The Code of the Woosters

P. G. Wodehouse

Cover of The Code of the Woosters

Rank: B+
No. Times Read: 1
Last Read: Winter, 2012

Author Name: P. G. Wodehouse

Review: Ever since Erin and her family introduced me to it, I’ve been a big fan of the BBC miniseries Jeeves and Wooster (which I unfailingly call Wooster and Jeeves). Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie are, separately, brilliant, but together they’re absolute dynamite. Their portrayal of Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves on the small screen is about as spot on as spot on gets, and never will be (nor need be) equalled.

The show, though, is based on characters from a series of books and stories by British humorist P. G. Wodehouse. As I’m such a fan of the show, I figured now was as good a time as any to give Wodehouse himself a try, and my venture was well rewarded.

As I’m so familiar with the miniseries, it was difficult for me to read this book without referencing the series in my mind, and it will also be difficult to review. As a result, this review will likely be difficult to read for those who haven’t seen the series (which is presently streaming on Netflix). In fact, if you’ve gotten this far and haven’t seen the show, you really ought to stop and go give at least the first episode a watch—I promise, you won’t regret it. If you have seen the show, I’ll stop standing on ceremony.

The Code of the Woosters corresponds to the first two episodes of season 2 (or “series 2”, if you happen to find yourſelf being Britiſh). The main plot points are: Aunt Dahlia engaging Bertie to steal a cow creamer from Sir Watkyn Bassett; trouble surrounding the engagements of Gussie Fink-Nottle and Madeline Bassett, and Stephanie Byng and Harold Pinker; Bertie getting into trouble (again) for stealing a constable’s helmet; and Roderick Spode threatening to beat Bertie and others to a jelly. For fans of the show looking for a reason to read the books, you’ll be pleased to know that much of the dialogue in the show is taken directly from the books. The book is a pleasure to read, due in no small part to the fact that it’s told from the point of view of Bertie Wooster (first person). He’s got a particularly fascinating way of expressing himself which Hugh Laurie does a wonderful job of approximating, but in the book you get it at all times. It’s great fun!

Now for a couple things I noticed about the adaptation—a few small but crucial changes that I think are worth noting. Plotwise, I thought the method of extracting the cow creamer was much more clever in the show. In the book, Jeeves and Wooster help Gussie Fink-Nottle escape to London (they lower him out a window by a sheet chain), and in so doing, they give him Bertie Wooster’s suitcase which contains the cow creamer. In the show, Jeeves takes the silver cow creamer and affixes it to the front of their car, making it look rather like a hood ornament. That was ingenious.

Another key difference—and a rather important one, I thought—is how Bertie learns the secret of Eulalie. In the book, as in the show, Bertie tells Jeeves that he will agree to go on a round-the-world boat trip with him if he tells him the secret, but then (and this is the crucial point) Jeeves gives in. That is, Jeeves betrays the oath he swore to the Junior Ganymede Club and reveals a secret from the Club Book. In the show, Bertie makes his offer to Jeeves, and Jeeves is sorely tempted, but refuses to go against his principles. On his way home with Jeeves, though, Bertie happens to drive past a shop window and sees Roderick Spode. The shop is Eulalie Sœurs, and since Bertie has seen Roderick Spode inside the shop selling women’s undergarments, Jeeves simply fills in the gaps. I find this version of events much more satisfying, as Jeeves doesn’t blatantly (or even brazenly, one might say) flout his principles.

The last bit I’d like to note is a general difference between the book and the show. This is my first Wodehouse, so I can’t say if this is true generally, but Jeeves is not so ever-present in the book as he is in the show. Indeed, he drops in here and there, but doesn’t seem to get much more “screen time” than the other major secondary characters in the book (Aunt Dahlia, Watkyn Bassett, Roderick Spode, etc.). I found this rather surprising, as there’s, I’d say, a fairly close 50-50 split in the show. One can easily imagine why the change was made (you wouldn’t consign Stephen Fry to a minor supporting role in a production like this), but I’m rather surprised the change needed to be made. True, one might account for the fact (at least partly) by recalling that the book is told in the first person from Bertie Wooster’s point of view (and as a result, he’s not privy to anything outside his immediate experience), but even so, one gets the sense that Jeeves and Wooster are much closer to friends (or pals) in the show than they are in the book. Socially, I suppose that does make more sense, but all the same, it was slightly disappointing.

If one is going to start reading Wodehouse, I suppose this is as good a place to start as any (even though this isn’t the first story to feature Wooster and Jeeves), provided one has a general knowledge of the characters and the style of comedy. From someone who daily wishes there were more episodes of BBC’s Jeeves and Wooster, though, I can assure you that those who are fans will be delighted by Wodehouse’s prose. His books are definitely worth checking out!

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