Jeeves And The Yule-Tide Spirit by P.G. Wodehouse, 1927
The magic trick:
Manipulating the first-person narration to manage suspense and a surprise ending
We start a 25-day advent calendar of Christmas stories on SSMT with one of my all-time favorites.
Good ol’ Bertie Wooster is not exactly the smartest fellow. But even he knows what happens in this story. After all, he is the narrator and he is telling the story in the past tense. However, Wodehouse is very clever in how he uses Bertie to tell these Jeeves stories – this one in particular.
The humor is dependent on Jeeves manipulating the action, which of course means manipulating Bertie. This can create a problem in the unfolding of the story, however, given that, as mentioned, Bertie is telling the story in the past tense. That means Bertie has to be ignorant all over again – probably not all that difficult for him – as he tells the story. Otherwise, the reader would know the ending at the beginning, thus killing any suspense and comedy.
Perhaps I’m overanalyzing such a hilariously funny story. The story is funny because it’s funny and we should enjoy it for its funniness and move along on our way to a lovely holiday season. Probably, yes, this is true.
I do, though, think it’s important to note just how clever Wodehouse is. It’s not just his brilliant way with words. The plotting of this story is outstanding, and Bertie, almost in spite of himself, is one hell of a storyteller. And that’s quite a trick on Wodehouse’s part.
“Jeeves,” I said, all of a twitter, “Do you know what? Sir Roderick Glossop is going to be at Lady Wickham’s.”
“Very good, sir. If you have finished breakfast, I will clear away.”
Cold and haughty. No symp. None of the rallying-round spirit which one likes to see. As I had anticipated, the information that we were not going to Monte Carlo had got in amongst him. There is a keen sporting streak in Jeeves, and I knew he had been looking forward to a little flutter at the tables.
We Woosters can wear the mask. I ignored his lack of decent feeling.
“Do so, Jeeves,” I said proudly, “and with all convenient speed.”