My thoughts on ‘My man Jeeves’ by P. G. Wodehouse

Every good series starts somewhere, and ‘My man Jeeves’ can be considered as representing the start for Jeeves and Wooster. I say considered because actually the included stories had all been published in magazines well before the book was compiled. And, like many beginnings, they don’t quite match up to what the series was to become.
My introduction to Jeeves and Wooster was the Fry and Lorry TV adaptation. I enjoyed it, but even so I don’t think I’d have ever started to read the books if it hadn’t been for the poultry selection of audio books from my local library at the time. I took home ‘Joy in the morning’, one of the later full length stories read by Jonathan Cecil, for no other reason than to give me something to listen to while I avoided my university studies.
It took me totally by surprise. I hadn’t laughed that much since the first time I’d listened to Andrew Sachs reading Tom Sharpe’s Wilt. Not only was I hooked, but Jonathan Cecil became synonymous with the voice of Bertie Wooster for me from that day on. In the intervening years I’ve listened to him read almost all of the Jeeves stories, picking them up whenever and wherever I could.
The major downside of this approach has been that I’ve never actually read them in the order in which they were published. In one sense that doesn’t matter. But I’ve decided to do it anyway because I think it will give me a real flavour of how the series, and the author himself, developed over an incredible writing career that continued through most of the turbulent upheavals of the twentieth century. It’s also an excuse to revisit something that has given me a huge amount of joy over the years in lieu of actually doing any real work — not that I’ve ever needed one before.
So, as I said, the first book in the series was ‘My man Jeeves’. Better still, the Jonathan Cecil version is, at the time of writing, included free with Audible membership in the UK. Published in 1919, it contained eight stories, four of which were Jeeves stories and four of which were Reggie Pepper stories. Since the Jeeves stories in the collection were all revised and reprinted a few years later in ‘Carry on Jeeves’ and several of the Reggie Pepper stories were rewritten later as Jeeves stories the question arises whether it is worth bothering with the book at all.
In answer, I would say that though the Jeeves stories were revised later, they were very definitely Jeeves stories, and recognisable as such. What’s more, I’m pretty sure that this wasn’t the first Jeeves book that Jonathan Cecil narrated. His delivery was perfect, and the characters came alive just as they always do.
The Reggie Pepper stories were less enjoyable, but mainly because I couldn’t get passed the sense that I was listening to mangled Jeeves stories (even though, in fact, it was the other way round). Cecil’s reading of them was good enough, though they lacked the spark that he brings to Jeeves stories.
All in all, the book was an interesting listen, representing, as it did, the inception of a great series. That being said, I doubt I will ever listen to it again, and absolutely would not recommend it as an introduction to Jeeves and Wooster for anyone coming new to Wodehouse’s work. The book shows that Wodehouse had hit on a formula, but it doesn’t do justice to a series that is still absolutely hilarious a century after it was written.
Definitely one for the scholars and the avid fans.