book excerptise:   a book unexamined is wasting trees

Right Ho, Jeeves

P. G. Wodehouse

Wodehouse, P. G.;

Right Ho, Jeeves

PENGUIN, 1999, 272 pages

ISBN 0140284095, 9780140284096

topics: |  fiction | humour

This is one of my supremely hilarious books of all time, right up there with Three men in a boat.

Zagreb, Zubin, Rita and I listened to this on an audio-book while on a long drive. We were in splits with Gussie Fink-Nottle's speech at the Market Snodsbury grammar school, which must be one of literature's most memorable speeches ever.

The imperious Aunt Dahlia telegrams Bertie: "Come at once. Travers.". But Bertie has a birthday party to attend (Ponto Twistleton's). After studying it "in a profound reverie for the best part of two dry Martinis and a dividend", he has an exchange of telegrams, where Aunt Dahlia keeps insisting that he land up immediately. That night, he gets in at four AM after a massive binge, but "the lemon had scarcely touched the pillow before I was aroused by the sound of the door opening." It was Aunt Dahlia.

	And a moment later there was a sound like a mighty
	rushing wind, and the relative had crossed the
	threshold at fifty m.p.h. under her own steam.

It turns out that she wants him to give a speech and
distribute the prizes at Market Snodsbury Grammar School
(a churchman identified earlier has fallen ill).  Bertie, who's
had a terrible experience in a similar spot at a girl's school,
sends Gussie Fink-Nottle, a schoolfriend, who wants to impress
the young Madeleine Bassett.

[language literalism: (apropos Wittgenstein)]
   What a bit of luck this Travers woman turning out to be your aunt."
   "I don't know what you mean, turning out to be my aunt. She has been my
aunt all along." - ch. 6

But Gussie, who is enamoured with newts, is mortally scared of
speech-making.  Jeeves recommends that he slosh it up before going.  Gussie,
who never takes anything stronger than orange juice, has a shot of pure
whisky, and is then given disguised drinks, once by Jeeves and then again by
Bertie.  He proposes to Madeline, and heads off to the school.

"in defence of gussie fink-nottle", xkcd comics
see also:

Note the minor details, like Gussie repeatedly trying to cross one leg over
the other ... and failing. When the headmaster says Fitz-wattle for
Fink-nottle, Gussie calls him "a silly ass".  In the middle of the prize
handover, Gussie launches an impressive attack on Bertie, who "scrounged
that scripture-knowledge trophy over the heads of better men by means of some
of the rawest and most brazen swindling methods ever witnessed...".  He then
accuses the prize-winning student, G G Simmons, of similar perfidy, based
on a one-question quiz:
	What was What's-His-Name--the chap who begat Thingummy?
and when Simmons mumbles, Gussie proclaims - "very fishy!"

Gussie Fink-Nottle's speech at the Market Snodsbury Grammar School

      (from  Right Ho, Jeeves (1934))

The Grammar School at Market Snodsbury had, I understood, been built
somewhere in the year 1416, and, as with so many of these ancient
foundations, there still seemed to brood over its Great Hall, where the
afternoon's festivities were to take place, not a little of the fug of the
centuries. It was the hottest day of the summer, and though somebody had
opened a tentative window or two, the atmosphere remained distinctive and

In this hall the youth of Market Snodsbury had been eating its daily lunch
for a matter of five hundred years, and the flavour lingered. The air was
sort of heavy and languorous, if you know what I mean, with the scent of
Young England and boiled beef and carrots.

Aunt Dahlia, who was sitting with a bevy of the local nibs in the second row,
sighted me as I entered and waved to me to join her, but I was too smart for
that. I wedged myself in among the standees at the back, leaning up against a
chap who, from the aroma, might have been a corn chandler or something on
that order. The essence of strategy on these occasions is to be as near the
door as possible.

The hall was gaily decorated with flags and coloured paper, and the eye was
further refreshed by the spectacle of a mixed drove of boys, parents, and
what not, the former running a good deal to shiny faces and Eton collars, the
latter stressing the black-satin note rather when female, and looking as if
their coats were too tight, if male. And presently there was some
applause--sporadic, Jeeves has since told me it was--and I saw Gussie being
steered by a bearded bloke in a gown to a seat in the middle of the platform.

And I confess that as I beheld him and felt that there but for the grace of
God went Bertram Wooster, a shudder ran through the frame. It all reminded me
so vividly of the time I had addressed that girls' school.

Of course, looking at it dispassionately, you may say that for horror and
peril there is no comparison between an almost human audience like the one
before me and a mob of small girls with pigtails down their backs, and this,
I concede, is true. Nevertheless, the spectacle was enough to make me feel
like a fellow watching a pal going over Niagara Falls in a barrel, and the
thought of what I had escaped caused everything for a moment to go black and
swim before my eyes.

When I was able to see clearly once more, I perceived that Gussie was now
seated. He had his hands on his knees, with his elbows out at right angles,
like a nigger minstrel of the old school about to ask Mr. Bones why a chicken
crosses the road, and he was staring before him with a smile so fixed and
pebble-beached that I should have thought that anybody could have guessed
that there sat one in whom the old familiar juice was plashing up against the
back of the front teeth.

In fact, I saw Aunt Dahlia, who, having assisted at so many hunting dinners
in her time, is second to none as a judge of the symptoms, give a start and
gaze long and earnestly. And she was just saying something to Uncle Tom on
her left when the bearded bloke stepped to the footlights and started making
a speech. From the fact that he spoke as if he had a hot potato in his mouth
without getting the raspberry from the lads in the ringside seats, I deduced
that he must be the head master.

With his arrival in the spotlight, a sort of perspiring resignation seemed to
settle on the audience. Personally, I snuggled up against the chandler and
let my attention wander. The speech was on the subject of the doings of the
school during the past term, and this part of a prize-giving is always apt
rather to fail to grip the visiting stranger. I mean, you know how it
is. You're told that J.B. Brewster has won an Exhibition for Classics at
Cat's, Cambridge, and you feel that it's one of those stories where you can't
see how funny it is unless you really know the fellow. And the same applies
to G. Bullett being awarded the Lady Jane Wix Scholarship at the Birmingham
College of Veterinary Science.

In fact, I and the corn chandler, who was looking a bit fagged I thought, as
if he had had a hard morning chandling the corn, were beginning to doze
lightly when things suddenly brisked up, bringing Gussie into the picture for
the first time.

"Today," said the bearded bloke, "we are all happy to welcome as the guest of
the afternoon Mr. Fitz-Wattle----"

At the beginning of the address, Gussie had subsided into a sort of daydream,
with his mouth hanging open. About half-way through, faint signs of life had
begun to show. And for the last few minutes he had been trying to cross one
leg over the other and failing and having another shot and failing again. But
only now did he exhibit any real animation. He sat up with a jerk.

"Fink-Nottle," he said, opening his eyes.



"I should say Fink-Nottle."

"Of course you should, you silly ass," said Gussie genially. "All right, get
on with it."

And closing his eyes, he began trying to cross his legs again.

I could see that this little spot of friction had rattled the bearded bloke a
bit. He stood for a moment fumbling at the fungus with a hesitating hand. But
they make these head masters of tough stuff. The weakness passed. He came
back nicely and carried on.

"We are all happy, I say, to welcome as the guest of the afternoon
Mr. Fink-Nottle, who has kindly consented to award the prizes. This task, as
you know, is one that should have devolved upon that well-beloved and
vigorous member of our board of governors, the Rev. William Plomer, and we
are all, I am sure, very sorry that illness at the last moment should have
prevented him from being here today. But, if I may borrow a familiar metaphor
from the--if I may employ a homely metaphor familiar to you all--what we lose
on the swings we gain on the roundabouts."

He paused, and beamed rather freely, to show that this was comedy. I could
have told the man it was no use. Not a ripple. The corn chandler leaned
against me and muttered "Whoddidesay?" but that was all.

It's always a nasty jar to wait for the laugh and find that the gag hasn't
got across. The bearded bloke was visibly discomposed. At that, however, I
think he would have got by, had he not, at this juncture, unfortunately
stirred Gussie up again.

"In other words, though deprived of Mr. Plomer, we have with us this
afternoon Mr. Fink-Nottle. I am sure that Mr. Fink-Nottle's name is one that
needs no introduction to you. It is, I venture to assert, a name that is
familiar to us all."

"Not to you," said Gussie.

And the next moment I saw what Jeeves had meant when he had described him as
laughing heartily. "Heartily" was absolutely the mot juste. It sounded like
a gas explosion.

"You didn't seem to know it so dashed well, what, what?" said Gussie. And,
reminded apparently by the word "what" of the word "Wattle," he repeated the
latter some sixteen times with a rising inflection.

"Wattle, Wattle, Wattle," he concluded. "Right-ho. Push on."

But the bearded bloke had shot his bolt. He stood there, licked at last; and,
watching him closely, I could see that he was now at the crossroads. I could
spot what he was thinking as clearly as if he had confided it to my personal
ear. He wanted to sit down and call it a day, I mean, but the thought that
gave him pause was that, if he did, he must then either uncork Gussie or take
the Fink-Nottle speech as read and get straight on to the actual

It was a dashed tricky thing, of course, to have to decide on the spur of the
moment. I was reading in the paper the other day about those birds who are
trying to split the atom, the nub being that they haven't the foggiest as to
what will happen if they do. It may be all right. On the other hand, it may
not be all right. And pretty silly a chap would feel, no doubt, if, having
split the atom, he suddenly found the house going up in smoke and himself
torn limb from limb.

So with the bearded bloke. Whether he was abreast of the inside facts in
Gussie's case, I don't know, but it was obvious to him by this time that he
had run into something pretty hot. Trial gallops had shown that Gussie had
his own way of doing things. Those interruptions had been enough to prove to
the perspicacious that here, seated on the platform at the big binge of the
season, was one who, if pushed forward to make a speech, might let himself go
in a rather epoch-making manner.

On the other hand, chain him up and put a green-baize cloth over him, and
where were you? The proceeding would be over about half an hour too soon.

It was, as I say, a difficult problem to have to solve, and, left to himself,
I don't know what conclusion he would have come to. Personally, I think he
would have played it safe. As it happened, however, the thing was taken out
of his hands, for at this moment, Gussie, having stretched his arms and
yawned a bit, switched on that pebble-beached smile again and tacked down to
the edge of the platform.

"Speech," he said affably.

He then stood with his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat, waiting for
the applause to die down.

It was some time before this happened, for he had got a very fine hand
I suppose it wasn't often that the boys of Market Snodsbury Grammar
School came across a man public-spirited enough to call their head master a
silly ass, and they showed their appreciation in no uncertain manner. Gussie
may have been one over the eight, but as far as the majority of those present
were concerned he was sitting on top of the world.

"Boys," said Gussie, "I mean ladies and gentlemen and boys, I do not detain
you long, but I suppose on this occasion to feel compelled to say a few
auspicious words; Ladies - and boys and gentlemen - we have all listened with
interest to the remarks of our friend here who forgot to shave this
morning - I don't know his name, but then he didn't know mine - Fitz-Wattle, I
mean, absolutely absurd - which squares things up a bit - and we are all sorry
that the Reverend What-ever-he-was-called should be dying of adenoids, but
after all, here today, gone tomorrow, and all flesh is as grass, and what
not, but that wasn't what I wanted to say. What I wanted to say was this - and
I say it confidently - without fear of contradiction - I say, in short, I am
happy to be here on this auspicious occasion and I take much pleasure in
kindly awarding the prizes, consisting of the handsome books you see laid out
on that table. As Shakespeare says, there are sermons in books, stones in the
running brooks, or, rather, the other way about, and there you have it in a

It went well, and I wasn't surprised. I couldn't quite follow some of it, but
anybody could see that it was real ripe stuff, and I was amazed that even the
course of treatment he had been taking could have rendered so normally
tongue-tied a dumb brick as Gussie capable of it.

It just shows, what any member of Parliament will tell you, that if you want
real oratory, the preliminary noggin is essential. Unless pie-eyed, you
cannot hope to grip.

"Gentlemen," said Gussie, "I mean ladies and gentlemen and, of course, boys,
what a beautiful world this is. A beautiful world, full of happiness on every
side. Let me tell you a little story. Two Irishmen, Pat and Mike, were
walking along Broadway, and one said to the other, 'Begorrah, the race is not
always to the swift,' and the other replied, 'Faith and begob, education is a
drawing out, not a putting in.'"

I must say it seemed to me the rottenest story I had ever heard, and I was
surprised that Jeeves should have considered it worth while shoving into a
speech. However, when I taxed him with this later, he said that Gussie had
altered the plot a good deal, and I dare say that accounts for it.

At any rate, that was the conte as Gussie told it, and when I say that it
got a very fair laugh, you will understand what a popular favourite he had
become with the multitude. There might be a bearded bloke or so on the
platform and a small section in the second row who were wishing the speaker
would conclude his remarks and resume his seat, but the audience as a whole
was for him solidly.

There was applause, and a voice cried: "Hear, hear!"

"Yes," said Gussie, "it is a beautiful world. The sky is blue, the birds are
singing, there is optimism everywhere. And why not, boys and ladies and
gentlemen? I'm happy, you're happy, we're all happy, even the meanest
Irishman that walks along Broadway. Though, as I say, there were two of
them - Pat and Mike, one drawing out, the other putting in. I should like you
boys, taking the time from me, to give three cheers for this beautiful
world. All together now."

Presently the dust settled down and the plaster stopped falling from the
ceiling, and he went on.

"People who say it isn't a beautiful world don't know what they are talking
about. Driving here in the car today to award the kind prizes, I was
reluctantly compelled to tick off my host on this very point. Old Tom
Travers. You will see him sitting there in the second row next to the large
lady in beige."

He pointed helpfully, and the hundred or so Market Snods-buryians who craned
their necks in the direction indicated were able to observe Uncle Tom
blushing prettily.

"I ticked him off properly, the poor fish. He expressed the opinion that the
world was in a deplorable state. I said, 'Don't talk rot, old Tom Travers.'
'I am not accustomed to talk rot,' he said. 'Then, for a beginner,' I said,
'you do it dashed well.' And I think you will admit, boys and ladies and
gentlemen, that that was telling him."

The audience seemed to agree with him. The point went big. The voice that had
said, "Hear, hear" said "Hear, hear" again, and my corn chandler hammered the
floor vigorously with a large-size walking stick.

"Well, boys," resumed Gussie, having shot his cuffs and smirked horribly,
"this is the end of the summer term, and many of you, no doubt, are leaving
the school. And I don't blame you, because there's a froust in here you could
cut with a knife. You are going out into the great world. Soon many of you
will be walking along Broadway. And what I want to impress upon you is that,
however much you may suffer from adenoids, you must all use every effort to
prevent yourselves becoming pessimists and talking rot like old Tom
Travers. There in the second row. The fellow with a face rather like a

He paused to allow those wishing to do so to refresh themselves with another
look at Uncle Tom, and I found myself musing in some little perplexity. Long
association with the members of the Drones has put me pretty well in touch
with the various ways in which an overdose of the blushful Hippocrene can
take the individual, but I had never seen anyone react quite as Gussie was

There was a snap about his work which I had never witnessed before, even in
Barmy Fotheringay-Phipps on New Year's Eve.

Jeeves, when I discussed the matter with him later, said it was something to
do with inhibitions, if I caught the word correctly, and the suppression of,
I think he said, the ego. What he meant, I gathered, was that, owing to the
fact that Gussie had just completed a five years' stretch of blameless
seclusion among the newts, all the goofiness which ought to have been spread
out thin over those five years and had been bottled up during that period
came to the surface on this occasion in a lump - or, if you prefer to put it
that way, like a tidal wave.

There may be something in this. Jeeves generally knows.

Anyway, be that as it may, I was dashed glad I had had the shrewdness to keep
out of that second row. It might be unworthy of the prestige of a Wooster to
squash in among the proletariat in the standing-room-only section, but at
least, I felt, I was out of the danger zone. So thoroughly had Gussie got it
up his nose by now that it seemed to me that had he sighted me he might have
become personal about even an old school friend.

Recognizing Bertie

"If there's one thing in the world I can't stand," proceeded Gussie, "it's a
pessimist. Be optimists, boys. You all know the difference between an
optimist and a pessimist. An optimist is a man who - well, take the case of
two Irishmen walking along Broadway. One is an optimist and one is a
pessimist, just as one's name is Pat and the other's Mike.... Why, hullo,
Bertie; I didn't know you were here."

Too late, I endeavoured to go to earth behind the chandler, only to discover
that there was no chandler there. Some appointment, suddenly
remembered--possibly a promise to his wife that he would be home to tea--had
caused him to ooze away while my attention was elsewhere, leaving me right
out in the open.

Between me and Gussie, who was now pointing in an offensive manner, there was
nothing but a sea of interested faces looking up at me.

"Now, there," boomed Gussie, continuing to point, "is an instance of what I
mean. Boys and ladies and gentlemen, take a good look at that object standing
up there at the back--morning coat, trousers as worn, quiet grey tie, and
carnation in buttonhole--you can't miss him. Bertie Wooster, that is, and as
foul a pessimist as ever bit a tiger. I tell you I despise that man. And why
do I despise him? Because, boys and ladies and gentlemen, he is a
pessimist. His attitude is defeatist. When I told him I was going to address
you this afternoon, he tried to dissuade me. And do you know why he tried to
dissuade me? Because he said my trousers would split up the back."

The cheers that greeted this were the loudest yet. Anything about splitting
trousers went straight to the simple hearts of the young scholars of Market
Snodsbury Grammar School. Two in the row in front of me turned purple, and a
small lad with freckles seated beside them asked me for my autograph.

"Let me tell you a story about Bertie Wooster."

A Wooster can stand a good deal, but he cannot stand having his name bandied
in a public place. Picking my feet up softly, I was in the very process of
executing a quiet sneak for the door, when I perceived that the bearded bloke
had at last decided to apply the closure.

Why he hadn't done so before is beyond me. Spell-bound, I take it. And, of
course, when a chap is going like a breeze with the public, as Gussie had
been, it's not so dashed easy to chip in. However, the prospect of hearing
another of Gussie's anecdotes seemed to have done the trick. Rising rather as
I had risen from my bench at the beginning of that painful scene with Tuppy
in the twilight, he made a leap for the table, snatched up a book and came
bearing down on the speaker.

He touched Gussie on the arm, and Gussie, turning sharply and seeing a large
bloke with a beard apparently about to bean him with a book, sprang back in
an attitude of self-defence.

"Perhaps, as time is getting on, Mr. Fink-Nottle, we had better----"

"Oh, ah," said Gussie, getting the trend. He relaxed. "The prizes, eh? Of
course, yes. Right-ho. Yes, might as well be shoving along with it. What's
this one?"

"Spelling and dictation - P.K. Purvis," announced the bearded bloke.

"Spelling and dictation - P.K. Purvis," echoed Gussie, as if he were calling
coals. "Forward, P.K. Purvis."

Now that the whistle had been blown on his speech, it seemed to me that there
was no longer any need for the strategic retreat which I had been planning. I
had no wish to tear myself away unless I had to. I mean, I had told Jeeves
that this binge would be fraught with interest, and it was fraught with
interest. There was a fascination about Gussie's methods which gripped and
made one reluctant to pass the thing up provided personal innuendoes were
steered clear of. I decided, accordingly, to remain, and presently there was
a musical squeaking and P.K. Purvis climbed the platform.

The spelling-and-dictation champ was about three foot six in his squeaking
shoes, with a pink face and sandy hair. Gussie patted his hair. He seemed to
have taken an immediate fancy to the lad.

"You P.K. Purvis?"

"Sir, yes, sir."

"It's a beautiful world, P.K. Purvis."

"Sir, yes, sir."

"Ah, you've noticed it, have you? Good. You married, by any chance?"

"Sir, no, sir."

"Get married, P.K. Purvis," said Gussie earnestly. "It's the only life
... Well, here's your book. Looks rather bilge to me from a glance at the
title page, but, such as it is, here you are."

P.K. Purvis squeaked off amidst sporadic applause, but one could not fail to
note that the sporadic was followed by a rather strained silence. It was
evident that Gussie was striking something of a new note in Market Snodsbury
scholastic circles. Looks were exchanged between parent and parent. The
bearded bloke had the air of one who has drained the bitter cup. As for Aunt
Dahlia, her demeanour now told only too clearly that her last doubts had been
resolved and her verdict was in. I saw her whisper to the Bassett, who sat on
her right, and the Bassett nodded sadly and looked like a fairy about to shed
a tear and add another star to the Milky Way.

Gussie, after the departure of P.K. Purvis, had fallen into a sort of
daydream and was standing with his mouth open and his hands in his
pockets. Becoming abruptly aware that a fat kid in knickerbockers was at his
elbow, he started violently.

"Hullo!" he said, visibly shaken. "Who are you?"

"This," said the bearded bloke, "is R.V. Smethurst."

"What's he doing here?" asked Gussie suspiciously.

"You are presenting him with the drawing prize, Mr. Fink-Nottle."

This apparently struck Gussie as a reasonable explanation. His face cleared.

"That's right, too," he said.... "Well, here it is, cocky. You off?" he said,
as the kid prepared to withdraw.

"Sir, yes, sir."

"Wait, R.V. Smethurst. Not so fast. Before you go, there is a question I wish
to ask you."

But the beard bloke's aim now seemed to be to rush the ceremonies a bit. He
hustled R.V. Smethurst off stage rather like a chucker-out in a pub
regretfully ejecting an old and respected customer, and starting paging
G.G. Simmons. A moment later the latter was up and coming, and conceive my
emotion when it was announced that the subject on which he had clicked was
Scripture knowledge. One of us, I mean to say.

G.G. Simmons was an unpleasant, perky-looking stripling, mostly front teeth
and spectacles, but I gave him a big hand. We Scripture-knowledge sharks
stick together.

Gussie, I was sorry to see, didn't like him. There was in his manner, as he
regarded G.G. Simmons, none of the chumminess which had marked it during his
interview with P.K. Purvis or, in a somewhat lesser degree, with
R.V. Smethurst. He was cold and distant.

"Well, G.G. Simmons."

"Sir, yes, sir."

"What do you mean - sir, yes, sir? Dashed silly thing to say. So you've won
the Scripture-knowledge prize, have you?"

"Sir, yes, sir."

"Yes," said Gussie, "you look just the sort of little tick who would. And
yet," he said, pausing and eyeing the child keenly, "how are we to know that
this has all been open and above board? Let me test you, G.G. Simmons. What
was What's-His-Name - the chap who begat Thingummy? Can you answer me that,

"Sir, no, sir."

Gussie turned to the bearded bloke.

"Fishy," he said. "Very fishy. This boy appears to be totally lacking in
Scripture knowledge."

The bearded bloke passed a hand across his forehead.

"I can assure you, Mr. Fink-Nottle, that every care was taken to ensure a
correct marking and that Simmons outdistanced his competitors by a wide

"Well, if you say so," said Gussie doubtfully. "All right, G.G. Simmons, take
your prize."

"Sir, thank you, sir."

"But let me tell you that there's nothing to stick on side about in winning a
prize for Scripture knowledge. Bertie Wooster --"

I don't know when I've had a nastier shock. I had been going on the
assumption that, now that they had stopped him making his speech, Gussie's
fangs had been drawn, as you might say. To duck my head down and resume my
edging toward the door was with me the work of a moment.

"Bertie Wooster won the Scripture-knowledge prize at a kids' school we were
at together, and you know what he's like. But, of course, Bertie frankly
cheated. He succeeded in scrounging that Scripture-knowledge trophy over the
heads of better men by means of some of the rawest and most brazen swindling
methods ever witnessed even at a school where such things were common. If
that man's pockets, as he entered the examination-room, were not stuffed to
bursting-point with lists of the kings of Judah --"

I heard no more. A moment later I was out in God's air, fumbling with a
fevered foot at the self-starter of the old car.

The engine raced. The clutch slid into position. I tooted and drove off.

amitabha mukerjee (mukerjee [at-symbol] gmail) 2013 Feb 06