It is our habit to re-read a favorite Christmas story around Christmastime each year — aloud if anyone will listen, silently if they won’t. Often as not, it’s A Christmas Carol, which never gets old. Sometimes it’s one of Dickens’s lesser Christmas tales, sometimes O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.” This Christmas Eve, we fell merrily back on P.G. Wodehouse’s only Christmas tale, “Jeeves and the Yule-Tide Spirit.”
We don’t suppose Wodehouse has much of a reputation as a Christmas author. Dickens does, in good part because of his affectionate account of the Cratchit family’s Christmas dinner party and the shenanigans under the mistletoe at the Wardles’ (Pickwick Papers, chapter 28) . But Bertie Wooster passes lightly over the details of the Christmas bash at Skeldings, the country home of Lady Wickham:
It being Christmas Eve, there was, as I had foreseen, a good deal of revelry and what not; so that it wasn’t till past one that I got to my room.
On with the story, Wodehouse must have thought.
Both Wodehouse and Dickens give us their characters waking up with their servants on Christmas morning. From “Jeeves and the Yule-Tide Spirit,” a passage that reminded us of Scrooge waking up after his night with the ghosts of Christmas Past, Christmas Present, and Christmas Future:
I could have sworn I hadn’t so much as dozed off for even a minute; but apparently I had. For the curtains were drawn back and daylight was coming in through the window, and there was Jeeves with a cup of tea on a tray.
“Merry Christmas, sir!”
And from Pickwick Papers, chapter 30:
“Well, Sam,” said Mr. Pickwick as that favoured servitor entered his bed-chamber with his warm water, on the morning of Christmas Day, “still frosty?”
“Water in the wash-hand basin’s a mask o’ ice, Sir,” responded Sam.
“Severe weather, Sam,” observed Mr. Pickwick.
“Fine time for them as is well wropped up, as the Polar Bear said to himself ven he was practising his skating,” replied Mr. Weller.
We candidly admit that the theme of Wodehouse’s story is not actually one of peace on earth and good-will to men, like A Christmas Carol and the passages from Pickwick. “Jeeves and the Yule-Tide Spirit” is, instead, an account of Bertie Wooster’s ill-advised infatuation with the red-headed Roberta Wickham and Bertie’s plan to revenge himself on his friend Tuppy Glossop for a practical joke.
And it’s one of the most hilarious stories Wodehouse ever wrote — in fact, one of the funniest things anyone ever wrote. Jeeves has some of his best lines, especially when he’s advising his master against an alliance with Roberta Wickham:
“I would always hesitate to recommend as a life’s companion a young lady with such a vivid shade of red hair.”
Good cheer on Christmas Eve!