Already feeling the post-holiday blues? Sometimes you just need a good British comedy to help get you back into the festive spirit. And for good British comedy, you simply can’t go wrong with P. G. Wodehouse.
The Code of the Woosters (1938) is book #7 in his Jeeves and Wooster series but, as with many of the adventures of this duo, it can be read on its own. The scene opens with Bertie Wooster, an idle man-about-town, shunning the opportunity of a Round-the-World cruise, against the counsel of his smarter but dutiful servant, Jeeves. Wooster’s boredom disappears when his beloved Aunt Dahlia shows up, demanding he steal a silver cow creamer from collector Sir Watkyn Bassett, who, she believes, wrongfully acquired what was rightfully her husband’s. The trouble is, Bassett is the same magistrate who Wooster had a run-in with before, not to mention the father of his dreaded sometime fiancee, Madeline Bassett. Wooster’s friends Gussie Fink-Nottle and Stiffy Byng complicate matters with love triangles and altercations of their own, and Wooster feels bound by his family Code to help them out – “Never let a pal down.”
This was my first Wodehouse novel, though I was already familiar with the series from reading some of the short stories, as well as watching the 90s TV series. (Apart from one or two episodes, I highly recommend that show – Hugh Laurie plays an utterly charming, if completely goofy, Bertie Wooster.) The Code of the Woosters was therefore a plot I already recognized, but with its vibrant cast of characters, I still enjoyed reading it.
The most colorful of these characters is Roderick Spode, the amateur Dictator and leader of the Black Shorts, a fascist club. Spode, as it would happen, is secretly in love with Madeline Bassett himself, giving him further cause to despise Wooster, whose behavior he watches like a hawk. Spode was inspired by real-life activist Oswald Mosley and poses an entertaining foil to the apolitial Wooster.
Which brings me to my list of resolutions or “life lessons” from The Code of the Woosters:
- Set personal boundaries, or you may be called upon to steal a cow creamer.
- Beware of ugly mustaches. They may thinly conceal an amateur Dictator.
- Listen to your butler. He knows when to leave the country on a Round-the-World cruise.