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Literature / The Code of the Woosters

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The Code of the Woosters is a 1938 comic novel by P. G. Wodehouse. It is the third novel to feature Wodehouse's most popular protagonists, Jeeves and Wooster.

Pleasant but dim-witted aristocrat Bertie Wooster has been summoned by three different people to go to Totleigh Towers, the home of Sir Watkyn Bassett. Bertie's similarly goofy young friend Gussie Fink-Nottle, asks Bertie to come to help Gussie patch things up with Gussie's fiancee, Madeline Bassett—Sir Watkyn's daughter. Bertie, who once blundered into an engagement with Madeline (in Right Ho, Jeeves) is only too eager to lend assistance, lest Madeline break up with Gussie and set her sights on Bertie again.

The second person at Totleigh Towers with a mission for Bertie is Stephanie "Stiffy" Byng, niece and ward of Sir Watkyn. Stiffy is in love with Harold "Stinker" Pinker, an old school chum of Bertie's, who has joined the Anglican priesthood and is curate to the local village. Sir Watkyn is reluctant to grant permission for his niece to marry a poorly paid minister, so Stiffy comes up with a harebrained scheme. Bertie will steal Sir Watkyn's antique silver cow-creamer, one of Sir Watkyn's most treasured possessions. Harold will catch Bertie, punch him in the nose, and retrieve the cow creamer, thus winning Sir Watkyn's respect.

The third person sending Bertie to Totleigh Towers is his Aunt Dahlia. Dahlia's husband Tom is also a collector of dinner ware and was going to buy that cow creamer before Sir Watkyn got it first. Dahlia also tells Bertie to steal the silver cow creamer, and give it to her, so she can give it to Tom and butter him up so he will continue financially supporting Dahlia's magazine, Milady's Boudoir.

Lurking about is Roderick Spode, a disturbingly large and ill-tempered man, friend to Sir Watkyn and an admirer of Madeline's who is deeply jealous of Gussie. And then there's Jeeves, the brilliant, hyper-competent valet, who wants his master Bertie to agree to go on an around-the-world cruise. When all of the above results in various wacky misunderstandings and romantic entanglements, everyone looks to Jeeves to save the day.


  • Bedsheet Ladder: How Gussie escapes the wrath of Sir Watkyn, who was chasing him with a riding crop after reading all the insults in Gussie's notebook.
  • "Blackmail" Is Such an Ugly Word: Averted, after Aunt Dahlia demands that Bertie steal the cow creamer, or be forever banned from enjoying Anatole's cooking.
    I eyed her sternly.
    "Aunt Dahlia, this is blackmail!"
    "Yes, isn't it?" she said, and beetled off.
  • Cigarette of Anxiety: Bertie lights up "a feverish cigarette" after receiving an emergency telegram from Gussie describing his "rift" with Madeline. Bertie is anxious because he knows that Madeline is under the mistaken impression that he loves her, and she may go for him if she and Gussie break up.
  • Continuity Nod: Many.
    • Bertie mentions Gussie's drunken address to the pupils of Market Snodsbury Grammar School, which was a highlight of Right Ho, Jeeves.
    • Bertie remembers Bobbie Wickham goading into puncturing a fellow guest's hot water bottle—that's short story "Jeeves and the Yule-Tide Spirit".
    • Bertie mentions a valet who briefly worked for him who got drunk, burned the house down, and attempted to gut Bertie with a carving knife. That all occurred in Thank You, Jeeves.
    • Bertie reminds Jeeves about how Bertie and a Cabinet minister were once trapped atop a gazebo by an angry swan; that's short story "Jeeves and the Impending Doom".
  • Cut His Heart Out with a Spoon: Roderick Spode has a habit of issuing extraordinarily vivid, over-the-top threats.
    "If the thing disappears, however cunningly you and your female accomplice may have covered your traces, I shall know where it has gone, and I shall immediately beat you to a jelly. To a jelly," he repeated, rolling the words round his tongue as if they were vintage port.
  • Dark Secret: Jeeves reveals wannabe Fascist leader Roderick Spode's terrible secret to Bertie: Spode also owns a popular ladies' lingerie boutique. Even Bertie quickly catches on to the possibilities for blackmail.
    Bertie: You can't be a successful Dictator and design womens' underclothing. One or the other. Not both.
  • For Doom the Bell Tolls: Bertie finds out that Gussie and Madeline have broken up. Immediately after this, Chapter 5 ends with the sentence "From downstairs there came the sudden booming of the dinner gong."
  • Funny Background Event: Sir Watkyn and Roderick Spode accuse Bertie of stealing, when Madeline turns up and objects to the accusations. She doesn't speak again until three pages later, when Bertie notes she had been silent up to that point due to the fact that she had inhaled an insect and been busy choking on it in the background up until that point.
  • Hanging Judge: Madeline's father, Sir Watkyn Bassett, an ex-Magistrate who once presided over Bertie's sentencing hearing for stealing a policeman's helmet on Boat Race Night. Though Bertie escaped with a small fine, the incident planted a seed of paranoia in Bassett, who on their next meeting some years later remembers "the prisoner Wooster" as a nefarious archvillain... a misunderstanding not exactly cleared by the fact Bertie's only visiting his home in the first place in order to steal his cow-creamer... which Watkyn stole first.
  • Hangover Sensitivity: The novel opens with Bertie hung over after having celebrated Gussie's impending marriage the night before.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: Stop your snickering; "Stiffy" is a perfectly innocent nickname for "Stephanie."
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Bertie immediately demands Jeeves fetch him some brandy, after finding out that Gussie and Madeline are broken up again.
  • MacGuffin
    • First, there's the silver cow-creamer, which Sir Watkyn rather sneakily obtained before Tom had a chance, and which two different characters want Bertie to steal.
    • Then there's Gussie's little brown notebook in which he scribbled all sorts of insults about Spode and Sir Watkyn. Being an idiot, he loses it. Stiffy Byng finds it and uses it to blackmail Bertie (if Sir Watkyn gets ahold of it the Madeline-Gussie marriage will be off and then Bertie will be stuck marrying Madeline).
  • Malicious Misnaming: Aunt Dahlia persistently calls Gussie Fink-Nottle "Spink-Bottle", even immediately after Bertie says Gussie's name correctly.
  • The Matchmaker: Bertie as usual, out of generosity when he helps Stiffy and Harold to get married, and out of self-preservation when he tries to keep Madeline and Gussie together.
  • Mistaken for Cheating: Gussie Fink-Nottle tries to remove a fly from Stiffy Byng's eye at (of course) exactly the wrong moment. Later, he's searching her legs, because he thinks she may have hidden his notebook in her stockings - again, exactly the wrong moment.
  • Nazi Nobleman: Roderick Spode is head of a group of British fascists called the Black Shorts, because "by the time Spode formed his association, there were no shirts left" (alluding to various real-life fascist groups identified by their shirt colours, e.g, Mussolini's Blackshirts, Hitler's Brownshirts, the Irish Blueshirts, the South African Greyshirts, etc.). Bertie mockingly calls him a "Dictator". (It should be noted, though, that by the time of Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit Spode has left the Black Shorts (and sold Eulalie Sťurs) precisely because he has inherited the title of 7th Earl of Sidcup.)
  • Noodle Incident: Jeeves tells Bertie that Roderick Spode can be disarmed by mentioning the name "Eulalie", but won't tell Bertie what it means. In the end it's revealed that Spode designs ladies' underwear and is the proprietor of Eulalie Soeurs of Bond Street - a successful lingerie shop that includes Aunt Dahlia among its clientele.
  • Not What It Looks Like: Gussie insists that he wasn't doing anything improper with Stiffy: he was just helping her get a fly out of her eye.
  • Oh, Crap!: Bertie upon hearing that Gussie has lost his notebook, and then Gussie as well when Bertie finally manages to pound into his thick skull the danger that it represents.
  • Parental Marriage Veto: Sir Watkyn won't let either his daughter or his niece marry their chosen men.
  • Ransacked Room: Stiffy Byng has hidden a notebook (long story) in order to blackmail Bertie into going along with her schemes. Bertie insists to Jeeves that they should search her room before capitulating, because Bertie has read a detective novel which claims that the top of the wardrobe is "every woman's favourite hiding-place". Unfortunately in this case it isn't, and indeed they don't get much further in the ransacking before Stiffy's bad-tempered terrier discovers them.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Bertie delivers one to Spode regarding how laughable his posturing as a fascist dictator wannabee really is.
    "It is about time," I proceeded, "that some public-spirited person came along and told you where you got off. The trouble with you, Spode, is that just because you have succeeded in inducing a handful of half-wits to disfigure the London scene by going about in black shorts, you think you're someone. You hear them shouting `Heil Spode!' and you imagine it is the Voice of the People. That is where you make the bloomer. What the Voice of the People is saying is: `Look at that frightful ass Spode swanking about in footer bags! Did you ever in your puff see such a perisher?"
  • Strictly Formula: Sticks to the tried-and-true Jeeves and Wooster formula. There are two young couples in danger of breaking up, there's an aunt who wants Bertie to do something inconvenient, there's Bertie getting accidentally engaged. And of course Jeeves saves the day.
  • Supreme Chef: Another reason for Aunt Dahlia to want the cow creamer is that her husband is seriously considering giving their supremely talented French chef Anatole to Sir Watkyn in exchange for the creamer.
  • Take That!: The character of the would-be fascist dictator Roderick Spode is Wodehouse ruthlessly mocking the British fascist leader Sir Oswald Mosley.
  • Title Drop: Stiffy reminds Bertie of "the Code of the Woosters" ("Never let a pal down") when prevailing on Bertie to take the blame for stealing a policeman's helmet.
  • The 'Verse: Bertie mentions as one of his acquaintances Freddie Threepwood, of the Blandings Castle series.
  • Who Watches the Watchmen?: Discussed Trope, when Bertie muses on a policeman who had his hat stolen. He even quotes the Latin.