August 7, 2022

Reading Uncertainly? Need a Little Light Reading for These Strange Times? Then Consider ‘Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen’ by P. G. Wodehouse

What can we do when we are besieged by a pandemic, offspring reluctant to visit, political chaos, advancing old age, and weather that no longer permits porch luncheons in a toasty sun?

Bertram “Bertie” Wooster, the English gentleman hero of many of P. G. Wodehouse’s novels about life in England many years back, had the answer: Try “the early dinner, the restful spell with a good book or the crossword puzzle, and so to bed”.

Off I went to the Lyme Library, shoving all my serious stuff under the bed. As Mr. Wooster notes in this novel, “ . . . like all village lending libraries, this one had not bothered much about keeping itself up to date,” so I went back to this Wodehouse tale from 1974. Lyme’s Library is far better endowed!

In Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen Bertie is enticed to visit an older aunt in an English village, when he becomes hopelessly enmeshed with an ex-girlfriend, her gentleman friend, her antiquated father, a cast of outrageous characters, plus, of course, a black cat!

And trying to unravel all this mess is Jeeves, Bertie’s “man”, the calmest and most highly-read person in this ménage.

When Bertie says something outrageous, Jeeves responds, “Indeed, Sir?”

When Bertie stumbles on a valid insight, Jeeves says “Precisely, Sir, Rem acu tetegisti. (Latin for “you have hit the nail on the head” – yes, I had to Google that one!). Bertie’s open-mouth reply to Jeeves’ erudition: ‘Eh?”

What comes out of each character’s mouth seldom corresponds to what is in that mind, creating a steady stream of hilarity. Here are some Bertie-isms from just two pages:

“ . . . managing to free my tongue from the uvula with which it had become entangled, I found speech, as I dare say those Darien fellows did eventually.”

“She uttered a sound rather like an elephant taking its foot out of a mud hole in a Burmese teak forest.”

“My impulse was to tell her Tolstoy was off his onion.”

“She disappeared like an eel into the mud.”

“I was reft of speech!”

“the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune as someone called them.”

To Bertie, three in the afternoon is “three pip emma.”

My escape from reality ended too quickly.

I may seek what other Wodehouse books Teresa might be hiding in Lyme . . .

Editor’s Note:Aunts Aren’t Gentlemen’ by P. G. Wodehouse was published by Barkie-Jenkins, London 1974.

Felix Kloman

About the Author: Felix Kloman is a sailor, rower, husband, father, grandfather, retired management consultant and, above all, a curious reader and writer. He’s explored how we as human beings and organizations respond to ever-present uncertainty in two books, ‘Mumpsimus Revisited’ (2005) and ‘The Fantods of Risk’ (2008).
A 20-year resident of Lyme, Conn., he now writes book reviews, mostly of non-fiction, a subject which explores our minds, our behavior, our politics and our history. But he does throw in a novel here and there.
For more than 50 years, he’s put together the 17 syllables that comprise haiku, the traditional Japanese poetry, and now serves as the self-appointed “poet laureate” of Ashlawn Farm Coffee, where he may be seen on Friday mornings.
His late wife, Ann, was also a writer, but of mystery novels, all of which begin in a village in midcoast Maine, strangely reminiscent of the town she and her husband visited every summer.