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‘The Code of the Woosters’: A Treat to Fans of Jeeves and Bertie
P.G. Wodehouse describes his own style of writing as being a ‘musical comedy without music, and ignoring real life altogether”. The Code of The Woosters is very much in keeping with such a style.
The novel features some of Wodehouse’s best-known characters – Bertie Wooster, the good-natured young aristocrat whose mental endowments are often found wanting; Jeeves, his manservant, whose mental prowess is known to be able to get him out of the tightest of spots; Augustus ‘Gussie’ Fink-Nottle, whose obsession with newts continually wrecks havoc in his love life; and many others.
The story begins with Bertie Wooster throwing a party one night to his friend Gussie Fink Nottle, who is engaged to Madeline Bassett, a dreamy, poetic kind of girl, who was once engaged to Wooster. Wooster, who fears the very prospect of spending his life with a girl who thinks stars are tears shed by angels, is overjoyed and relieved that he would never have to worry about marrying Madeline Bassett again.
The next morning, Wooster gets a request from his Aunt Dalhia to go to a particular antique shop and talk disparagingly of a certain cow-creamer, with an aim to signal to the seller that it is of little value. Bertie’s Uncle Tom, an avid collector of what he considers to be unique antiques, has been very keen – in fact, close to desperate – to get his hands on that cow creamer, and Aunt Dalhia wants to make sure that not too much money is squandered away in buying the same.
However, in endeavoring to carry out the assigned task, Wooster bumps into Madeline’s father and his uncle’s rival collector, Sir Watkyn Bassett. He remembers that Sir Bassett, a judge by profession, had once fined him – unjustly, in his personal opinion – five quids for what he considers a perfectly harmless crime of pinching a policeman’s helmet. Sir Bassett makes gentle enquiries with Wooster about whether he has transformed since. At this point, Bassett’s companion, Roger Spode, opines that no transformation has taken place, and points out the fact that Bassett’s umbrella is presently in Wooster’s possession. Wooster realizes that Spode is right, and wonders how it even came into his possession. He laughs it off as being just ‘an impulsive reach for an umbrella that was at arm’s length’. Spode and Bassett, however, do not take to it lightly, and let off Wooster with a stern warning. Wooster then caustically criticizes the cow creamer to the shopkeeper, hoping to make him reduce its price, but later finds out that his efforts were in vain, as the cow creamer has been purchased by Bassett.
Meanwhile, Fink-Nottle telegrams Wooster that his engagement is broken off, and asks him to help. This news shakes Wooster badly, as he conceives of the dreadful prospect of Madeline returning to him.
Aunt Dalhia orders Wooster to go to Totleigh Towers, the residence of Bassett, and steal the cow creamer from him, failing which, she threatens him, he would never again be allowed to avail the services of Anatole, her famed cook. Finding such a prospect unbearable, Wooster agrees. Unable to figure out how he can walk into Totleigh Towers after his last encounter with Bassett, he asks Fink-Nottle to arrange for an invitation. After getting the same from Madeline, who wrongly assumes that Bertie is coming with hopes of getting her back, he sets off to Totleigh towers with a double mission in mind – getting the cow creamer, and fixing Madeline’s engagement with Fink-Nottle.
However, on reaching there, he finds out that Bassett’s opinion of him still remains unchanged, and to make it worse, Spode is in Totleigh, too. Wodehouse compares Wooster’s predicament with that of a prospective murderer, who on reaching the villa where the execution is planned to take place, finds out that not only is Sherlock Holmes staying there on a holiday, but Hercule Poirot, too.
He meets Fink-Nottle, and tries to console him, but finds out soon enough that his differences with Madeline have been sorted out, and they are engaged again. He heaves a sigh of relief at the discovery that he has been steered clear of Madeline for good.
He also finds that Fink-Nottle is uncharacteristically confident and even stands up to such ghastly people as Spode and Bassett. On being asked the reason behind such a transformation, he explains that he observes their respective idiosyncrasies very closely, and writes down those which are extremely funny and laugh-evoking. The way Bassett eats, and the way Spode wears his moustache, for instance, make him see them more as comedians than dictators, and this makes him feel superior to them. This scheme, he tells Wooster, was Jeeves’ brainchild.
A problem arises, however, when Fink-Nottle loses his diary, where he has written all this down. Wooster tells him that he can never hope to marry Madeline if Bassett finds that diary and all that is written in it. Being extremely anxious to see Madeline married off and hence free himself, Wooster is desperate to get the diary back for Fink-Nottle. Fink-Nottle remembers having it last when he was in the company of Stephanie, a ward who stays at Totleigh.
In between all this, Wooster attempts to steal the cow creamer and gets caught, embarrassingly, by Spode. Spode informs Bassett, and the duo is convinced beyond doubt that Wooster is a born thief and his sole intention behind visiting Totleigh Towers is to loot the cow creamer. Madeline, somehow, rescues Wooster from them, but they remain convinced of his intentions.
Meanwhile, Fink-Nottle is convinced that his secret diary should have been put by Stephanie into her stalking, and he ventures out to test this theory. Unfortunately, in carrying out this far-from-graceful act, he is spotted by Madeline, who loses all respect for him. He also finds out, to his dismay, that his theory held no water.
Madeline decides that she has had enough, and decides to just make Wooster, who she thinks genuinely loves him, happy. She informs Wooster that she will marry him, much to his chagrin and despair. Wooster decides that the only way out for him is to get the diary and explain everything to Madeline.
To get the diary, he sneaks into Stephanie’s room in her absence, but she comes back before he is even able to complete his search. He finds that she has brought his boyfriend, who also happens to be his old mate ‘Stinker’ Pinker, now a curator. Stephanie, feeling that her uncle, Bassett, would not agree to give her hand to a curator, comes up with an idea. She suggests that Wooster pretend to steal Bassett’s precious cow-creamer, in disguise, and Pinker would act like he catches the thief and beats him up. Wooster’s identity would be concealed by a mask. Wooster, having already been caught trying once, refuses firmly. Stephanie tells him that he would not be able to get the diary unless he does.
Jeeves comes to Wooster’s rescue and offers a solution. He suggests that Bassett should first be informed that Stephanie loves Wooster. This would leave him in a a state of profound shock, as he perceives Wooster to be a thief and hates him with his heart. In this state, if he is informed that it is in fact a curator, and not Wooster whom Stephanie loves, he will welcome him with a red carpet. Any bridegroom will be sweet as honey to Bassett in comparison to Wooster.
The plan is executed, and Bassett agrees to Stephanie marrying Pinker. He is just happy that things that ‘could have been far worse’ are not happening. Wooster informs Madeline of Stephanie’s engagement, who then starts feeling that she had perhaps judged Fink-Nottle a tad too prematurely. She reconciles with him, and they get together again, much to Wooster’s immense relief. Unfortunately, the relief is short-lived, as Bassett comes to get hold of Fink-Nottle’s diary. After reading all the abuses and digs directed at him, he makes it absolutely clear that he will never have him as his son-in-law.
Meanwhile, because of Wooster’s lack of correspondence, Aunt Dalhia comes in person to Totleigh Towers to do something about the cow creamer. At the same time, Stephanie gets into trouble with an inspector over the activities of her pet dog. Enraged by his attitude, she decides to teach him a lesson. She gets Pinker to steal his helmet, so as to teach him a lesson. Co-incidentally, this is the same inspector whose helmet Wooster once stole.
Two thefts happen – Aunt Dalhia’s theft of the cow-creamer, and Pinker’s theft of the helmet. Both are hidden in Totleigh towers. With respect to the the cow-creamer, Spode and Bassett have no doubt at all that Wooster is the culprit. The inspector comes to Totleigh towers, suspecting that Stephanie has stolen his helmet, but on seeing Wooster there, he decides that Stephanie should only have been the planner, and the execution should have done by Wooster – again.
Stephanie asks Wooster not to give away the fact that Pinker is the actual thief. She implores him to go to jail for a month for her sake. Wooster firmly refuses. ‘The code of the Woosters is never to let a pal down,” she reminds him. Moved by these words, Wooster agrees. Aunt Dalhia dumps the cow-creamer in this room, and his room ends up accommodating both stolen items. Wooster sends Fink-Nottle home with the cow-creamer, but the helmet gets stuck in his room. The inspector and Bassett barge in, perform a search, and find the helmet in the room. They immediately accuse Wooster of theft. Bassett locks him inside and asks the inspector to arrest him the next morning.
Jeeves, using his quick mind, finds a way out. He remembers that he has some very embarrassing information about Spode, which he obtained from his valet (Valets of all gentlemen are part of a club, and they are all obliged to share information about their masters with one another). Spode, apparently, is an expert at making women’s undergarments and has a small shop specializing in the same. Jeeves figures out that this information, if made public, would cause Spode major embarrassment, for he has long created the information of being a tough, authoritative kind of a person. Armed with this information, he orders Spode to confess to the theft of the helmet. He reasons that doing so would cause no harm, as Bassett, who is engaged to Spode’s aunt, is unlikely to pursue any legal action against him. Spode, fearing the consequences of a leak of his long kept secret, obliges, and makes a false confession, as instructed, to Bassett. Bassett, feeling embarrassed, apologizes to Wooster.
On Jeeves’ suggestion, Wooster threatens to take defamation action against Bassett, if he doesn’t agree to the marriages of Pinker and Stephanie; and Fink-Nottle and Madeline. Bassett, knowing the legal consequences of his actions, being a judge himself, sees that he has no option, and agrees. Wooster also points out that the missing cow-creamer has probably been smuggled underground, and could, in the future, be sold to his Uncle Tom, and warns him against creating an issue if he sees the cow-crewmer in Uncle Tom’s possession in the future. Seeing that he has no bargaining power whatsoever, Bassett agrees.
Thus, thanks to Jeeves’ razor-sharp brain power, the couples are happily married, Uncle Tom gets his cow-creamer, Aunt Dalhia keeps her cook, and Bertie Wooster continues to be a happy bachelor.
The book, like all of Wodehouse’s books, is a literary feast. Wodehouse’s choice of words, particularly those used by the character Jeeves, demonstrates a command of the language that inspires and fascinates. The strong undercurrent of humour that runs throughout the novel keeps the reader smiling all the time, and on occasions, leaves him in splits. Witty quotes like ‘If not disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled,’ show a level of mastery of the English language, as well imagination, which are hard to find in most other humorists. The plot, with all its comic twists, outrageous characters, and a climax that would keep the reader in splits, is only one among Wodehouse’s many masterpieces. In short, a genius book from a genius author, and a must read for anyone who wants to de-stress or have a good laugh.
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