- Hardcover: 682 pages
- Publisher: Avenel Books (1983)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0517405385
- ISBN-13: 978-0517405383
- Product Dimensions: 1.8 x 6.8 x 9.8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds
- Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #162,121 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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P.G. Wodehouse : Five Complete Novels (The Return of Jeeves, Bertie Wooster Sees It Through, Spring Fever, The Butler Did It, The Old Reliable) Hardcover – November 15, 1995
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The novels are set in post-World War II England, and as such they reflect those dispiriting times. The great mansions are in ruin from confiscatory taxation, TV distracts the intellect, Hollywood (not the London theater) dominates popular entertainment, and a loyal butler like Jeeves is clearly a holdover from a different era in which his employers were not, relatively speaking, impoverished.
Wodehouse's fans (of which there are many, both in the UK and the USA) will probably want to read these novels anyway. But if you are contemplating your first exposure to Wodehouse, I'd recommend instead any of his "classic" Bertie-and-Jeeves novels from the 1920s, when social class, punctilio, pith, dry wit and a plenitude of household help for the rich were integral elements of this type of humor. CARRY ON, JEEVES! happens to be my favorite, but there are plenty of other wonderful reads from this era.
Imagine the surprise that many P.G. Wodehouse fans have when they open The Butler Did It and find that the butler in question is a Mr. Augustus Keggs, the English butler for one J.J. Bunyan, an American multimillionaire. But this Keggs is a worthy character who fans of Jeeves will find to be very rewarding.
The book has one of the most intriguing plots in all of the Wodehouse novels. As the story opens, it is the night of September tenth, 1929, just before the collapse of the American stock market. Bunyan is entertaining a group of bored millionaires who are having a hard time deciding how to spend the money they are raking in. Among his guests is Mortimer Bayliss, his art curator, who cannot help but want to stir up the philistines. Bayliss proposes that the men each put up $50,000 with the proceeds of the tontine to go to the last of their sons to marry. Naturally, they have to keep the whole matter a secret or deny themselves the possibility of ever having grandchildren.
The book then glides forward in time to the mid 1950s in England as the end game of the tontine arrives. Mr. Keggs is a fellow tenant with Lord Uffenham (who has fallen on hard times), whom he formerly served as a butler, and his niece, Jane Benedick. Mr. Kegg's own niece, Emma, is engaged to marry Roscoe Bunyan, son of the late J.J. Bunyan, of the tontine. Like the wise and omniscient butler he is, Mr. Keggs had recorded the conversation that night and knows all about the tontine. The tontine is down to Roscoe and one other. Mr. Keggs decides that the time has come to intercede.
Jane is engaged to one Stanhope Twine, a hopeless sculptor, but the two cannot marry because Twine hasn't the funds. Mr. Keggs suggests to Roscoe that Twine is the other member of the tontine, and that Twine will marry in a heartbeat if he can get hold of some money. Keggs suggests that Roscoe buy a percentage of Twine's future earnings in exchange for a payment now. Keggs naturally hopes to be well paid for his advice, and is thoroughly annoyed when Roscoe only gives him fifty pounds for information about a tontine payment of over a million dollars.
Here's where the plot begins to unravel. Twine takes the money and jilts Jane. Roscoe jilts Emma, and Cupid is not exactly being served.
But Keggs has been playing a game. Twine isn't really in on the tontine.
Next, Keggs sells the information to Roscoe for $100,000. Roscoe doesn't want to pay and hires a detective to get back the agreement as well as Roscoe's letters to Emma.
In the meantime, Bill Hollister falls head over heels for Jane and she for him . . . having known each other as children. Bill Hollister's name really is in the tontine, and Mr. Keggs has to try to sort out all of the romances and the money. Ultimately, he succeeds . . . but in a way that no reader could hope to anticipate. It's a marvelously funny story with great plot complications.
To my way of thinking, The Butler Did It is one of the five best P.G. Wodehouse books I have read.
Capital! Capital! Capital!
Towards the end of his career, P.G. Wodehouse found himself charmed by the idea of reprising the characters who and plot lines that provided the greatest triumphs in his earlier books. Bertie Wooster Sees It Through is a worthy sequel of that sort.
In the earlier book, you may remember that Stilton Cheesewright and Bertie Wooster had been schoolmates in preparatory school, at Eton and at Oxford. Stilton chose to become a policeman and his career led him to become very serious and strict in his outlook, so that Bertie thinks of him as "that blighter Stilton." Love transformed his life when he fell for the writer, Florence Craye. But Florence is also apt to respond well to Bertie, and Stilton takes that personally. When we last saw them, Florence and Stilton were engaged.
In this story, Bertie's Aunt Dahlia enlists him to come to her country home, Brinkley Court, to help her entertain a family by the name of Trotter. The assignment seems to be off to a rocky start, however, when the Trotters' stepson, Percy Gorringe, calls Bertie to hit him up for 1,000 pounds. That seems like too much entertaining and Bertie declines.
In the meantime, Bertie has started growing a mustache and Jeeves doesn't approve. In fact, no one else does either . . . except Florence Craye. That enrages an already touchy Stilton, who fears that Bertie is trying to steal Florence. Soon, Stilton is also sporting the hairy stuff on his upper lip. To make matters worse, Stilton has a large stake on Bertie in the Drones Club dart championship and decides that Bertie should starting keeping regular hours and keep off the sauce. And that's just why Bertie doesn't want to have anything to do with Florence, she's not only brainy . . . she also likes to improve her men. And Bertie likes himself just the way he is.
Stilton is also the jealous type and quickly turns suspicious when Bertie is picked up after a raid on a late-night bistro where Bertie had taken Florence at her request to do some research on local color.
But Aunt Dahlia has an even more serious problem. She has pawned her new necklace to buy the serial rights to a new story, and her husband, Uncle Tom, is about to have it appraised. She has been hiding the fact by wearing cultured pearls instead, but is about to be caught. Naturally, she decides to have Bertie steal the cultured pearls. And equally naturally, that proves to be more difficult than anyone can imagine and with unexpected consequences. And so the country farce begins!
Bertie Wooster Sees It Through has that nice combination of serious pending threats, irrational fears and hopes, and muddle-headedness that makes for such good social comedy. Like all of the best P.G. Wodehouse books, the language sparkles with original similes, metaphors and allusions.
Jolly good show!
But, dash it, they are Wodehouse and show an important part of his personality and the personality of his wonderful characters. Imagine a Jeeves-on-loan! Brilliant! It proves that Jeeves isn't only Jeeves at Bertie's side.
By the way, isn't "Bill" Shannon (aka, "The Old Reliable") an lovely example of the modern, liberated woman! "The Butler Did It" also takes a deserved, but painless, whack at modern art.
Don't let preconceptions tarnish what could well be "five of the best" from the master.
I enjoyed them immensely.