Ask Jeeves

Some of the best-loved characters in English literature are observed only dimly through the eyes of an unreliable first-person narrator; like fish seen through the glass of a tank, they swim toward us, momentarily dazzling in their colors, before receding again into the murk.  Such is surely the case with P.G. Wodehouse’s immortal creation Reginald Jeeves.  Beyond the fact that he has an encyclopedic knowledge of everything from Shakespeare to the correct tone of socks for a gentleman to wear in the city, enjoys travel, plays bridge, and is once seen “swinging a dashed efficient shoe” with a lady at a London dance-hall, we know little of the valet’s inner life.  Even Bertie Wooster, his employer and companion through 35 short stories and 11 novels, is left to conclude the man is “a mystery” to him, having first learned his Christian name only in the penultimate book of the canon.

One significant clue about what might be going on behind Jeeves’s mask of superbly maintained composure—affording him the look of “a youngish High Priest of a refined and dignified religion”—comes, however, with the revelation that he likes nothing more than to curl up with “an improving book” by the 17th-century Dutch philosopher of Sephardi-Portuguese origin, Baruch Spinoza.

In many ways, it’s a rum thing.  On the one hand we have Jeeves, eternally...

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