Posts Tagged ‘Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit’

Old geezer re-reading

In 1954 P.G. Wodehouse published another novel. Well, why wouldn’t he? He was only 73, and the novel that he wrote – Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit – was only (by some accounting) his seventy-second book and only the seventh full-length Jeeves-and-Wooster story. (There had been many more short stories, and there were to be four more J-and-W novels before he died in 1975.) And as my illustration shows, I read this story in its recent Everyman hardback incarnation – a delight. Nice cover, nice design, nice typeface.

I’ve been enjoying Wodehouse’s work, especially the Jeeves and Wooster stories, for over 50 years myself, so it was no hardship to go back to this novel for the online #1954Club. Or was I not going back, but rather reading it for the first time? It’s difficult to be sure, for Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit (hereinafter JATFS) contains almost…

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‘Oh, I say, did you say Wodehouse helped you lose weight?’


‘Wodehouse as in P.G.?


‘The writer or the dietician?’

‘The writer, you ass! He invented the Swedish Exercises, you know. And the Larsen E.’

‘And you did them?’

‘No, I just read about them.’

A couple of years back, I went to a new doctor with my annual health check-up reports. Again, all the results seemed fine. I was eating healthy, staying active, walking twice a day. Balancing the halo on my head, I flashed a smile at him. 

“You need to lose about 15 kg,” he said. “Put in more exercise.”

“But Doctor, I doubt I can do more than this. I’ve had multiple fractures on both my legs some years back.”

Like most normal people, this is when he should have said, ‘What!’ and I would have told him about my near-fatal road accident in an unquivering voice. But he did not raise an eyebrow. “Too long ago. You better get serious about exercise and consult a nutritionist if you want to stay fit.”

Some bedside manner, humph!

But not one to bear grudges, I moved on. I would look up some Swedish Exercises, I thought, having caught a page of Something New while sitting in the waiting room earlier. But, of course, I’m always equipped with a Wodehouse—one never knows when one may need a smile. 

In this first Blandings Castle book, the hero Ashe Marson is a strapping young man who does the Larsen Exercises in the open, unmindful of the audience, till one day, just as he ‘unscrambled himself and resumed a normal posture’, the heroine of the book bursts into musical laughter. Like the rest of ‘Plum’ Wodehouse’s work, this has been a balm to my throbbing head and broken bones. Wodehouse is mild sunshine on a cold day, cool breeze on a hot day, and a gentle sprinkling of life lessons every day.  More importantly, however, it proved to be an inspiration. 

Many of Wodehouse’s novels mention the Swedish Exercises. But somehow, till that minute in the doctor’s waiting room, I hadn’t thought of them as an exercise that I could do. Or should do. Yes, imagining his characters twisting and turning always makes me smile. This bit from Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit has me in splits every time I read it.Bertie Wooster, against whose name there are 11 pages of incriminating matter in the Junior Ganymede Club register, asks Jeeves if there is anything there about fellow Drones Club member Stilton Cheesewright. 


A certain amount, sir.

Not in the real sense of the word, sir. His personal attendant merely reports that he has a habit when moved of saying Ho! and does Swedish exercises in the nude each morning before breakfast.

In his book Over Seventy (1957), Wodehouse reveals that he did his “getting-up exercises before breakfast, as I have been doing since 1919 without missing a day.” He published over ninety books, hundreds of short stories, wrote or collaborated on at least 14 Broadway musicals, and died at the age of 93 while sitting in his armchair, going through a three-fourths-complete typescript of his last book, Sunset at Blandings

Apart from the fact that he had immense talent and wrote at least 1000 words every day, I’ve often wondered what could account for such prolific work. He and his wife always had dogs and cats and even guinea hens around them that served as stress-busters? That, like Bertie Wooster, he never harboured any ill will towards anyone? By his own admission, that he had a case of infantilism and never developed mentally at all beyond his last year in school? That he exercised every day? 

Bingo! E-V-E-R-Y-D-A-Y! His fictional exercises are believed to have been inspired by the regime invented by the Swede Pehr Henrik Ling or by that of Lieutenant Muller of the Danish Army. But in real life, Wodehouse followed a set of light exercises called the Daily Dozen, which Walter Camp invented and published in Collier’s magazine. He did it every day. 

My visit to the nutritionist confirmed that every day was the magic word. She reviewed my diet and lifestyle and said only a few tweaks were needed to make them work for me. Instead of doing a bit of yoga in fits and starts, I started going up to the terrace to do yoga – not Swedish exercises – for half an hour every day at sunrise. Like magic, I lost over 12 kg in seven months. When I diluted the ‘everyday’ regime earlier this year, the needle started swaying the other way. I think I’ll need to begin reading Wodehouse every day again – no, not to follow his Swedish Exercises, but to exercise – any kind of physical exercise – every single day! 

(Mala Kumar is a writer and editor who keeps her insanity intact by talking to kids, dogs, cats and plants.Her permission to reproduce it here is gratefully acknowledged.)

(This article first popped up on ‘livemint/lounge’; the original can be accessed at: https://lifestyle.livemint.com/health/wellness/how-wodehouse-inspired-me-to-lose-weight.)

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Robert Pimm: novels, short stories and more

I have written several times in these chronicles of my slow-burn devotion to the works of P G Wodehouse, including my induction (How to read P G Wodehouse: a practical guide), drawing on the excellent advice of fellow WordPress blogger and Wodehouse specialist Plumtopia – strongly recommended for all things Jeeves and Wooster and beyond.

Hence my concern, bordering on panic, at my initial perception that “Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit” was not quite such a pearl of the Wodehouse canon as, say, the wondrous Thank you, Jeeves.  Bertie Wooster’s early decision to grow a moustache, to the disapproval of Jeeves, felt a little familiar as a plot device.  The plot of the first half of the book meandered – well, I am reminded of Bertie’s description of Daphne Dolores Morehead on her first appearance in the novel as having “a figure as full of curves…

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All diehard fans of P G Wodehouse are well aware that when Jeeves takes charge, things begin to happen. When PGW HughLaurie-BertieWoostermatters spin out of control and Bertie is twiddling his thumbs trying to figure out how to handle the harsh slings and arrows of life, Jeeves invariably comes to his rescue. With his eyes gleaming with intelligence and the head bulging out at the back, Jeeves is there to provide solace to his master. All others who repose their trust in his superior problem-solving abilities merely need to leave matters in his deft hands and positive results start showing up. More often than not, anyone who comes to depend upon him is concerned if he is eating enough fish those days. And no one really minds being a mere pawn in his hands because he delivers solid results.

How does Jeeves really pull it off? Here are some of the problem-solving techniques one can learn from the inimitable and incomparable Master Problem Solver.

The Psychology of the Individual

This is a recurring theme and the cornerstone of Jeeves’ policies and prescriptions. The root cause of all troubles is the absence of an in-depth understanding of the motivating forces governing the actions of an individual. Once this is properly addressed, results are sure to follow.

To quote only one example, we have the case of Esmond Haddock in The Mating Season. He is a man of retiring PGW MatingSeasondisposition and suffers from an inferiority complex. He quivers like a jelly fish when facing any of his several aunts. Just before he is set to perform at a concert, Bertie and Jeeves manage to let him have an intoxicating intake of the old fluid. Also, Jeeves manages to buy out some captive audience which goes on to cheer him with gay abandon. The result is a Haddock who is buoyed by his spectacular success in a public forum. He sheds all his meekness and promptly proceeds to propose to Corky, the love of his life. He then manages to tick off his aunts Daphne, Emmeline, Charlotte, Harriet and Myrtle, even going to the extent of blaming them for insubordination. As a Justice of Peace, he restrains Constable Dobbs from putting his would-be brother-in-law in the jail for a month.

Ask a business leader and he might just shrug his shoulders and say, ‘What ho!’ Well, the message here is very clear – if you have a silent and submissive type of a person in your team, ensure that you take necessary steps to draw him out. For all you know, he could have some very good ideas which could boost the team’s performance manifold.

Handling employees at all levels, conveying negative news to a team member, managing a customer grievance – in all situations, it helps to have a prior understanding of the psychology of an individual.

Meeting the Boss Half-way

Jeeves is invariably proactive. When it comes to extending the helping hand to a master in distress, he takes immediate steps through proper channels to provide succor to the poor lamb. Sometimes it is the liquor which does the trick. At times, either a hearty breakfast or one of his pick-me-ups brings home the bacon. In most cases, help comes in even before Bertie has asked for it. In some cases, it involves Jeeves painting Bertie in rather unflattering colors to those around!

Consider the memoirs titled as Jeeves in the Offing. Jeeves has gone off on a vacation and Bertie has landed up at PGW JeevesInTheOffingBrinkley Court. He looks forward to enjoying the hospitality of his Aunt Dahlia, not to mention the exotic dishes whipped up by Anatole – God’s gift to the gastric juices. However, the joy is short-lived as he is surrounded by the likes of a potty ex-fiancée Bobbie Wickham, Mrs. Cream the crime writer, his favorite brain specialist Sir Roderick Glossop and his ex-headmaster Aubrey Upjohn. A tax-saving lucrative deal of Uncle Tom is at stake and a silver cow creamer has gone missing.

Jeeves returns and Bertie gets extricated from the imbroglio he has gotten himself into. Yes, there is a flip side. All concerned have to be first convinced – by Jeeves, who else – that Bertie is off his rocker and a kleptomaniac. With Bertie taking the rap for having stolen the silver cow creamer, everything else falls into place. Uncle Tom’s deal comes through.

Eventually, Bertie’s frayed nerves are soothed by the fact that he has sacrificed himself in the interests of his uncle. And, yes, there are always cocktails at hand to help!

Here is an important lesson for all professionals – meet the boss half-way through. Plan and offer help even before he himself asks for it. Your career is bound to go places.

Keep Trying till you Succeed

In Ring for Jeeves, to clear a financial obligation, the ninth Earl of Rowcester, Bill, is persuaded to purloin aPGW RingForJeeves diamond pendant from the persona of Mrs. Spottsworth, who is not only a guest but also a potential buyer of Rowcester Abbey. The first attempt, by using a ‘spider sequence’, results into the pendant instead finding its way into the recesses of the lady’s costume. A Charleston dance is then arranged, with the fond hope that the pendant gets dislodged from the lady’s costume and can then be retrieved unnoticed from the floor. This too fails.

A third attempt is then made. The lady is interested in psychical research and is keen on seeing Lady Agatha’s ghost. Jeeves offers to lure her away in the dead of night, claiming that the ghost has indeed made an appearance in the castle on the grounds, whereupon Bill enters her bedroom and secures the pendant. Mission accomplished.

There are times when difficulties sound insurmountable. Repeated failures bog us down. But with Jeeves egging us on with newer schemes, can success be far behind?

An Out-of-box Approach

When the situation becomes too hot to handle for the master, Jeeves does not shy away from recommending a tactical retreat. In some cases, a quiet escape merely amounts to a drive back to London from a stately estate out in the hinterland (Joy in the Morning, The Mating Season, etc). In ‘The Artistic Career of Corky’, as also elsewhere, when faced by the impending wrath of a formidable Aunt Agatha, a voyage across the Atlantic helps Bertie Wooster to earn mental reprieve.

To Jeeves, ends are more important than the means. However, he eventually delivers solace and comfort to his boss, PGW ThankYouJeeveswho continues to live his idle bachelor life without an interruption.

In Thank You, Jeeves, Bertie Wooster is finally persuaded to impersonate the loony doctor Sir Roderick Glossop and to appear as an accused in a case in which he is not even remotely at fault. The result is that a real estate deal gets firmed up between Pop Stoker and Chuffy; also, a wedding gets finalized between Chuffy and Pauline Stoker. In turn, this releases Bertie from the obligation of getting married to Pauline. All this happens because Jeeves quietly manages to secure a telegram from USA indicating that the late Mr. Stoker’s will is getting contested, thus leading to reconciliation between Pop Stoker and Sir Roderick.

A Feudal Outlook

Throughout the memoirs of Bertie, Jeeves displays an abiding commitment to his master.

In Ring for Jeeves, the gentleman of gentlemen is temporarily assisting Bill. Eventually, a letter comes in from Bertie that even though he had won a prize at sock darning, it was found that he had used an old woman to do the work. The scandal has affected him deeply and Jeeves feels that his place is by the side of his master. He therefore declines a generous offer of employment by Bill.

Consider Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves. Suspected of stealing a statuette from the collection of Pop Bassett, the youngPGW StiffUpperLip master is cooling his heels in a police bin. Jeeves has a job offer from Sir Watkyn Bassett. Jeeves accepts the offer on the condition that the latter refrains from pressing the charges, thereby securing freedom for Bertie. When Jeeves shares the news with Bertie, he can hardly believe his ears. Jeeves clears the mystery thus:

‘I think it more than possible that after perhaps a week or so, differences will arise between Sir Watkyn and myself, compelling me to resign my position. In that event, if you are not already suited, sir, I shall be most happy to return to your employment.’

Senior managers at all levels fervently wish to have many such committed team members supporting them!

Breaking the Eggs to Make an Omelette

In Right Ho, Jeeves, Gussie Fink-Nottle – a teetotaler – ends up distributing prizes at Market Snodsbury Grammar PGW RightHoJeevesSchool after getting duly sozzled up. With so much of the right stuff sloshing about within him, he comes up with a highly comic performance. Unfortunately, his betrothed, Madeline Bassett, takes a rather dim view of the whole affair and ends up putting him on notice. On the rebound, she ends up hitching her lot with the hapless Bertie who is now stuck with the prospect of a saunter down the aisle with the goofy lady who thinks stars are god’s daisy chain.

Jeeves makes Bertie ring the fire alarm bell at the stroke of midnight hour, leaving the entire family out in the cold, apparently locked out of the living quarters of Brinkley Court. All of them are upset with Bertie who is then made to fetch the house keys by means of a futile eighteen-mile midnight ride on a bicycle without a lamp. Meanwhile, various members of the group start ironing out their respective differences. Even Gussie and Madeline reunite, thereby getting Bertie off the hook.

The dialogue at the end of the ordeal says it all:

Bertie: ‘I suppose you might say that all is well that ends well’.

Jeeves: ‘Very apt, sir’.

Bertie: ‘All the same, your methods are a bit rough, Jeeves’.

Jeeves: ‘One cannot make an omelette without breaking eggs, sir’.

The message is that when you wish to unite a team the members of which do not see eye to eye, bring in a person who can become the center of common animosity and see how quickly the team becomes united once again.

A logical extension is that mention a grandiose vision to your team members and see how charged up they get about doing their own bit to achieve solid results.

Extensive Knowledge Helps

In Ring for Jeeves, Sir Roderick Carmoyle and his wife Monica Rory consult Jeeves on the matter of choosing a favorite for the upcoming Derby. They are baffled at the depth of knowledge Jeeves possesses about the chances of various horses competing for the top slot at the Derby. He manages to quote names, lineage, timings and quite a few other details of various contestants, leaving both of them dazzled.

In Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, the inimitable valet comes up with a lucid explanation of holding a much coveted PGW JeevesAndTheFeudalSpiritpearl necklace to be a poor intimation. The result is two-fold: an otherwise meek husband L G Trotter ends up dominating his aggressive better half; Ma Trotter’s brother ends up confessing his having pawned the real necklace to raise funds for a play written by the love of his life, Florence Craye, who loses no time in accepting him as a soul mate. In turn, this leads to Bertie being relieved from the life-long prospect of having to read and memorize intellectual stuff like that of Spinoza and company.

Poems, quotations, literary quips and an extensive knowledge of diverse affairs are some of the unique qualities of Jeeves. He is apt to pull out one fit for any occasion, essentially to register a point and to explain his own analytical endeavors. Similar qualities come in handy for any manager who wishes to lead a team in an effective manner.

Nerves of Steel

Howsoever grave the situation at hand, Jeeves shows virtually no sign of agitation. At the very worst, a minor flicker of one of his eyebrows is the only sign that the situation is indeed grave. When the young master is jumping about like a cat on hot tin roof, Jeeves maintains his equipoise and calm.

When the master waxes eloquent on a critical occurrence, Jeeves favorite responses are either ‘Indeed, sir?’ or ‘Disturbing, sir’. Understandably, this infuriates Bertie more often than not.

A tough inner core is what it all amounts to – a quality many business leaders would like to imbibe and emulate. Unfortunately, they don’t teach this at Harvard.

Listening with Respectful Benevolence

This is one of the many admirable qualities that Jeeves possesses. When a character comes across a baffling situation, all he/she has to do is to share it with him, pretty assured that he would lend a respectful ear. Often, when the young master comes up with a fruity scheme which he wants to handle all by himself, Jeeves is all sympathy and benevolence. This, despite the knowledge that pretty soon he would be called upon to lend a helping hand so as to PGWodehouseextricate the master from a royal mess of his own creation.

All of us need a Jeeves in our lives!

Jeeves is a man of extraordinary sagacity and never fails to deliver the goods. He can be relied upon to untangle the most ferocious of muddles that people may land in.

It does not really matter which profession one follows in life. Whether one is a manager, a doctor, a technocrat or an artist, there are valuable insights available from Jeeves in handling one’s affairs.

Literature is replete with characters which tell us how to get out of a messy situation in our lives. P G Wodehouse has undoubtedly left behind an idyllic world for us to marvel at and enjoy and learn from. What is presented here is merely a modest attempt to capture a very small slice of the delightful universe of his works.

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