Thank you, Jeeves by P G Wodehouse

Another entertaining outing for Bertie Wooster and his manservant, Jeeves. Very polished and elegant, with an amusingly inconsequential plot about wealthy Americans and their daughters and Bertie’s unconsciously ironic view of the shenanigans.

One aspect of the story is both dated and interesting. The story revolves around Wooster and another character applying boot polish to their faces to pretend to be black musicians. The musicians are performing at the country house in England where the plot unfolds. They are described by Wodehouse as ‘negro minstrels’ and, earlier, using the other word beginning with ‘n’ that is now even more taboo than ‘negro’. The plot device of ‘blacking up’ could not be used unironically today and, even then, would need careful handling. The reason for the involvement of the musicians in the plot at all is that Bertie is annoying everyone by playing the banjolele and he tries to see them to learn from them, on the assumption that they will be masters of the instrument.

So it is mixture of racism, which reflects poorly on the mores of the time of writing; a stereotypical assumption that black people will be good at playing musical instruments; and, worse, that the appearance of a black person, even when it is a white person wearing make-up, is a cause for drama and comedy. So a good book, but dated. (Which some will see as a bit of a lenient verdict, I realise.)


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