The Code of the Woosters
PG Wodehouse, 1938
Wacky hijinks ensue when various upper-class buffoons ramble around
an aristocrat's estate trying to steal cow-creamers and/or notebooks.
Evaluation and commentary
There are some amusing bits, but ultimately there was enough in here
that rubbed me the wrong way that I wound up more irked than entertained.
First off, there is narrator/protagonist Bertie Wooster. He has been
described as a "fool" and a "fop," but such terms are fairly broad. The
"Code" mentioned in the title is "Never let a pal down," and much of the
substance of the book revolves around Bertie and his old college chums,
who have names like "Stinker Pinker," assisting and/or obstructing one
another in pulling off various pranks. In short, he is a fratboy.
Wodehouse may have had many talents, but making me sympathize with a
fratboy wasn't one of them. Yes, we are supposed to laugh at these
clowns, but we're also supposed to like them, and I didn't.
Then you have Jeeves. Jeeves is Bertie's manservant. The joke, of
course, which dates back into antiquity, is that the servant is much
more perspicacious than the master; Bertie gets himself into one
scrape after another, and then Jeeves will cough politely and say,
"Sir, if I may make a suggestion," and suggest a plan that resolves
everything nicely. And we are supposed to chuckle at how Bertie may
be the ostensible master but Jeeves is really running the show, etc.
But I didn't chuckle — the more this happened, the angrier I
got. The Code of the Woosters depends upon the reader, at
some level, thinking that it's acceptable for an intelligent man to
spend his life catering to the whims of the idle rich. One of the
engines driving the plot is the prospect of Bertie's Uncle Tom
trading Aunt Dahlia's brilliant cook for a cow-creamer (ie, a
silver cow-shaped serving pot). And yes, ha ha, "cow-creamer" is
funny. But the idea of trading a human being for another type of
property is not funny. It's chattel slavery. I'm not saying that
any household with servants automatically becomes out of bounds for
comedy. But the absence of even the slightest acknowledgement that
treating people as property is actually an outrage soured me on
this book. As Kurt Cobain once wrote, sorry to be so anally PC but
that's the way I feel.
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