A Centenary of My Man Jeeves

My Man Jeeves was published 100 years ago in May 1919.

Jeeves–my man, you know–is really a most extraordinary chap. So capable. Honestly, I shouldn’t know what to do without him. On broader lines he’s like those chappies who sit peering sadly over the marble battlements at the Pennsylvania Station in the place marked “Inquiries.” You know the Johnnies I mean. You go up to them and say: “When’s the next train for Melonsquashville, Tennessee?” and they reply, without stopping to think, “Two-forty-three, track ten, change at San Francisco.” And they’re right every time. Well, Jeeves gives you just the same impression of omniscience.

May 2019 marks 100 years since the publication of My Man Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse’s first Jeeves story collection.

Well, sort of. It’s complicated.

Wodehouse chronology always is, because many of his works were published in magazine format on both sides of the Atlantic before appearing in book form — sometimes under different titles, and sometimes with significant revisions to the text.

My Man Jeeves is a classic example. Published only in the UK, the earliest story in the collection is Absent Treatment, which was first published in March 1911 in The Strand Magazine (UK). This story, along with several others included in My Man Jeeves, had previously been included in a 1917 short story collection, The Man With Two Left Feet.

Some of the stories from My Man Jeeves were later reworked by Wodehouse and included in the short story collection Carry On, Jeeves, published in 1925 in the UK and 1927 in the US. For fans reading their way through the Jeeves and Wooster saga, I usually suggest starting saving My Man Jeeves last, for this reason.

On the other hand, no great harm will befall you by starting your Wodehouse reading journey with My Man Jeeves –and it’s packed full of classic Wodehouse.

The first story, Leave it to Jeeves, picks up from where Extricating Young Gussie (also included in The Man with Two Left Feet) left off. Bertie and Jeeves are having an extended stay in America, giving Aunt Agatha time to cool off over Bertie’s failure to keep cousin Gussie from a career on the stage.  Jeeves dutifully performs his consultant-in-residence act for a string of Bertie’s New York pals.

In Leave it to Jeeves, he assists Bruce ‘Corky’ Corcoran to butter up (and eventually gain financial independence from) a difficult, but oofy, uncle.

It was great stuff. The more I read, the more I admired the chap who had written it and Jeeves’s genius in putting us on to the wheeze. I didn’t see how the uncle could fail to drop. You can’t call a chap the world’s greatest authority on the yellow-billed cuckoo without rousing a certain disposition towards chumminess in him.

The volume is also littered with some of Wodehouse’s best-known quotations – of the variety often flung about the internet. Like these treats from Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest.

Lady Malvern was a hearty, happy, healthy, overpowering sort of dashed female, not so very tall but making up for it by measuring about six feet from the O.P. to the Prompt Side. She fitted into my biggest arm-chair as if it had been built round her by someone who knew they were wearing arm-chairs tight about the hips that season.

And

“What ho!” I said.

“What ho!” said Motty.

“What ho! What ho!”

“What ho! What ho! What ho!”

After that it seemed rather difficult to go on with the conversation.

I appreciate that, as someone who flings a fair amount of Wodehouse quotation about the internet myself, I’m hardly in a position to criticise others. But I do feel Wodehouse’s stuff is always better in its natural habitat of his original work.

If you’ve never read My Man Jeeves, or haven’t re-read it in a while, do pick it up for a commemorative thumb through. You won’t be disappointed.

A word on sources and a debt of gratitude 

Fortunately for us, a number of people (brainy coves) have devoted long hours to researching and sharing their encyclopaedic Wodehouse knowledge, including the complex publication histories of his work.

I’m indebted, whenever I write anything on the subject, to exceptional online bibliographies compiled by Neil Midkiff and the late Terry Mordue.  The entire gang of geniuses responsible for the Madame Eulalie website are heroes of mine –I’ll bet they know all about that next train to Melonsquashville.

“How does he do it, Bertie?” he said. “I’ll tell you what I think it is. I believe it’s something to do with the shape of his head. Have you ever noticed his head, Bertie, old man? It sort of sticks out at the back!”

Jeeves And The Hard-Boiled Egg in My Man Jeeves

I am also grateful, beyond anything mere words can  express, for my copy of Eileen McIlvaine’s P G Wodehouse: A Comprehensive Bibliography and Checklist — a cherished gift from US Wodehouse Society friends David and Katy McGrann.

While I’m on the subject of gratitude, I must also mention the personal kindness and support of friends in the UK and Dutch Wodehouse societies (during my time in the Northern h.). I miss you very much.

Reading Wodehouse is not only a joy and a privilege, it brings wonderful people together.

That includes YOU! Thank you for reading Plumtopia.

HP

And now, I’ll be taking My Man Jeeves on a centenary binge about town, which you can follow on Twitter — please join in with your own images if you’re so inclined. #MyManJeeves100

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21 thoughts on “A Centenary of My Man Jeeves

  1. My Man Jeeves was first published in a cheap but hardcover edition by Newnes. As it happens I have a copy and I’m afraid the lower quality paper means the insides are now grey and fragile. The reddish, embossed cover is faded as you might expect but the binding is OK. For a century-old el cheapo it’s holding up quite well — much like its author.

    1. Hi Noel, old bean. That is quite a treasure. I have a 1938 Penguin paperback edition, which is also in reasonable condition for it’s age. I’ve updated the header image for this piece to include a copy of it — and am now taking it about town for a bit of a centenary jaunt. Good fun!

  2. Ken Clevenger

    Thanks, Honoria. We, OK, me, of the Melonsquashville (TN) Literary Society, a chapter of The Wodehouse Society, appreciate the plug for our source of a moniker inspiration. I too, like the Stepper, have a copy of the My Man Jeeves book which is almost, but not quite, too precious and fragile to read. But it is a continuing wonder to think about who else, beside Plum, we read that is a hundred years or more old. Shakespeare, of course, The Declaration of Independence, the Gettysburg Address, some Conan Doyle, and there are, I am reliably informed, fans of Austen and Bronte about. (I consciously limit myself to secular considerations.) That upcoming Westminster Abby enshrinement is obviously so fitting.

    1. What Ho, to the good folks of the Melonsquashville (TN) Lit Soc. I wish I could join you. Another incredibly popular literary name from the 20th Century is Agatha Christie. Next year it will be 100 years since her first book was published, so I expect we’ll see a BIG big hoo-haa about that in 2020.

      1. Ken Clevenger

        I love Agatha Christie too and have a complete set but honestly, it is a different level of craft. Some of her characters endure but are there really quotable lines? After “the little gray cells” is there any really memorable language? I honor and read Ms. Christie but Wodehouse is the Master, n’est pas?

      2. I’m a definite Christie fan, but I don’t get quite the same pleasure re-reading her stuff as I do with Wodehouse – partly due to the different genres. Her Tommy and Tuppence adventures are my favourite.

  3. Felicia Sherican

    My dear Honoria,

    I applaud this effort, as I do all of your efforts to spread sweetness and light. I do not own a paper copy of this marvelous tome (only an electronic one), or I would definitely follow your example. May I make a suggestion regarding a slight emendation in your description above? You state that “Absent Treatment” features Jeeves and Reggie Pepper. Not so, my dear old thing, but far otherwise. Jeeves does not appear in any Reggie Pepper story.

    Keep up the good work!

    1. Done. Thank you so much,
      I ought to have added to my various gratitudes at the end the somewhat overused (but we see here why it’s important) gag that any errors remaining are entirely my own.

  4. George P. Smith

    I have just re-read The Man with Two Left Feet and (may be also due to an horrible Italian translation) with the only exception of the first, mentioned above story, I found it very disappointing, sad and inexplicable. but the Classics, as always, brought me a very much needed word of consolation: Quandoque bonus dormitat Homerus

  5. Felicia Sherican

    Here’s another little chuckle that Wodehouse included in the railway directions – particularly for those of you who are not that familiar with the geography of the United States. If any of those brainy Johnnies send you to Melonsquashville, Tennessee by way of San Francisco, they’ve sent you waaaaay out of your way. I’m sure Wodehouse knew that, but Bertie Wooster would not have – because he never got farther than New York City.

    1. How wonderful. I did wonder about that. It’s very much in keeping with Jeeves’ support too — Bertie and his pals generally end up where they need to be, but the route isn’t always a direct or comfortable one.

  6. I seem to remember in one story — I think it’s the one in which Bertie’s artist pal paints the portrait of a baby — Bertie and Jeeves travel south (Florida for the races?). PGW was familiar with that trip, having done it with Guy Bolton for Flo Ziegfeld.

    1. What Ho Noel. It’s not in that version of the story. Bertie just says: “Shortly after this I had to go out of town. Divers sound sportsmen had invited me to pay visits to their country places…” Possibly Extricating Young Gussie when they take the show on the road? If I am not getting my stories muddled (which frequently happens). I will investigate, because I want to know now.

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