The Code of the Woosters

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The Code of the Woosters
First UK edition
AuthorP. G. Wodehouse
CountryUnited Kingdom
GenreComic novel
PublisherHerbert Jenkins (UK)
Doubleday, Doran (US)
Publication date
7 October 1938
Media typePrint
Preceded byRight Ho, Jeeves 
Followed byJoy in the Morning 

The Code of the Woosters is a novel by P. G. Wodehouse, first published on 7 October 1938, in the United Kingdom by Herbert Jenkins, London, and in the United States by Doubleday, Doran, New York.[1] It was serialised in The Saturday Evening Post (US) from 16 July to 3 September 1938 and in the London Daily Mail from 14 September to 6 October 1938.

The Code of the Woosters is the third full-length novel to feature two of Wodehouse's best-known creations, Bertie Wooster and his valet Jeeves. It introduces Sir Watkyn Bassett, the owner of a country house called Totleigh Towers where the story takes place, and his intimidating friend Roderick Spode. It is also a sequel to Right Ho, Jeeves, continuing the story of Bertie's newt-fancying friend Gussie Fink-Nottle and Gussie's droopy and overly sentimental fiancée, Madeline Bassett.

Bertie and Jeeves return to Totleigh Towers in a later novel, Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves.


I mean, imagine how some unfortunate Master Criminal would feel, on coming down to do a murder at the old Grange, if he found that not only was Sherlock Holmes putting in the weekend there, but Hercule Poirot, as well.
The more I faced up to the idea of pinching that cow-creamer, the less I liked it.

— Bertie is nervous about Sir Watkyn and Spode[2]

Jeeves wants to go with Bertie on a round-the-world cruise but Bertie is not interested. Bertie's Aunt Dahlia sends Bertie to go to a particular antique shop and sneer at a silver eighteenth-century cow-creamer, to drive down its price for Aunt Dahlia's collector husband Tom Travers. In the shop, Bertie encounters the magistrate Sir Watkyn Bassett, who is also a collector. Sir Watkyn is accompanied by his future nephew-in-law Roderick Spode, the leader of a Fascist organization called the Black Shorts.[3]

Later, Bertie learns that, by playing an underhanded trick on Tom, Sir Watkyn has obtained the creamer. Aunt Dahlia tells Bertie to steal it back. Bertie goes to Totleigh Towers, where he is startled to find that not only is Sir Watkyn there to watch over the cow-creamer but Spode as well.

Bertie has another reason for going to Totleigh Towers: he hopes to heal a rift between Gussie Fink-Nottle and Madeline, Sir Watkyn's daughter. Madeline incorrectly believes Bertie is in love with her, and she has promised to marry him if her engagement to Gussie should ever fail. In fact Bertie dislikes the drippy, childish Madeline and wishes to avoid marrying her at all costs, but his personal code of chivalry will not allow him to insult her by telling her so. To his relief, he learns upon arriving at Totleigh Towers that Gussie and Madeline have reconciled.

To keep up his confidence for an upcoming speaking engagement, Gussie has been keeping a notebook in which he writes insults about Sir Watkyn and Spode. He loses the notebook and Bertie fears that if it should fall into Sir Watkyn's hands, Sir Watkyn will forbid Madeline to marry Gussie. The notebook is found by Stephanie "Stiffy" Byng, Sir Watkyn's niece, who wants approval from her uncle to marry the local curate, Bertie's friend, Harold "Stinker" Pinker. Sir Watkyn considers Harold insufficiently wealthy and therefore unsuitable. Stiffy uses the notebook to blackmail Bertie into going along with her plan, Bertie must pretend to steal the cow-creamer but allow Harold to heroically catch him in the act. She hopes Harold's "heroism" will motivate Sir Watkyn to gratefully approve his marriage to her.

Thinking Stiffy may be concealing the notebook in her stocking, Gussie tries to search her legs. Madeline sees this, misinterprets it as hanky-panky and breaks off their engagement. Spode, who has strong protective feelings for Madeline, angrily chases after Gussie, vowing to beat him within an inch of his life for his alleged infidelity.

Jeeves learns from the Junior Ganymede club book (a confidential book in which valets and butlers record their employers’ foibles) that Spode has a shameful secret. Because of the club's strict rules, Jeeves cannot reveal anything more to Bertie than one name, "Eulalie". Confident that he can blackmail Spode by pretending to know all about his secret, Bertie rebukes Spode with sarcastic insults, orders him to leave Gussie alone and is about to threaten to reveal the truth about "Eulalie" but at the crucial moment, forgets the name. Enraged by the insults, Spode attacks. A brief scuffle ensues; Bertie tries to flee but suddenly remembers the name, and tells Spode he knows about Eulalie. Terrified, Spode backs down and apologizes for his behaviour.

Harold steals the helmet of the local policeman Constable Oates to impress Stiffy. Jeeves suggests a new plan to Stiffy: Bertie will tell Sir Watkyn he is engaged to her. Sir Watkyn, who dislikes Bertie, will then be so relieved to learn she wants to marry the curate that he will allow it. The plan works and Sir Watkyn reluctantly approves of Stiffy marrying Harold. Stiffy gratefully tells Bertie that she hid the notebook inside the cow-creamer.

Disgusted by Gussie's apparent infidelity, Madeline tells Bertie that she will marry him. Bertie needs the notebook to prove to her that Gussie was merely searching Stiffy for it. Bertie obtains the notebook and gives it to Gussie, to show to Madeline. All seems well but Gussie carelessly breaks his newts' tank, and then tries to store them in Sir Watkyn's bath. Sir Watkyn flushes the newts down the bath-drain and angrily forbids the marriage. Speechless with rage, Gussie gives Sir Watkyn the notebook of insults. Bertie realizes that Sir Watkyn will now never relent unless compelled to do so and the only way to compel him seems to be to steal the cow-creamer and hold it as ransom for Sir Watkyn's approval of Gussie as a husband for Madeline.

Aunt Dahlia steals the cow-creamer and Jeeves puts it in a suitcase. Jeeves gives the suitcase to Gussie, who drives with it to London to escape the angered Sir Watkyn. Opening the other suitcase, Jeeves finds Oates's helmet, which Stiffy hid there. Bertie agrees to take the blame for stealing the helmet after Stiffy appeals to one of his personal rules, the Code of the Woosters, "Never let a pal down".[4]

Unable to prove that Bertie stole the cow-creamer, Sir Watkyn gleefully accuses him of stealing the helmet and vows to sentence him to a prison term. Jeeves blackmails Spode with the name Eulalie and forces Spode to announce that he stole the helmet. Jeeves then points out that Bertie can sue Sir Watkyn for wrongful arrest. Trapped, Sir Watkyn concedes approval for Madeline's and Stiffy's marriages.

Unbearably curious about Spode's secret, Bertie agrees to go on the world cruise if Jeeves will tell him the truth about Eulalie. After hesitating, Jeeves reveals that Spode is a talented designer of ladies' underclothing, runs a shop called Eulalie Soeurs and fears that his authority with his followers would be jeopardized if this became known.


Roderick Spode is a satirical parody of the real-life British fascist politician Sir Oswald Mosley, leader of the British Union of Fascists (called the "Blackshirts"). As Gussie Fink-Nottle tells Bertie: "Don't you ever read the papers? Roderick Spode is the founder and head of the Saviours of Britain, a Fascist organization better known as the Black Shorts. His general idea, if he doesn't get knocked on the head with a bottle in one of the frequent brawls in which he and his followers indulge, is to make himself a Dictator." The reference to bottle-breaking suggests that Spode can only ever hope to gain power by using brute force. Bertie and Gussie also discuss the name of Spode's organization:

"Well, I'm dashed. I thought he was something of that sort. That chin…those eyes…and for the matter of that, that moustache. By the way, when you say 'shorts' you mean 'shirts', of course."
"No. By the time Spode formed his association, there were no shirts left. He and his adherents wear black shorts."
"Footer bags, you mean?"
"How perfectly foul."

Gussie's statement that "there were no shirts left" references a number of fascist groups in the 1930s - such the Italian Blackshirts, Hitler's Brownshirts, the French Blueshirts, the Irish Greenshirts and the American Silver Shirts. And implies there were no unused shirt colours for the political uniform of Spode's group, forcing them to wear distinctive shorts instead.

While Bertie finds the group's black shorts absurd (he compares them "footer bags", or football shorts), the joke about shorts shows that the would-be dictator has a feebly derivative style. As the story progresses, Spode demonstrates a violent nature, and threatens to use violence not so much as a means to a political end but as a source of gratification in itself. For example, he threatens Bertie regarding the cow-creamer: "'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". Wodehouse portrays Spode as menacing by comically making Spode seem larger to Bertie throughout the story; at first Spode seems to be seven feet tall, but after making violent threats he grows in height and eventually seems to be about eight foot six. Ultimately, Jeeves provides Bertie with a secret about Spode that allows Bertie to denounce Spode.[5]


In The Code of the Woosters, Wodehouse uses a variety of stylistic devices to create humour. For example, he uses vivid imagery to make exaggerated comparisons for comic effect: "Have you ever heard Sir Watkyn Bassett dealing with a bowl of soup? It's not unlike the Scottish express going through a tunnel" (chapter 4).[6]

Wodehouse occasionally uses a "neglected positive" (a word most used in its negative form), as with gruntled in chapter 1: "I could see that, if not actually disgruntled, he was far from being gruntled".[7] The expression "part brass rags" is comically rendered in passive voice in chapter 6: "Brass rags had been parted by the young couple".[8]

Wodehouse sometimes uses transliteration of ethnic or class-based mispronunciations; The Code of the Woosters features a rural policeman saying "bersicle" for "bicycle" and "verlent" for "violent" (chapter 4).[9]

Though malapropisms are rare in Bertie's speech, one occurs in chapter 5 when Bertie uses "incredulous" for "incredible"; Bertie also makes the same mistake in chapter five of Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves.[10] Bertie often employs humorous abbreviations, such as exclamash for "exclamation" in chapter 4, and posish for "position" and compash for "compassion" in chapter 5.[11] Some words that have been repeated or are part of cliché phrases are abbreviated to a single letter. For instance, Bertie sometimes refers to Aunt Dahlia as "aged relative", and abbreviates this when speaking to her in chapter 5: "'Let me explain, aged r.'".[12]

As in many of the Jeeves novels, Bertie takes time in the beginning of The Code of the Woosters to ponder how much he should summarize previous events. In chapter 1, after Gussie Fink-Nottle is first mentioned, Bertie states:

A thing I never know, when I'm starting out to tell a story about a chap I've told a story about before, is how much explanation to bung in at the outset. It's a problem you've got to look at from every angle. I mean to say, in the present case, if I take it for granted that my public knows all about Gussie Fink-Nottle and just breeze ahead, those publicans who weren't hanging on my lips the first time are apt to be fogged. Whereas, if before kicking off I give about eight volumes of the man's life and history, other bimbos, who were so hanging, will stifle yawns and murmur "Old stuff. Get on with it."

Bertie then says that he will "put the salient facts as briefly as possible", and further discusses his intention to recount the facts concisely. Part of the humour of this passage is that, despite his concerns about brevity, Bertie's lead-in is nearly as long as the following expositional passage itself.[13]

Beginning with The Code of the Woosters, in which he is suspected of stealing the cow-creamer and a policeman's helmet, Bertie is accused of a theft in every novel in which he appears, which often constitutes a major plot line. The motif of having Bertie suspected of theft creates humour because of its incongruity with Bertie's naive honesty.[14]


The novel was originally to be titled The Silver Cow.[15]

Erd Brandt, an editor at the Saturday Evening Post, criticized the original draft of The Code of the Woosters for having too many stage waits. Wodehouse agreed and removed them.[16]

In a 1932 letter to his friend William Townend, Wodehouse discussed two of his acquaintances, H. G. Wells and Wells's partner Odette Keun. Wodehouse wrote that "when you go to his residence, the first thing you see is an enormous fireplace, and round it are carved in huge letters the words: TWO LOVERS BUILT THIS HOUSE. Her idea, I imagine. I can't believe Wells would have thought of that himself". This real-life anecdote was incorporated into The Code of the Woosters: Bertie recalls in chapter 3 that he "once stayed at the residence of a newly married pal of mine, and his bride had had carved in large letters over the fireplace in the drawing-room, where it was impossible to miss it, the legend 'Two Lovers Built This Nest', and I can still recall the look of dumb anguish in the other half of the sketch's eyes every time he came in and saw it".[17]

Publication history[edit]

The story was illustrated by Wallace Morgan in the Saturday Evening Post.[18]


  • Frank Swinnerton, The Observer (16 October 1938): "[Bertie] hastens, with Jeeves, to the country, where Aunt Dahlia, old Bassett, Spode, a curate, a policeman, and the rest come and go at speed in a delightful stream, not of consciousness, but of happy invention and still happier expression. The stream never fails, although here and there it slows; and Bertie's character continues to be not more remarkable than his vocabulary".[19]
  • The Times (21 October 1938): "The ardent devotee, it must be confessed, is always fearful that Mr. Wodehouse will one day come short of himself, but The Code of the Woosters may reassure him once more. Bertram Wooster is here in as thorough a tangle as Jeeves has ever been required to straighten out. A little family blackmail, connected with a cream jug Uncle Tom desires for his collection, plunges Wooster into the heart of the Bassett territory … As if this were not enough there is also the fierce Roderick Spode, the leader of the Black Shorts, and at least two other troubles. How, indeed, would a Wooster manage without his Jeeves?".[20]
  • Los Angeles Times (6 November 1938): "Bertie and Jeeves again, in one more of those amazing novels that Wodehouse turns out with perennial freshness, ringing a change on language and plot but never getting away from the essential Wodehousian manner. … His latest commentary on human weakness and imbecility begins refreshingly with Bertie Wooster's search for a Dutch (or is it English?) cow-creamer".[21]
  • Julia Stuart, The Wall Street Journal (14 June 2013): "Published in 1938, "The Code of the Woosters" is the third novel featuring the duo, and the pages yodel with Wodehouse's trademark wit. One character eats soup 'not unlike the Scottish express going through a tunnel.' While some farces tire, this comedy of errors canters. We hold on, hair flying, desperate to know who finally does get their hands on the silver cow creamer that Wooster's Aunt Dahlia has asked him to steal".[22]
  • Charlotte Jones, The Guardian (20 December 2013): "The Code of the Woosters pushes Wodehouse's trademark convoluted plotting to the limit; Bertie has been in the soup before but, as he says to Jeeves at the beginning of the story, 'this one wins the mottled oyster'. What makes Wodehouse wonderful, though, isn't the preposterous lunacy of the plots, or even the easy nostalgia of the setting; it is his prose. At the core of all of his stories is the surprise of language at its most flexible, fresh and fun".[23]
  • The Code of the Woosters has been featured in multiple lists, including The Guardian's 2009 list "1000 novels everyone must read" (along with Thank You, Jeeves and Joy in the Morning),[24] The Telegraph's "The 15 best comedy books of all time" (2014),[25] BBC Culture's "The 100 greatest British novels" (2015),[26] Esquire's "The 30 Funniest Books Ever Written" (2018),[27] and Penguin Books's "100 must-read classic books" (2018).[28]



Much of the plot was adapted to form the first two episodes of the second series of the ITV series Jeeves and Wooster, "Jeeves Saves the Cow-Creamer" and "The Bassetts' Fancy Dress Ball", which first aired on 14 April and 21 April 1991.[29][30] There are some differences, including:

  • The events surrounding the cow-creamer occur in the former episode, while events concerning Gussie's notebook and the policeman's helmet occur in the latter episode.
  • In the original story, the cow-creamer is about four inches high and six inches long, and large enough to contain Gussie's small notebook. The cow-creamer is smaller than this in the episode.
  • In the episode, Jeeves has to go to London to learn about Eulalie; in the original story, he was able to acquire this information by telephone.
  • In the episode, when Bertie does not remember Eulalie, he guesses other similar names, and eventually Jeeves writes the name for him on a piece of paper; in the original story, Bertie does not make guesses, since he cannot even remember the beginning of the name, and remembers Eulalie after Aunt Dahlia shouts "You!" at Spode.
  • In the episode, Jeeves takes the suitcase that Gussie takes in the original story.
  • In both episodes, Sir Watkyn knows that Stiffy wants to marry Harold Pinker from the start, but disapproves of her marrying a curate; in the original story, Sir Watkyn was not aware of their engagement until Stiffy says she does not plan to marry Bertie.
  • In the episode, Jeeves does not agree to tell Bertie about Eulalie in exchange for a cruise, and instead Bertie discovers Spode in his shop. Bertie does tell Jeeves he can get rid of handkerchiefs with Bertie's initials, which were not mentioned in the original story.
  • In the episode, Sir Watkyn, thinking that Madeline and Bertie are engaged, initially approves of a marriage between Bertie and Stiffy, and only decides Harold Pinker is a better match for Stiffy after Bertie is discovered with Constable Oates's helmet.
  • Stiffy does not hide the notebook in the cow-creamer in the episode, and instead gives it to Spode.
  • In the episode, Sir Watkyn holds a fancy dress ball, which did not occur in the original story.


The play Jeeves and Wooster in Perfect Nonsense, based on The Code of the Woosters, was first performed on 10 October 2013 at Richmond Theatre, moving to the West End later that month, where its run at the Duke of York's Theatre, London, was extended to 20 September 2014. It was produced at Hartford Stage in Hartford, Connecticut on March 21 - April 20, 2019.


The Code of the Woosters was adapted into a radio drama in 1973 as part of the series What Ho! Jeeves starring Michael Hordern as Jeeves and Richard Briers as Bertie Wooster.[31]

L.A. Theatre Works dramatised The Code of the Woosters in 1997, with Martin Jarvis as Jeeves (and Roderick Spode) and Mark Richard as Bertie Wooster.[32]

On 9 April 2006, BBC Radio 4 broadcast The Code of the Woosters as its Classic Serial.[33] Andrew Sachs appeared as Jeeves and Marcus Brigstocke as Bertie Wooster.


  1. ^ McIlvaine (1990), pp. 74–76, A60.
  2. ^ Wodehouse (2008) [1938], chapter 2, p. 44.
  3. ^ Wodehouse (2008) [1938], chapter 3, p. 66.
  4. ^ Wodehouse (2008) [1938], chapter 13, p. 254.
  5. ^ Green, Benny (1981). P. G. Wodehouse: A Literary Biography. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 194–196. ISBN 0-19-281390-0.
  6. ^ Hall (1974), p. 108.
  7. ^ Hall (1974), p. 84
  8. ^ Hall (1974), p. 85
  9. ^ Hall (1974), p. 70.
  10. ^ Hall (1974), pp. 96–97.
  11. ^ Hall (1974), pp. 74 and 77.
  12. ^ Thompson (1992), p. 324.
  13. ^ Thompson (1992), p. 210.
  14. ^ Thompson (1992), p. 212.
  15. ^ Phelps (1992), p. 190.
  16. ^ Phelps (1992), p. 195.
  17. ^ Wodehouse, P. G. (2013). Ratcliffe, Sophie (ed.). P. G. Wodehouse: A Life in Letters. W. W. Norton & Company. p. 230. ISBN 978-0786422883.
  18. ^ McIlvaine (1990), p. 158, D59.109-D59.116.
  19. ^ Swinnerton, Frank (16 October 1938). "New Novels". The Observer. London. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  20. ^ S., J. (21 October 1938). "New Novels". The Times. London. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  21. ^ N., W. (6 November 1938). "Wodehouse Book Spoofs Fascists". The Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. Retrieved 4 April 2018.
  22. ^ Stuart, Julia (14 June 2013). "Book Review: The Code of the Woosters". The Wall Street Journal. New York. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  23. ^ Jones, Charlotte (20 December 2013). "The Code of Woosters, by PG Wodehouse: Splendid, Jeeves!". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 3 April 2018.
  24. ^ Warner, Sylvia Townsend (23 January 2009). "1000 novels everyone must read: the definitive list". The Guardian. Guardian News & Media Limited. Retrieved 26 December 2019.
  25. ^ "The 15 best comedy books of all time". The Telegraph. Telegraph Media Group Limited. 30 April 2014. Retrieved 26 December 2019.
  26. ^ Ciabattari, Jane (7 December 2015). "The 100 greatest British novels". BBC Culture. BBC. Retrieved 26 December 2019.
  27. ^ "The 30 Funniest Books Ever Written". Esquire. Hearst UK. 15 February 2018. Retrieved 26 December 2019.
  28. ^ "100 must-read classic books, as chosen by our readers". Penguin. Penguin Random House. 5 September 2018. Retrieved 26 December 2019.
  29. ^ "Jeeves and Wooster Series 2, Episode 1". British Comedy Guide. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  30. ^ "Jeeves and Wooster Series 2, Episode 2". British Comedy Guide. Retrieved 5 November 2017.
  31. ^ "What Ho! Jeeves: Joy in the Morning". What Ho! Jeeves: Joy in the Morning. 25 March 2016. BBC. BBC Radio 4 Extra.
  32. ^ "The Code of the Woosters". LATW. L.A. Theatre Works. 2017. Retrieved 25 February 2018.
  33. ^ Dramatised in 2 parts by Judith French (9 April 2006). "Classic Serial: Code of the Woosters". Classic Serial. BBC. BBC Radio 4.

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