Tuesday, December 25, 2007

A Wodehouse a Week Christmas Special: "Jeeves and the Yule-Tide Spirit"

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Happy Christmas! Yesterday evening I was about to tell you how Jeeves and Bertie Wooster spend their Christmas, when I had to rush off to bed to avoid Santa seeing that I was still up. Well, now suitable hopped up on turkey, pumpkin pie, and plenty of cranberry sauce, all foodstuff that traditionally helps you stay awake late at night, let's look in on Jeeves's jubilee of the holiday season by reading the story "Jeeves and the Yule-Tide Spirit" (1927), out of the book Very Good, Jeeves! that I was discussing yesterday.

The curtain rises on the morning of December 16, but the Hon. Bertram Wilberforce Wooster isn't celebrating Beethoven's birthday. To the dismay of Jeeves, he's accepted an invite to spend Christmas at the country estate of Skeldings, the old manse of Lady Wickham, a friend of Bertie's Aunt Agatha (she who howls at the moon and chews on broken bottles, according to Bertie.) Abandoning the original plan to spend Christmas at Monte Carlo becomes a polite but sore point between Jeeves and Bertie—Jeeves always fancies a turn at the tables (as well he ought with his enormous brain). Bertie holds firm even when he discovers that one of the guests will be Sir Roderick Glossop, the noted looney-doctor and specialist on all matters psychiatric. He's also no friend of Bertie (having diagnosed him as a lunatic during the events of The Inimitable Jeeves), but Bertie holds firm for two reasons. First, simply to exert his authority over Jeeves (and he really, really ought to know better by this point):
'...now that there has been a change of programme the iron has entered into your soul.'

'Not at all, sir.'

'Oh yes it has. I've seen it. Very well then, what I wish to impress upon you, Jeeves, is that I have not been actuated in this matter by any mere idle whim. It was through no light and airy caprice that I accepted this invitation to Lady Wickham's. I have been angling for it for weeks, prompted by many considerations. In the first place, does one get the Yule-tide spirit at a spot like Monte Carlo?'

'Does one desire the Yule-tide spirit, sir?'
Why yes, in fact, Bertie rather does. More to the point, he desires Miss Bobbie Wickham, the red-headed daughter of Lady Wickham. This, naturally, sets off the alarm bells in Jeeves's unparalleled grey matter. It's always in his best interests to keep his master single—the addition of a lady of the house could seriously challenge his authority in the Wooster home.
'Jeeves,' I said coldly, 'if you have anything to say against the lady, it had better not be in my presence.'

'Very good, sir.'

'Or anywhere else, for that matter. What is your kick against Miss Wickham?'

'Oh, really, sir!'

'Jeeves, I insist. This is a time for plain speaking. You have beefed about Miss Wickham. I wish to know why.'

'It merely crossed my mind, sir, that for a gentlemen of your description Miss Wickham is not a suitable mate.'
Jeeves goes on to warn of the dangers of marrying a red-headed girl. This naturally doesn't sit well with Wooster:
'Red hair, sir, in my opinion, is dangerous.'

I eyed the blighter squarely.

'Jeeves,' I said, 'you're talking rot.'

'Very good, sir.'

'Absolute drivel.'

'Very good, sir.'

'Pure mashed potatoes.'

'Very good, sir.'

'Very good, sir—I mean, very good, Jeeves, that will be all,' I said.

And I drank a modicum of tea, with a good deal of hauteur.
Mmmmm, pure mashed potatoes. That reminds me...

(trots off to the kitchen to heat up some leftovers)

Also present at the Christmas bash is Drone Club member Tuppy Glossop, Sir Roderick's nephew and perpetrator of one of the most renowned practical jokes in the Wodehouse canon: Tuppy once challenged Bertie, to swing in full evening dress over the Drones Club swimming pool on a series of rings on ropes suspended from the ceiling. Bertie undertook this dare with enthusiasm only to discover that Tuppy had looped the final rope back so that Bertie couldn't reach it, giving him no choice but to drop into the pool fully clothed. (I imagine Jeeves was not well chuffed when Bertie came home that night!) Ever since then Bertie has been looking for a way to revenge himself on Tuppy. Once everyone arrives at chez Wickham, Bobbie Wickham has a sneaky suggestion for Bertie: like she used to do at her girl's school, Bertie should puncture, using a knitting-needle on a stick, Tuppy's hot-water bottle, soaking the bed as he sleeps. Jeeves tells Bertie which bedroom Tuppy is staying in and Bertie sneaks off to perform the drenching deed. The perfect crime!

That is, if Tuppy and his uncle Sir Roderick hadn't changed bedrooms, leaving Bertie to be discovered puncturing the eminent psychologist and number one Wooster-basher's water-bottle in the wee hours of Christmas morning:
The next that that happened was a bit of a lull in the proceedings. For about three and a quarter seconds or possibly more we just stood there, drinking each other in, so to speak, the old boy still attached with a limpet-like grip to my elbow. If I hadn't been in a dressing gown and he in pink pyjamas with a blue stripe, and it he hadn't been glaring quite so much as if he were shortly going to commit a murder, the tableau would have looked rather like one of those advertisements you see in the magazines, where the experienced elder is patting the young man's arm, and saying to him, 'My boy, if you subscribe to the Mutt-Jeff Correspondence School of Oswego, Kan., as I did, you may some day, like me, become Third Assistant Vice-President of the Schenectady Consolidated Nail-File and Eyebrow Tweezer Corporation.'

'You!" said Sir Roderick finally. And in this connexion I want to state that it's all rot to say you can't hiss a word that hasn't an 's' in it. The way he pushed out that 'You!' sounded like an angry cobra, and I am betraying no secrets when I mention that it did me no good whatsoever.
Glossop angrily demands that Bertie now swap rooms with him so that he (Glossop) might have a dry bed while he (Bertie) be left to the sopping-wet one, while meanwhile he (Glossop) explains that he (Bertie) ought to have known what room he was in because he (Glossop) earlier told Jeeves (Jeeves). Armed with that puzzling knowledge Bertie spends the night crouched in the armchair, stewing over Jeeves's betrayal.
I could swear I hadn't so much as dozed off for even a minute, but apparently I had. For the curtains were drawn back and daylight was coming in through the window and there was Jeeves standing beside me with a cup of tea on a tray.

'Merry Christmas, sir!'
Like a detective rounding up the usual suspects in the drawing room during the final act, Jeeves explains it all for you: although he knew well that Sir Roderick had swapped rooms with young Tuppy, his actions were above reproach: to keep Sir Roderick as cold as possible towards person Wooster to avoid a reconciliation with Glossop's daughter Honoria, Bertie's ex- fiancée. A cup of hot tea helps Bertie see the point on that: having once been affianced with the sporty, braying Honoria, Bertie has no wish to do so again. And besides, he's enamored of red-headed Bobbie Wickham. Another bad choice, sir, Jeeves diplomatically points out, outlining Bobbie's mischievous nature and love of practical jokes—she set up both Bertie and Tuppy by suggesting each sneak to the other's room puncture the other's hot water bottle.

Which, of course, if you have been following the shuffle of guests and rooms, means that since Sir Roderick moved to Bertie's room, Tuppy punctured Sir Roderick's water bottle for the second time that night.

Such a betrayal at the hands of the red-headed practical joker cools Bertie's amorous heart. More pressing, of course, is the matter of the enraged Sir Roderick, twice soaked on that Christmas morning,
'You've seen Sir Roderick this morning, then?'

'Yes, sir.'

'How did he seem?'

'A trifle feverish, sir.'

'Feverish?'

'A little emotional, sir. He expressed a strong desire to meet you, sir.'
That is, as is often in a Bertie Wooster story, the cue to pack the bags quick and make a dash out the back door to the car without pausing to say farewells. Good-bye to all that at Skeldings, but where to go? The no-doubt enraged-once-she-hears-of-the-Christmas-proceedings Aunt Agatha is in London, so there's no safety at home. As usual, of course, Jeeves has the perfect solution:
'I think the best plan, sir, would be for you to leave England, which is not pleasant at this time of the year, for some little while. I would not take the liberty of dictating your movements, sir, but as you already have accommodation engaged on the Blue Train for Monte Carlo for the day after to-morrow—'

'But you cancelled the booking?'

'No, sir.'

'I thought you had.'

'No, sir.'

'I told you to.'

'Yes, sir. It was remiss of me, but the matter slipped my mind.'

'Oh?'

'Yes, sir.'

'All right, Jeeves. Monte Carlo ho, then.'

'Very good, sir.'
And a very Merry Christmas to Jeeves and Bertie as we watch them scurrying out to dash away unseen for the continent on an English Christmas morning. I do hope they had time later for a plum pudding or a bit of Christmas goose, but I'm sure they would both settle for a whisky-and-soda.

You can't buy 'Jeeves and the Yule-Tide Spirit' separately (the image shown in my header is something I mocked up in PhotoShop), but you can find it in Very Good, Jeeves, the subject of last night's A Wodehouse a Week. As far as I can tell Plum only wrote two Christmas stories (and I'm saving the second one for next year), so this is a rare treat to combine two very special things: my favorite holiday and my favorite author. May we all have as cheering a holiday as I'm sure Bertie and Jeeves eventually had, wherever you may be, even basking in the casinos and clubs of Monte Carlo. Happy Christmas, everyone.

A Wodehouse a Week Index.


3 comments:

Phillip said...

And a delicious Plum pudding it was! Thanks, Bully, and Merry Christmas!

Ian said...

Merry Christmas to you and your charming sister, Bully!

Depending on how your define "Christmas stories" there are at least two others and perhaps as many as four. 'Jeeves and the Greasy Bird' and 'Another Christmas Carol' both appeared first in 'Playboy' magazine!

Of an earlier vintage, the climax of the golf story "Sundered Hearts" takes place on Christmas Eve although the story really isn't a Christmas story as such. Similarly the Jeeves-and-Wooster story "The Metropolitan Touch" really isn't a Christmas story but the climax takes place at the Village School Christmas Entertainment produced by Bingo Little at the village hall.

Ian

Uinni said...

Hello!
Found your post very interesting! Thanks.
I'm writing my bachelor paper now about Wodehouse's translations into Russian of this story "Jeeves and the Yule-Tide Spirit". Tried to find it on the Internet or buy it, but they do not deliver to Russia=( Is it possible to have a scanned copy from you? I can pay by Paypal. I really need this copy for my research.
Thank you! Waiting for you answer!