Proto Bertie

I have decided how I want to die. If it please The Almighty, I would like to be taken by a massive coronary while reading P.G.Wodehouse.

I have written before of the delights of P.G.W. Hope I’m not boring you. Doing a bit of book shuffling, I rediscovered one of my favourites : The Man Upstairs. My copy is a Penguin from 1958, but it was first published in 1914, before Bertie and Jeeves, before Psmith, and before Ukridge. The stories are not about the upper classes. Its nearly all bank clerks and hairdressers falling in love. Except for one : “Ahead of Schedule”. This appears to be a dry run for Bertie and Jeeves, featuring a calm valet and a dim but nice rich chap called Rollo Finch. (“Rollo Finch – in the present unsatisfactory state of the law parents may still christen a child Rollo – was a youth to whom Nature had given a cheery disposition not marred by any superfluity of brain.”). The valet Wilson is not the superhuman Jeeves, but Rollo Finch’s verbal style is 100% Bertie.

I had thought that the precursors to the the Bertie and Jeeves stories were the Reggie Pepper stories, as explained in this wikipedia article . The earliest of these was published in The Strand magazine in March 1911. “Ahead of Schedule” however was published in “The Grand” in November 1910.

I expect this is all obvious to proper Wodehouse fans but it took me by surprise. Anyway its dead funny, so do give it a read.

14 Responses to Proto Bertie

  1. P.G.Wodehouse has been on my list since Isaac Asimov mentioned that he found him extremely funny. Your recommendation moves him up a notch.

    We can’t always choose how we die, but we can probably choose what happens with us (i.e. with our bodies) after death. Any plans yet?

  2. andyxl says:

    On your list ? Wodehouse is not a duty. Its not one of those “must read War and Peace one day” sort of things. Just read some or don’t bother !

    As to the other, I think maybe I won’t start discussing my actual funeral plans on the blog. Discussion of my death was a rhetorical flourish old chap.

  3. ian smail says:

    phillip – if you feel the need to make up a list of books you “ought to read” – then its likely that wodehouse isn’t for you…

    they are the only books i can read and read and read again – perfect for sticking in your bag for a ~22hr hop to hawaii. i was hoping to get the lot as PDFs and stick them on the laptop/ipad and then i could survive layover/delays without a care in the world.

    • Robert DiGrazia says:

      Ah yes… The books we “ought to read”.

      In their fruitless attempt to convert my brain from mush into a humming well-tuned machine of intellect, some highschool teacher thrust at me a list of Great Books or Important Books or somesuch. Arundel was on the list, and I think I started reading it. This was a good exercise, and revealed the real purpose of the list: to illuminate the drudgery in the self-important intonations of Great Writers. I don’t remember what other books infested the list.

      It indicts the American educational system that Wodehouse is not encouraged. But to the system’s credit, at least Wodehouse is not required, which would repel any intelligent school pupil. (I discovered Wodehouse at age 23 – young enough to enjoy it, and old enough to enjoy it, if you know what I mean.)

  4. Monica Grady says:

    Ian – I have a fairly comprehensive PGW collection on my iPad – most only cost 99p, because i guess they may be out of copyright. In contrast, as e-books for a kindle/pc, they are more pricey.

    The Empress of Blandings, and her adventures is my favourite.

  5. Nick Cross says:

    I have a lot of Wodehouse on my e-Reader (as well as several books on the shelf). I do tend to reach for one when I need a good laugh. Reggie Pepper may be a fore-runner of Bertie, but I don’t think he had a memorable valet like Jeeves.

  6. Norman Gray says:

    Wodehouse has a truly impressive command of syntax — it’s very hard to write sentences that long, and that syntactically intricate, which are nonetheless immediately parseable. He also has magnificent taste in the rhythm and timing of a sentence, and an iron grip on tone, which lets him sustain a distinctive first-person narrative at novel length, without becoming tiresome.

    So I (genuinely) think that reading Wodehouse _is_ a duty, for anyone who wants to write english well, in a way that Dickens, say, or most other 19th century authors aren’t.

    What I don’t understand is this claim, occasionally bandied around, that Wodehouse is _funny_. The claim makes little sense, and I’ve never seen any believable corroboration.

    I was reading a Jeeves and Wooster collection recently (I was sick), and found myself repeatedly dropping into a fantasy where a revolutionary ruck appears outside the flat, Jeeves rouses Wooster with a “It would appear to be time to make your departure, sir”, decapitates him, throws his body to be dismembered by the ravening mob, leaves his head on a pike outside the flat, and heads off to take charge of a cavalry/tank division storming Buckingham Palace. It seems only fair.

    • andyxl says:


      “What I don’t understand is this claim, occasionally bandied around, that Wodehouse is _funny_. The claim makes little sense, and I’ve never seen any believable corroboration.”

      ooh you are playful. All I can tell you is that Wodehouse is one of the few authors that makes me spontaneously snort with laughter in public, as opposed to the more normal gentle inward smile one gets with other authors.

      Come to think of it, its not unconnected with your main positive point. Its often a snort of delight because of the sheer perfection of the sentence – both the syntax and the simile.

  7. honoriaplum says:

    I adore Wodehouse. I have all but four of his works, and it’s bordering on an obsession. I think your chosen mode of death is a corker! Wodehouse himself died writing the stuff.

  8. Horoscope says:

    Daily Horoscopes…

    […]been reading my horoscopes and it looks like today is going to be a good day, thanks Patrick[…]…

  9. Robert DiGrazia says:

    There are three kinds of people on Earth: 1) Those who disdain Wodehouse, and are worthy of no concern, 2) Those who pronounce his name “Wohd-house”, as in “woe”, and are to be pitied, and 3) Those who pronounce his name “Wood-house”, after the Dutch “Wuidhaus”, which he cites in a letter or something (giving us the splendid opportunity of seeking the citation, which is somewhere in my bookcase, and whose seeking will flood with light and happiness some otherwise dreary day).

    My favorite: The Crime Wave at Blandings

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