Friday, December 14, 2012

Christmas With Jeeves

I don't think that P.G. Wodehouse was the biggest fan of Christmas. First of all, there is the comic essay he wrote for Vanity Fair in 1915, in which he skewers the whole tradition of gift-giving. (I love the cynical modern child at the end of the essay who sneers at his Christmas present -- a silver cigarette case -- and then languidly re-gifts it to his manservant.) And then there are all the lines in Wodehouse stories referring to Christmas as an annoyance, like this one from "Jeeves and the Greasy Bird:"

"Jeeves was in the sitting-room messing about with holly, for we would soon be having Christmas at our throats and he is always a stickler for doing the right thing."

But in spite of that, I think that the Wodehouse story "Jeeves and the Yule-tide Spirit," from Very Good, Jeeves, is the perfect lighthearted Christmas read.

This is the story in which Bertie Wooster falls in love with Bobbie Wickham, and he cancels his holiday trip to Monte Carlo so that he can spend Christmas with her family. He defends his choice to a disappointed Jeeves:

"'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?'
'Certainly one does. I am all for it.'"

One might expect this Christmas to turn into a traditional Dickensian holiday. Christmas with friends at their country house -- that's exactly like the Christmas scene in The Pickwick Papers. But Wodehouse redefines the Yule-tide spirit in this story, and it ends up not being Dickensian in the slightest. Wodehouse's Yule-tide spirit isn't the feeling of goodwill and merriment that you get in The Pickwick Papers; it's more like a high-spirited sense of mischief. Traditional Christmas activities like carol-singing and dancing recede into the background, and instead everyone in the story focuses on playing practical jokes on each other. It all culminates in the kind of Christmas morning that only Bertie Wooster would have:

"I could have sworn 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!'
I reached out a feeble hand for the restoring brew. I swallowed a mouthful or two, and felt a little better. I was aching in every limb and the dome felt like lead, but I was now able to think with a certain amount of clearness, and I fixed the man with a stony eye and prepared to let him have it.
'You think so, do you?' I said. 'Much, let me tell you, depends on what you mean by the adjective 'merry.''"


  1. Poor Jeeves never manages to get to the French Riviera as often as he'd like. I've often thought his hangover cure might come in useful (surprised that he is only offering tea here!).

  2. When I saw your post title, I immediately started trying to think of a Christmas story (this is such an addictive game) - but I don't remember this one, since the stories tend to blur together a bit in my mind. I'll go look for this one as soon as I've read the Vanity Fair article.

    and Vicki, do you think the tea (instead of the cure) was a rebuke for not being on the Riviera?

  3. Thanks, Thayr!

    Vicki and Lisa May, I never realized before writing this post how often Wodehouse uses the "Jeeves wakes up Bertie on the morning after" scene. In this story it's the same scene as usual, except that Bertie's not hung over. He's just had a very difficult night.