (and of course Bertie and Jeeves), we get to meet: Sir Watkyn Bassett, Roderick Spode, Stephanie 'Stiffy' Byng, the Rev. Harold 'Stinker' Pinker, Sir Watkyn's butler - Butterfield, Constable Eustace Oates, Stiffy's dog - Bartholomew, and the mysterious 'Eulalie'.

The scenes are set in Totleigh Towers - owned by Sir Watkyn Bassett (who is now engaged to marry Roderick Spode's aunt.) Harold is the local curate (and an old pal of Bertie's.) Roderick Spode is the leader of a fascist organization called the Saviours of Britain. Bartholomew (the dog) causes Bertie to sail onto the top of a chest of drawers - like an eagle, and Jeeves to climb onto to a cupboard - like a swallow. Even something as innocuous as an umbrella makes its presence felt. However, the mere mention of 'Eulalie' thwarts the big-built and intimidating Spode and stops him on his tracks.

As to: what 'Eulalie' is - do read this delightful book to find out. I won't play the spoiler.

My twopenceworth: The manner in which Stiffy and Bertie give Sir Watkyn apoplexy and much else - reminds me of the Hrishikesh Mukherjee-directed evergreen classic: 'Golmaal'. There: Utpal Dutt's character, Bhavanishankar, has shades of Sir Watkyn; the irreverent Lakshmanprasad - played by Amol Palekar (in a double role) - displays some Bertie-like hues, while Urmila (essayed by Bindiya Goswami) may fit into the role of a desi Stiffy Byng.

Do read this book and then watch the movie - if in doubt.

Even the manner in which Bertie and his Aunt Dahlia first try to thwart Sir Watkyn and Constable Oates' combined attempt to search Bertie's room in their quest to find the elusive police helmet; and then make light of the whole incident (after the butler, Butterfield, arrives with it on a silver platter: having recovered it from the flowerbed right outside Bertie's window) - reminds me of the delightful and much-watched Bangla movie 'Basanto Bilap'.

This Dinen Gupta-directed 1973 classic stars Soumitra Chattopadhyay and Aparna Sen. The rest of the cast comprises of very competent actors like: Sumitra Mukherjee, Kajol Gupta, Sibani Bose, Kanika Majumdar, Amarnath Mukhopadhyay, Gita De, Tarun Kumar, Shyam Laha, Haridhan Mukherjee, Bankim Ghosh, and Bengal's evergreen trio of fun and laughter: Robi Ghosh, Anup Kumar and Chinmoy Roy.

Soumitro (as the boisterous, slightly impish Shyamsundar Bose) works at a bank. His closest friends are: Robi Ghosh, Anup Kumar (as Lalit aka Lalu) and Chinmoy (as Siddhartha aka Sidhu). There is Aparna (as the feisty Anuradha Singha) and friends (Sumitra, Kajol, Sibani and others.)

Do watch the movie to figure out what I mean. Hint: watch out for the morning after the poster-pasting adventure scene, when some people turn up demanding that their ladder and bucket - be returned forthwith; and the boys (Soumitro, Robi, Anup and Chinmoy) are happily asleep after all the previous night's 'hard work'.

[Both - the ladder and the bucket - was lost the previous night, as a collateral to the poster-pasting adventure, thanks to Anup Kumar's comic zeal: which caused him to trip over the sleeping hostel maid. The latter awoke, created a ruckus and endeavoured to catch him. Everyone, including some neighbours wake up too; in the melee Anup and gang barely manage to escape, leaving the ladder behind. They tackle the hostel guard by dumping the gum-filled bucket over his head.]

My verdict: The Code of the Woosters runs through 14 chapters and 286 pages. As usual, it makes for a breezy read. There is a lot of interplay between Jeeves and Bertie, so enjoy! [Do try to read Right Ho, Jeeves before this one, that way you will know the background better.]

The production quality of the book is good, barely any editing errors (one perhaps, if at all).

The book jacket cover is in a (sort of) parrot green and blue combo. PG Wodehouse appears in a lighter shade of purple, The Code of the Woosters appears in black. The effect is muted and rightly so, 'coz it allows for the figure on the cover (with a torn painting adorning his neck) to grab our attention - instantly. It is the one and only Bertie Wooster - without a shadow of doubt. [Actually: he has had a painting smashed on his head, yet not seeing stars! Bertie is superhuman indeed. :)]

Plus: I thought that Jeeves had politely objected to and then ensured that there were no facial hair on Bertie except for eyebrows and eyelashes. But I see a mustache. [Probably Jeeves was on a longish vacation.]

Frankly: the cover reminded me of Tintin and one of his adventures: where there's a painting of Captain Haddock's look-alike ancestor - Sir Francis Haddock (who lived in the reign of Charles the Second.) It is: 'The Secret of The Unicorn' - I think.

In his zeal to demonstrate to Tintin and Snowy the swashbuckling exploits of his illustrious ancestor (vis-à-vis the dreaded pirate - Red Rackham) as animatedly as he could, Captain Haddock downs several bottles of rum and with a cutlass in hand proceeds to enact it all. At the end of it, he takes a tumble and proclaims 'victory' (Red Rackham lies dead! With a yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum !) By then, Sir Francis Haddock's torn portrait has engulfed his happy face.

I really loved reading 'The Code of the Woosters'. Especially because: it gave me an opportunity to venture into Soumitro territory. I am now hoping that at least one of the remaining ones will gift me with an opportunity to write about Gregory Peck too. :)

Santa Claus - are you listening?

Btw, Wodehouse has a fascination for Archimedes and his famous whoop: Eureka. He is also a Charles Dickens fan - with a particular fondness for 'A Tale of Two Cities' (as can be understood from several references to Sidney Carton). Wodehouse is very likely a fan of Tintin and Captain Haddock and by extension, of their Belgian creator: Hergé as well. 

However: Since Jeeves is a sharp legal-eagle minus the briefcase, I would have been most keen to know his views on Fido Dido In retail. After all: the big print giveth and the fine print taketh away. And I would have also loved to know his take on the 'inbhestment' climate in Didi's Poschimbongo apart from the sudden SPoon-Elep'hunt' tango to the tune of 'Kejri Re...' :)

Or about the new species of evolved human discovered @ the Gardens of Eden: Dhonicus Cricketus X-Mas Giftus. 

Details of the book: The Code of the Woosters/ Author: P.G. Wodehouse/ Publisher: Arrow, an imprint of Random House/ Binding: Paperback/ Publishing Date: 01/07/2008/ Genre: Classics/ ISBN-10: 978-0-09-951375-9/ ISBN-13: 9780099513759 / Pages: 296/ Price: $19.95

Picture: The book jacket cover of The Code of the Woosters. Courtesy: link.

No comments:

Post a Comment