You have heard me speak of P.G. Wodehouse, the master of comedy and mirth, on more than one occasion. I’ve even been known [mostly by myself] to mention “gags” from the Bertie/Jeeves mix-up in my posts in a way that might infringe on copyright laws was the bird in question still alive. What I never took time to explain is just “why” I find the blighter funny. So I am going to do that now. I will explain or, rather, give an example in the form of a chapter from the latest book of his I’m reading, the same book that saw me gaffing at a MacDonald’s a few minutes before I gotta show my mug at my place of employment yesterday.
The “setup”, as Wodehouse usually terms it, is one of those unfortunate events where the not-so-bright Bertram Wooster seems to get himself tangled on more than one occasion [infact, if memory serves, out of the 17 books my ex-husband brought me bearing the name P.G.W., 15 were based on more or less this same “set up”]. The story bee-line follows almost the same pattern. To wit: an ex fiancée of the young master, whom he proposed marriage to because his “gentlemanly sensibilities” wouldn’t permit “not taking the wrap” when a girl “gets it in her fat-head that a bloke likes her”, and got out of marrying by the help of his sharp-as-a-whip man-servant/right-hand-man/Butler/Gentleman’s Gentleman Jeeves, would re-enter Bertie’s life. She would usually be engaged to another “bird” when the story begins, who is usually a guy Bertie knew in school or from the “Drones Club”, where his bachelor-ship usually lunches. The girl would think Bertie is still in love with her, making her boyfriend jealous, and Bertie somehow [mostly to aid a cousin or an aunt] would find himself “in the soup” again: with the girl giving the boyfriend his ring back and willing to be re-united in the bonds of holy-matrimony with our hero who would do anything to “dodge” the honor.
Such is the case in this little story, entitled: “Joy in the morning”, as well. The “frightful” Miss Florence Craye, who is an author by trade and makes men read a huge dossier that went by the name “Types of Ethical Theory” in an attempt to educate them, is an ex-sweetheart of Bertram Wooster’s, whom he got out of marrying in the nick of time. Since breaking up with him, she’s been engaged to a “guardian of the law” who goes by the name ‘Stilton’ Cheesewright, who naturally has the Othello tendency of turning green-eyed every time he beholds the said Wooster, absolutely convinced Bertram is out to snip his girlfriend from under his watchful eyes. Throw in a secret business deal that Bertie needs to have his lips sealed about, a no-good do-gooder called “Edwin”, and unfortunate coincidences not even God could orchestrate on his hay days, then you will get the picture of what always goes in Wodehouse’s comedies. Here is how the back cover of the book put the scenario nicely:
“Trapped in the rural hell-hole of Steeple Bumpleigh with his ex-fiancée, Florence Craye, her fire-breathing father; Lord Worplesdon, her frightful Boy-Scout brother, Edwin, and her beefy new betrothed, ‘Stilton’ Cheesewright, Bertie Wooster finds himself walking a diplomatic tightrope. With Florence threatening to ditch Stilton for Bertie, and Stilton threatening to trample on Bertie’s insides if she does, things look black until Jeeves arrives to save the day. One of Wodehouse’s most sparkling comedies, replete with an attendant cast of tyrannical aunts, demon children and literary fatheads.
Make sure you read it twice, or three times, to get the meaning [and jokes] of all the lines. His expressions, as you will soon discover, aren’t those of the average scribbler’s.
Florence was obviously in the grip of some powerful emotion. She quivered gently, as if in the early stages of palsy, and her face, as far as I could gather from the sketchy view I was able to obtain of it, was pale and set, like the white of a hard-boiled egg.
‘D’Arcy Cheesewright,’ she said, getting right off the mark without so much as a preliminary ‘What ho, there,’ ‘is an obstinate, mulish, pigheaded, overbearing unimaginative, tyrannical jack in office!’
Her words froze me to the core. I was conscious of a sense of frightful peril. Owning to young Edwin’s infernal officiousness, this pancake had been in receipt only a few hours earlier of a handsome diamond brooch, ostensibly a present from Bertram W., and now, right on top of it, she had had a falling out with Stilton, so substantial that it took her six distinct adjectives to describe him. When a girl uses six derogatory adjectives in her attempt to paint the portrait of the loved one, it means something. One may indicate a merely temporary tiff. Six is big stuff.
I didn’t like the way things were shaping. I didn’t like it at all. It seemed to me that what she must be saying to herself was ‘Look here upon this picture and on this,’ as it were. I mean to say, on the one hand, a suave, knightly donor of expensive brooches; on the other hand, an obstinate, mulish, pigheaded, overbearing, unimaginative, tyrannical jack in office. If you were a girl, which would you prefer to link your lot with? Exactly.
I felt that I must spare no effort to plead Stilton’s cause, to induce her to overlook whatever it was he had done to make her go about breathing like an asthma patient and scattering adjectives all over the place. The time had come for me to be eloquent and persuasive as never before, pouring oil on the troubled waters with a liberal hand, emptying the jug if necessary.
‘Oh, dash it!’ I cried.
‘What do you mean by “Oh, dash it”?’
‘Just “Oh, dash it!” Sort of protest, if you follow me.’
‘You do not agree with me?’
‘I think you’ve misjudged him.’
‘I have not.’
‘Splendid fellow, Stilton.’
‘He is nothing of the kind.’
‘Wouldn’t you say he was the sort of chap who has made England what it is?’
‘I said no.’
‘Yes, that’s right. So you did.’
‘He is a mere uncouth Cossack.’
A cossack, I knew, was one of those things clergymen wear, and I wondered why she thought Stilton was like one. An inquiry into this would have been fraught with interest, but before I could institute it she had continued.
‘He has been abominably rude, not only to me but to father. just because father would not allow him to arrest the man in the potting shed.’
A bright light shone upon me. Her words had made clear the root of the trouble. I had, if you remember, edged away from the Stilton-Florence-Uncle Percy group just after the last named had put the presidential veto on the able young officer’s scheme of pinching J. Chichester Clam, and had, accordingly, not been there to hear Stilton’s comments. These, it was now evident, must have been on the fruity side. Stilton, as I have indicated, is a man of strong passions — one who, when annoyed, does not mince his words.
My mind went back to that time at oxford, when I had gone in for rowing and had drawn him as a coach. If what he had said to Uncle Percy had been even remotely in the same class as his remarks on that occasion with reference to my stomach, I could see that relations must inevitably have got pretty strained, and my heart sank as I visualized the scene.
‘He said father was shackling the police and that it was men like him, grossly lacking in any sense of civic duty, who were the cause of the ever-growing crime wave. He said father was a menace to the community and would be directly responsible if half the population of Steeple Bumpleigh were murdered in their beds.’
‘You don’t think he spoke laughingly?’
‘No, I do not think he spoke laughingly.’
‘With a twinkle in his eye, I mean.’
‘There was not the slightest suggestion of any twinkle in his eye.’
‘You might have missed it. It’s a dark night.’
‘Please do not be utterly absurd, Bertie. I have sufficient intelligence, I hope, to be able to recognize a vile exhibition of bad temper when I see it. His tone was most offensive. “And you,” he said, looking at father as if he were some sort of insect, “call yourself a Justice of the Peace. Faugh!”‘
‘Fore? Like a golf?’
I was beginning to be almost sorry for Uncle Percy, as far as it is possible to be sorry for a man like that. I mean, there was no getting away from it that it hadn’t been a big evening for the poor bloke. First, Boko with his ‘My dear Worplesdon’; then Edwin with his hockey stick; and now Stilton with his ‘Faughs’. One of those nights you look back to with a shudder.
‘His behavior was a revelation to me. It laid bare a brutal, inhuman side of his character, of the existence of which I had never till then had a suspicion. There was something positively horrible in the fury he exhibited, when he realized that he was not to be allowed to arrest the man. He was like some malignant wild beast deprived of its prey.’
It was plain that Stilton’s stock was in or approaching the cellar, and I did what I could to stop the slump.
‘Still, it showed zeal, what?’
‘And zeal, after all, when you come right down to it, is what he draws his weekly envelope for.’
‘Don’t talk to me about zeal. It was revolting. And when I said that father was quite right, he turned on me like a tiger.’
Although by this time, as you may well imagine, I was rocking on my base and becoming more and more a prey to alarm and despondency, I couldn’t help admiring Stilton for his intrepid courage. Circumstances had so arranged themselves as to extract most of the stuffing from what had been a closeish boyhood friendship, but I had to respect a man capable of turning on Florence like a tiger. I would hardly have thought Attila the Hun could have done it, even if at the peak of his form.
All the same, I wished he hadn’t. Oh, I was saying to myself, that the voice of Prudence had whispered in his ear. It was so vital to my interests that the mutual love of these two should continue unimpaired, and already much of the gilt, I feared, must have been rubbed off the gingerbread of their romance. Love is a sensitive plant, which needs cherishing and fostering. This cannot be done by turning on girls like tigers.
‘I told him that modern enlightened thought held that imprisonment merely brutalizes the criminal.’
‘And what did he say to that?’
‘Ah, he agreed with you.’
‘He did nothing of the kind. He spoke in a most unpleasant, sneering voice. “It does, does it?” he said. And I said “Yes, it does.” He then said something about modern enlightened thought which I cannot repeat.’
I wondered what this had been. Evidently something red hot, for it was clear that it still ranked like a boil on the back of the neck. Her fists, I saw, were clenched, and she had started to tap her foot on the ground — sure indications that the soul is fed to the eye teeth. Florence is one of those girls who look on modern enlightened thought as a sort of personal buddy, and receive with an ill grace cracks at its expense.
I groaned in spirit. The way things were shaping, I was expecting her to say next that she had broken off the engagement.
And that was just what she did say.
‘Of course, I broke off the engagement instantly.’
In spite of the fact that, as I say, I had practically known it was coming, I skipped like the high hills.
‘You broke off the engagement?’
‘Oh, I say, you shouldn’t have done that.’
‘Sterling chap like Stilton.’
‘He is nothing of the kind.’
‘You ought to forget those cruel words he spoke. You should make allowances.’
‘I don’t understand you.’
‘Well, look at it from the poor old buster’s point of view. Stilton, you must bear in mind, entered the police force hoping for rapid advancement.’
‘Well, ofcourse, the men up top don’t advance a young rozzer rapidly unless he comes through with something so spectacular as to make them draw in their breath with an awed “Lord love a duck!” For weeks, months perhaps, he has been chafing like a caged eagle at the frightful law-abidingness of this place, hoping vainly for even a collarless dog or a decent drunk and disorderly that he could get his teeth into, and the sudden arrival of a burglar must have seemed to him manna from heaven. Here, he must have said to himself, was where at last he made his presence felt. And just as he was hitching up his sleeves and preparing to take his big opportunity, Uncle Percy goes and puts him on the leash. It was enough to upset any cop. Naturally he forgot himself and spoke with a generous strength. But he never means what he says in moments of heat. You should have heard him once at Oxford, talking to me about sticking out my stomach while toiling at the oar. You should have thought he loathed my stomach and its contents. Yet only a few hours later we were dining vis-a-vis at the Clarendon – clear soup, turbot and saddle of mutton, I remember – and he was amiability itself. You’ll find it’s just the same now. I’ll bet remorse is already gnawing him, and nobody is sorrier than he for having said nasty things about modern enlightened thought. He loves you devotedly. This is official. I happen to know. So what I would suggest is that you go to him and tell him that all is forgotten and forgiven. Only thus can you avoid making a bloomer, the memory of which will haunt you through the years. If you give Stilton the bum’s rush, you’ll kick yourself practically incessantly for the rest of your life. The whitest man I know.’
I paused, partly for breath and partly because I felt I had said enough. I stood there, waiting for her reply, wishing I had a throat lozenge to suck.
Well, I don’t know what reaction I had expected on her part — possibly the drooping of the head and the silent tear, as the truth of my words filtered through her system; possibly some verbal statement to the effect that I had spoken a mouthful. What I had definitely not expected was that she would kiss me, and with a heartiness that nearly dropped me in my tracks.
‘Bertie, you are extraordinary!’ She laughed, a thing I couldn’t have done, if handsomely paid. ‘So quixotic. It is what I love in you. Nobody hearing you would dream that it is your dearest wish to marry me yourself.’
I tried to utter, but could not. The tongue had got all tangled up with the uvula, and the brain seemed paralyzed. I was feeling the same stunned feeling which, I imagine, Chichester Claim must have felt as the door of the potting shed slammed and he heard Boko starting to yodel without — a nightmare sensation of being but a helpless pawn in the hands of Fate.
She passed an arm through mine, and began to explain, like a governess instructing a backward pupil in the rudiments of simple arithmetic.
‘Do you think I have not understood? My dear Bertie, I am not blind. When I broke off our engagement, I naturally supposed that you would forget — or perhaps that you would be angry and resentful and think hard, bitter thoughts of me. To-night I realized how wrong I had been. It was that brooch you gave me that opened my eyes to your real feelings. There was no need for you to have given me a birthday present at all, unless you wanted me to know that you still cared. And to give me one so absurdly expensive … Of course, I knew at once what you were trying to tell me. It all fitted in so clearly with the other things you had said. About your reading Spinoza, for instance. You had lost me, as you thought, but you still went on studying good literature for my sake. And I found you in that book shop buying my novel. I can’t tell you how it touched me. And as the result of that chance meeting you could not keep yourself from coming to Steeple Bumpleign, so that you might be near me once more. And to-night, you crept out, to stand beneath my window in the starlight … No, let us have no more misunderstandings. I am thankful that I should have had the real D’Arcy Cheesewright revealed to me before it was too late. I will be your wife, Bertie.’
There didn’t seem much to say to this except ‘Oh, thanks.’ I said it, and the interview terminated. She kissed me again, expressed her preference for a quite wedding, with just a few relations and intimate friends, and beetled off.
That was Chapter 18 of:
Joy in the Morning
By P.G. Wodehouse
To clear some of the misunderstandings you may encounter in this reading:
– i.e. Florence’s father, is married to Bertram’s aunt.
– Who also is the woman who sent her daughter-in-law, Florence, the diamond brooch as a birthday gift.
-Which Bertram was supposed to deliver with her message, but couldn’t when he lost the pin. Edwin, who was sent to look for it, found it, and passed it off to his older sister as a gift directly from Bertie.
– Spinoza, was a gift he bought to Jeeves
– He grabbed a book the librarian told him was popular while waiting for the Spinoza, not knowing it was Florence’s latest and that she would happen to come into the store that very minute
-He came to Steeple Bumpleigh to arrange a “secret” business meeting with the Clam fellow that Stilton mistook for a burglar and wanted to arrest
-He was observed under her window while waiting for this man to show up
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