I hadn’t read Sir Pelham Grenville (P.G.) Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster series until I moved to the UK in 2005. It quickly became a favourite.
The quote below is fantastic and really stands out to me as one of the best character introductions ever written. Jeeves is quick, clever and organised. Bertie is an endearing mess. Almost everything you need to know about the dynamic and chemistry between Jeeves and Wooster is contained in this one brief exchange. It’s both brilliant dialogue and character development in only a few lines. And it just so happens to involve one of the most famous drinks in English literature.
Bertie Wooster first meets Jeeves after a night of heavy drinking and illegality. Jeeves turns up for an interview to become Wooster’s valet, but upon seeing the state of his future employer, takes matters into his own hands:
“If you would drink this, sir,” he said, with a kind of bedside manner, rather like the royal doctor shooting the bracer into the sick prince.
“It is a little preparation of my own invention. It is the Worcestershire Sauce that gives it its colour. The raw egg makes it nutritious. The red pepper gives it its bite. Gentlemen have told me they have found it extremely invigorating after a late evening.”
I would have clutched at anything that looked like a life-line that morning. I swallowed the stuff. For a moment I felt as if somebody had touched off a bomb inside the old bean and was strolling down my throat with a lighted torch, and then everything seemed suddenly to get all right. The sun shone in through the window; birds twittered in the tree-tops; and, generally speaking, hope dawned once more.
“You’re engaged!” I said, as soon as I could say anything. I perceived clearly that this cove was one of the world’s wonders, the sort no home should be without.
“Thank you, sir. My name is Jeeves.”
“You can start in at once?”
The publication of the Jeeves and Wooster stories is somewhat complicated because they first appeared in different magazines in different years in the US and UK. Some were then published into books… at times even with different titles.
This excerpt comes from the story Jeeves Takes Charge, which Wodehouse first published in the Saturday Evening Post in 1916. Interestingly, it didn’t appear in the UK until the April 1923 edition of Strand Magazine. It was later published in a book, My Man Jeeves, with seven other stories in 1919 in the UK under the title Leave it to Jeeves. Did you catch all that? Phew.
I’ve heard Jeeves’ miraculous hangover cure mentioned many mornings after spending too long in the pub – mostly people wishing Jeeves was there to make it. But the unfortunate truth is that most of us don’t have a Jeeves, so we’ll have to make it ourselves! Don’t worry about having one too many glasses of claret this weekend because the recipe for Jeeves’ hangover cure is coming up next time…