Melissa Rudder's Reviews > The Code of the Woosters

The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse
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Aug 16, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: teach-it
Read 2 times. Last read August 21, 2011.

The Code of the Woosters was my first experience of P.G. Wodehouse's nearly archetypal pairing of the good-natured but dense Bertie Wooster and his clever and poised servant, Jeeves (who is in fact the namesake for Ask Jeeves, as that two word action seems to be the beginning to the solution of every problem in the story). And it--the pairing, the book, the prose, the plot--is riotously funny.

There are so many sources of comedy in The Code of the Woosters that its humor must appeal to everyone in some way. The characters end up in absolutely absurd situations--like tripping over a cat and being accused of attempted shoplifting or balancing on a woman's bureau to avoid her frightening dog. There are painfully awkward coincidences. There are hilariously inappropriate allusions, such as the description of a clumsy police officer struggling up from a muddy ditch mirroring Aphrodite rising from sea foam. Bertie learns Jeeves' lessons with the same dexterity that Tim "the Tool Man" Taylor learned his neighbor's. My favorite source of comedy was the characters' inappropriate emotional response to different situations, so that the painfully trivial seemed to them essential, while significant life-changing events were treated as unimportant. For instance, much of the story's conflict revolves around the acquisition of a cow creamer--a hideous antique that characters obsess over as if it were the elixir of life. Characters squabble over this tacky novelty item with the same determination and focus that Shakespeare's Richard III espoused as he attempted to acquire the English throne. Meanwhile, Bertie faces a future in prison with a stiff upper lip, spending his last night of freedom not bargaining for his safety or scrambling for an escape, but instead writing up a menu of everything he'll eat upon his release. It's as if the reader has fallen down the rabbit's hole and found that the absurd world wherein everyone is mad is merely the upper crusts of British society.

Of course a novel that presents a ridiculously childish upper class and, in Jeeves, an impressively erudite working class raises issues about class and status. The trope of clever servants is as old as Plautus, but extremely well executed by Wodehouse, who shatters illusions about the upper class' deserving superiority and raises questions about who really is in charge.

The Code of the Woosters is a quick and highly entertaining read. I look forward to reading more adventures of Bertie and Jeeves.

(I wrote this review on my first read in 8/2009.)
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