The novels of P G Wodehouse are so easy to dislike one really has to struggle to overcome the stench of monied stupidity rising off them. Rich people running around getting into “scrapes” (how easily the slang infects one’s language) in highly contrived “comic” situations, which are all resolved by the intervention of the gentleman’s gentleman. Incidentally there is no subversion here – in portraying the working class servant as brighter than the upper classes he serves, Wodehouse is flattering to deceive – Jeeves is still a poodle even if he can do tricks.
There is a temptation to treat these novels – and having read one you have pretty much read them all – as self parodies, clever because they are so dumb, cool because they are clichéd. But they are production line stuff, knocked-off-in-a-weekend pieces of nonsense. Wodehouse makes little or no attempt to vary the diet (see summary plot below taken from Wikipedia to save you the trouble of reading the book, or any other of Wodehouse’s for that matter.)
I know the story of Wodehouse’s internment in the second World War has been gone over in detail elsewhere, and I don’t intend to go over old ground here. One of my favourite authors from this period, George Orwell, was a strong Wodehouse supporter, and that would normally be good enough for me. But I am sorry, there is no doubt in my mind that it is just not good enough to say Wodehouse was uninterested in politics, or simply naïve and foolish – he had a responsibility as an author to not be such a fool, and there is plenty of evidence in his novels to suggest a man of considerable intelligence and political awareness, if not interest. It can hardly have been surprising to anyone that the author who described the English upper classes at decadent play was able to take the rise of the Nazis so casually. Wodehouse may not have been a Nazi himself, but in his portrait of Spode, the Moselyesque English fascist, he clearly makes the mistake of not taking them seriously enough – not everything can be laughed away.
“Bertie Wooster returns to Totleigh Towers, the site of an earlier ordeal that nearly landed him in prison and, worse still, in bonds of marriage to Madeline Bassett, the syrupy daughter of the house who believes the stars are God’s daisy chain. Only Gussie Fink-Nottle, Bertie’s childhood friend and Madeline’s on-again off-again fiancé, stands between our hero and the dreaded state of matrimony. No surprise, then, that matrimonial disaster looms for our hero when Madeline, inspired by the life of Percy Bysshe Shelley, orders Gussie to abandon his beloved steak and kidney pie and take up a vegetarian diet. Add the intrigues of Miss Stiffy Byng to win her fiancé the Reverend Stinker Pinker a vicarage, the rivalry of collectors Sir Watkyn Bassett and Bertie’s Uncle Tom over an objet d’art, and the irresistible culinary attractions of American Emerald Stoker, and you have trouble of the sort only Jeeves can mend.”