Review: Thank You, Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse

Every time I have checked out a Jeeves book from the library, it has been because I went looking for something in the W section and failed to find it.  In this case, the library claimed they had several Jeanette Winterson books in, when what they meant was that they had absolutely no Jeanette Winterson books in at all.  In particular they did not have Sexing the Cherry, which is the one I was after.  I drifted gloomily down the shelves and checked out two Jeeves books instead.

I do not advise this as a strategy.  It invites comparisons, and comparisons, as they say, are odious.  Thank You, Jeeves is no Sexing the Cherry.  (Or anyway it is no Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which is the only book by Jeanette Winterson that I have read.  I assume that Sexing the Cherry is of similarly high quality.)  However, I am afraid that I would not have liked Thank You, Jeeves, even if I hadn’t checked it out as a poor alternative to Jeanette Winterson.  It repeatedly uses a racial slur of which I am particularly unfond, and Bertie spends at least half of the book in blackface.  Because apparently to PG Wodehouse, THAT IS HILARIOUS.

Hey, guess what I hate?  Minstrelsy!  Aaaaaand racial insults!

  • Sigh. What does one even say 😐 I’ve noticed that people sometimes almost seem to get mad at me for minding those things in older books, but I can’t help the fact that I’m a person from 2010 reading it today and realising just how awful it is. I can’t help how I feel! My first Wodehouse wasn’t a hit either, but I’m hoping that others will be better.

    • Exactly! And it is awful, and it’s clear he knows that the n-word is vulgar because he has Bertie use it but not Jeeves. Jeeves says “Negro” – which of course nowadays we don’t say, but that’s an issue of its having fallen out of style. The business with the blackface is a lazy kind of humor, I think, even if it weren’t offensive. So I feel justified in being offended.

    • I’ve noticed that people sometimes almost seem to get mad at me for minding those things in older books, but I can’t help the fact that I’m a person from 2010 reading it today and realising just how awful it is.

      Yes! This just happened to me today! And it really annoys me, because it’s not like they get a free pass just because they lived in less enlightened times, or whatever. People back then knew what racism and prejudice was, they just chose to perpetuate it instead of, uh, not.

      (But the woman I was arguing with basically refuses to believe anyone is racist, even when they use racist terms and so on. “Because that old person grew up during a time when it was okay to say “darkie/nigger/other racial slur” to a black woman! She didn’t mean to be racist it’s just what they said back then!” YEAH, BUT IT IS NO LONGER THAT TIME. CHANGE.)

      >:(

      • Yes! Exactly! I know that words are not the whole battle, but I think they can be a fairly vital part of the battle. And you do have to pay attention to what words are being used. “Retard” used to be okay; “cisgender” was not always a thing. I HAVE ADAPTED.

        That woman sounds maddening. Did she say “I’m not racist but…”? I was just talking with my sister and her boyfriend the other day about people who say “I’m not racist but…” It is rarely a sign that what’s about to come out of their mouths will be awash with tolerance and good taste.

  • I love _Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit_! I wrote my M.Phil. thesis about it and other lesbian fictive autobiographies. Her _Boating for Beginners_ about the Noah story is also a great read, and you can’t beat _Green Grass, Running Water_ by Thomas King for a darkly comic retelling of bible stories. No minstrel shows in that one, just a caustic critique of the exoticization of race.

    • Oo, thanks for all the recommendations! I will add these to my TBR list. I love retellings of stories.

      • I can second that GreenGrassRunningWater is excellent.

      • It sounds good! Lucky you commented and reminded me about it, because I’d forgotten to update my TBR list with these titles.

  • Have you read other Wodehouse books? Did you like them?

    I have two Wodehouse books on my shelf, but neither are this one.

    • I’ve read a few Jeeves books, which I liked well enough but not enormously, and then I read two of his Psmith books. I know this may be a heretical view, but I think the Psmith books are far more clever and just generally better than the Jeeves ones.

  • Katy

    I recommend Mulliner Nights. Specifically the stories “The Smile That Wins” and “Strychnine in the Soup.” Much more fun than Jeeves, and I don’t remember anyone being in blackface ever.

    • Hm, good to know. I will get on that. I have enjoyed other Wodehouse, he’s just not my favorite author ever.

  • Uh-oh. I’ve wanted to read Wodehouse this year and was recommended this one to start with.

    I never get mad with Nymeth (how could I?!) but I tend to err on the side of putting racial slurs in literature down to them being a product of their time, however much they anger me … saying that, I was very uncomfortable and disgusted with a novella I read last year (Man in the Zoo by David Garnett).

    • Don’t start with this one! Read Psmith instead!

      I guess my thing is, calling someone “a product of their time” can often be a way of excusing people for failing to think critically. Wodehouse was writing in the 1930s. It wouldn’t have been as easy for him to be racially sensitive as it is for, say, me, but it wouldn’t have been impossible. Like I said to Nymeth, he went for the easy laugh using racial stereotypes, and he didn’t need to. Hrmph.

  • Never read a single book, I can’t even recall seeing it on tv

    • I’ve heard very good things about the TV show. Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie did it together, and I know they play off each other beautifully, or they have done in everything I’ve seen them in.

  • I recently randomly selected an audio collection of Jeeves stories recently and LOVED it. This sounds like one to avoid, on the other hand….sorry Wodehouse was so disappointing…

    • Were they short stories? I think I might do better with short stories. So far, the novels haven’t had enough to them to leave me feeling completely satisfied, but that might not be a problem with short stories.

  • Raveen

    I’m a fan of Wodehouse, but I was also unpleasantly surprised by the racist language used in this novel. However, having read quite a lot of Wodehouse, I’m happy to report that racism does not feature in his other writings.

    On the subject of Jeanette Wintersen, I am not too familiar with her work, having only read “Written On The Body”, but she strikes me as the most depressing woman on the planet. It stands to reason Jenny, that if you were expecting something in her style and you picked a Wodehouse, you would have been dsappointed.