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P.G. Wodehouse reading list: the Jeeves and Wooster stories

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honoria plum

honoria plum

My personal quest is the search for a life inspired by the literature of P.G Wodehouse. Plumtopia celebrates this quest with other Wodehouse fans.

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world-of-jeevesThis piece is the second in a series of guides for readers wanting to discover the joys of Jeeves and Wooster, Blandings, and the wider world of Wodehouse ‘hidden gems’. The previous post provided reading suggestions for new Wodehouse readers.

Today’s piece offers a suggested reading order for the Jeeves and Wooster stories, followed by some general notes and guidance for readers.

If you particularly dislike short stories and want to skip straight to the novels, I suggest starting your reading from Right Ho, Jeeves.

Jeeves and Wooster Reading List

*The World of Jeeves, currently available in print for around £8, covers the Inimitable Jeeves, Carry On, Jeeves, and Very Good Jeeves. It also makes a great gift for introducing new readers to the series.

The Short Stories

The Right Hon. was a tubby little chap who looked as if he had been poured into his clothes and had forgotten to say `When’.

Very Good, Jeeves

Bertie Wooster and his resourceful manservant Jeeves appeared in over thirty short stories between 1915 and the publication of their first novel, Thank You, Jeeves, in 1934. Wodehouse was a master of the short story format, and the stories include some of Bertie’s most memorable adventures. They offer the best possible introduction to the series and its characters. Reading them first will avoid plot spoilers, and ensure you appreciate all the ‘in jokes’ throughout the series.

The short stories first appeared in magazine format before they were published in three volumes as The Inimitable Jeeves (1923), Carry On, Jeeves (1925) and Very Good Jeeves (1930). Their order of appearance in these volumes differs from their original magazine publication order, and some titles were changed. Additional stories were also included, as Wodehouse reworked some earlier stories featuring a character called Reggie Pepper.

These three volumes were later collated in a 1967 Omnibus, The World of Jeeves (introduction by P.G. Wodehouse) and appear in an order that better resembles their original publication order. Some of the stories are listed under their original titles.

The World of Jeeves also includes two later Jeeves short stories, ‘Jeeves Makes an Omelette’ and ‘Jeeves and the Greasy Bird’, included in the short story collections A Few Quick Ones (1959) and Plum Pie (1966). The stories refer to characters and events from the later novels, so if you can exercise an iron will and leave off reading them until later, you’ll avoid spoilers and understand the references better. But no great harm will befall you by reading them first.

The first Jeeves and Bertie story, ‘Extricating Young Gussie’ (1915) is not included in any of these volumes. Originally published in The Saturday Evening Post, it appeared in the 1917 short story collection The Man with Two Left Feet. It’s currently out of print, but second-hand and e-book editions are readily available. There is some debate about whether the Bertie in this story should be rightfully considered Bertie Wooster, or some other Bertie of the Mannering-Phipps variety. These are the sorts of debates you may find yourself entering if you become hooked on the series.

The early collection My Man Jeeves (1919) was rewritten and incorporated into the later stories. This will be of interest to enthusiasts and collectors only.

code-of-the-woostersThe Novels

He spoke with a certain what-is-it in his voice, and I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled.

The Code of the Woosters.

The novels introduce memorable new characters to the Jeeves and Wooster cast, including Augustus Fink-Nottle, Madeline Bassett, Sir Roderick Spode, the Stoker girls (Pauline and Emerald), ‘Catsmeat’ Potter-Pirbright, and his sister Cora.

Many people start their Wodehouse reading with The Code of the Woosters. As a highly-regarded classic, it’s a volume most booksellers tend to stock. The Code of the Woosters is also a favourite with many fans, who recommend it to new readers with enthusiasm. No great harm will befall you by reading this, or any other book, out of order. But to avoid spoilers the novels are best read after the short stories, in order of publication. This will also ensure you appreciate occasional ‘in-jokes’ that reference previous instalments.

The suggested reading order above makes one exception; based on advice from reader Doug S, I’ve included Thank You, Jeeves later in the list. It’s a terrific story, but Wodehouse’s use of black and white minstrels and ‘blackface’ makeup as a comic device may be discomforting for modern readers. It should be noted that Wodehouse was reflecting a popular entertainment, using language in common use at the time; there is no indication in Wodehouse’s writing, personal letters or biographies to suppose that his use of black-faced minstrels in Thank You, Jeeves was intentionally demeaning, or that he held racist views.

Thank You, Jeeves features peppy Pauline Stoker, her ghastly brother Dwight, and even ghastlier father, the millionaire J. Washburn Stoker. Unless you plan to skip Thank You, Jeeves entirely (I wouldn’t advise it) it should ideally be read before the next Stoker, Pauline’s sister Emerald, pops up in Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves.

Finally, if this reading list leaves you wanting more, there’s also the 1953 novel Ring for Jeeves featuring Jeeves without Bertie Wooster.

Happy Reading!

HP

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11 Comments

  1. […] P.G. Wodehouse reading list: the Jeeves and Wooster stories […]

  2. […] P.G. Wodehouse reading list: the Jeeves and Wooster stories […]

  3. ashokbhatia says:

    My affliction with Wodehousitis is perhaps acute. The order of publication has really never mattered to this lesser mortal. Savouring any of his works alone matters!

    • honoria plum says:

      I too read Wodehouse thoroughly out of order, but it was not by choice. It was simply a case of reading whatever book I could lay my hands on next — this was in the days before online booksellers and ebooks made all of his works available, anywhere in the world.
      Finding books by Wodehouse (beyond the 2-3 most popular Jeeves titles) in Australian bookshops was quite difficult at the time when I was setting out to read them the first time. I was content to read whatever I could find, because — like you — I was addicted. It’s all good stuff!
      But today’s new Wodehouse reader has a choice about the order in which they read the books, and it is a question that is often asked, so I figured a list of some kind might be useful.

      • ashokbhatia says:

        Yes….let his unalloyed bliss pour in from all sides!

      • I can’t remember which Wooster and Jeeves book was the first I read but I do know the first one I bought, because I still have it: the 1961 Penguin edition of The Mating Season. I don’t remember when I bought it but it wouldn’t have been much later than that. It’s a bit battered now and very brown but still intact and still gets read. I didn’t get to the first PGWs until much later, around the mid-70s when I was started haunting second hand bookshops to build my collection. I approach each one individually so the order doesn’t matter to me.

        I tried to get one of my sons interested in PGW and started him off with, I think, Right Ho, Jeeves, which is my No.1 pick in a close contest with, of course, The Code of the Woosters. This hasn’t done the trick, which bolsters your view, Honoria — should have started somewhere else. May I suggest the Weekend Wodehouse anthology? I lent one of my copies to someone — I’ve forgotten whom (yes, whom) — who wanted to try the old boy and it has not boomeranged. Acceptance of a sort, I guess. I hope it has a good home. Long-winded as usual. Sorry. Toodle-pip.

      • honoria plum says:

        What Ho, Noel. And what a lovely story about The Mating Season. It’s one of my favourites Good advice on Weekend Wodehouse. I’ve had recent success with Ukridge also. I don’t recall my first Wodehouse but I think it was probably Carry On Jeeves. The book that converted me to a fan to a fanatic was the first Blandings novel — Something Fresh. Must be something to do with the ‘psychology of the individual’. Toodle-pip to you too!

  4. ashokbhatia says:

    Reblogged this on ashokbhatia and commented:
    For those who are new to the world of P G Wodehouse, here is a post which offers interesting tips on where to start devouring his sunlit works. To those who already reside in Plumsville, this post offers a new perspective on the order in which his works may be savoured.

  5. Derryl T Fontenot says:

    I would recommend reading the novels starting with the first one, Thank You, Jeeves, which is of the same high level as the masterpieces, has some of the best set pieces in the series, and is certainly better than the later ones.

    • honoria plum says:

      Thanks Derryl. Your advice is good and I think a lot of people would agree with you. I confess I’ve also been surprised at how many people would skip the short stories.

  6. […] P.G. Wodehouse reading list: the Jeeves and Wooster stories […]

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