This Bertie and Jeeves book, my second, was probably better than my first (Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit), but now that I expect Wodehouse's absolute mastery of character, voice, and staging, I'm in that strange position I'm in with, say, the Beatles - Revolver will remain near-perfect for all time, a source of great joy and comfort, but it can only surprise you so many times.
But I'm trying to live without the need for joyful experiences to be surprising atop all else. Day by day it gets easier.
The set-pieces in this volume are stronger than those in Feudal Spirit - particularly the scene with Basset, Bertie, and the awful dog, and Bertie's lengthy sojourn behind the sofa, which ends with a jaw-dropping sequence in which Wodehouse illustrates the passage of an enormous amount of time and action solely through overheard dialogue, faithfully recorded by our humble n., Wooster. Jeeves has a nicely active role in this one, compared to Feudal S., which gives Wodehouse plenty of chances to depict Bertie's great love and admiration for Jeeves. Masterful as Bertie's narration is, what stays with me is the warm glow that fills the pages whenever Jeeves shimmers into the room. (What a fine word choice is 'shimmer,' capturing both Bertie's relief and sincere longing, on one hand, and Wodehouse's own acknowledgement of Jeeves's plot function - essentially a bottled genie - on the other.)
In a sense, Jeeves is Bertie's (our) ideal teacher: patient, kind, strict without being bullheaded, sly but never mean, authoritative but egoless. If the relationship weren't complicated by Jeeves's status as
manservant gentleman's gentleman (and the very male, if not quite masculine, nature of Bertie's various pursuits), we could well imagine Bertie and Jeeves as an innocent young 19th century girl and her doting, wizened minder.
Of course it's a love story, as so many novels of mens' shenanigans are; and it's a sad commentary on our fallen age that we lack a modern language to describe that vital love. ('Homosocial' is graceless and clinical, while 'homosexual' is merely[?] incorrect.)
[Upon further reflection, I'd like to clarify this: Bertie hardly exudes heterosexuality either. My dismissal of a homosexual-erotic reading of the Jeeves/Bertie relationship stems from the fact that their obvious affection seems to lack any sexual component, unless of course you think there's always a sexual/erotic component to appreciation of great beauty. I dunno about that. Rather, I think J. and B. take care of one another with an awareness of self-interest - Jeeves is a tricksy fellow, after all - but without feeling threatened by one another. Bertie's love and admiration for Jeeves involve no posturing at all; they simply divide their domains of authority, join their interests, and act at all times with care for one another. That's love, but it's got nothing to do with sex. Bertie describes Jeeves as 'shimmering' into the room - but not as a desire-object. Jeeves is an angel, a djinn taking human form; Bertie is a holy Fool. (Remember your Major Arcana! The Fool is immortal precisely because he steps off the ledge into thin air, never looks down, and so never enters into a fatal contract with gravity.) Together they're...well, they're perfect together. Which description applies much more readily to Lennon and McCartney (or to Fry and Laurie!) than to Romeo and Juliet...]
Well. I love these books and could listen to Bertie carry on all day, but it's time to take a swing at the next book. Since my collection is still boxed up - Christ! - I'm confined to the local library's holdings. Next up, therefore: selections from McGinn's The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism. My life overflows, as is no doubt obvious, with 'fun.'