Sunday, January 13, 2013

When the Sidekicks Tell the Story: Bertie Wooster, Master and Sidekick

“I'm not absolutely certain of the facts, but I rather fancy it's Shakespeare who says that it's always just when a fellow is feeling particularly braced with things in general that Fate sneaks up behind him with the bit of lead piping.”
P.G. Wodehouse, Carry On, Jeeves

Do you ever get that urge to write a complex story about a genius servant who, through intelligence, deadpan wit, and sheer luck manages to control his cheerful-but dippy master and even more dippy friend and enemies?  Does that urge come with the matching accessory of wanting to include dialog ranging from Shakespearean poetry to phrases like ‘What ho,’ 'oh rather!' and 'toodle off,' names like Gussie Fink-Nottle and Bingo Little?

Then I’m sorry to tell you that you’d be ripping off P.G. “Plum” Wodehouse big time.  But luckily he saved you the trouble of writing them, so you can straightaway start reading them.  

As the title of the incredible TV adaptation implies, Reginald Jeeves is the “hero” of the stories because his name comes first and by default because he happens to be the character in this Wodehousian universe who isn’t starkers.  His task is to keep his boss, Bertram “Bertie” Wooster, from getting married to crazy women, from being throttled by crazy countryside dictators, from being arrested for stealing silver cow creamers at the behest of his crazy aunts, and from Bertie’s own terrible fashion sense. 

Sound complicated?  You don’t know the half of it.  At the end of each story, though, Jeeves shows up, calmly lies Bertie out of whatever trouble he’s in, and then Bertie repays him by throwing away that garish checkered suit that drives Jeeves up the wall. 

Bertie himself is an idle, rich twit, with few true friendships and rocky relationships with his family.  Instead of empathizing with other characters and trying to help, he’s usually the one in a fix.  Rather than endearing the readers to him with his kindness or emotional empathy to other characters, he endears us to him because he’s willing to be laughed at.  Most of the comedy of these stories is from Bertie acting foolish—actions he doesn’t try to underplay as he related his misadventures.  He also admits how Jeeves is brilliant in getting him out of said misadventures. 

But personally, my favorite aspect of Bertie’s character is his sheer storytelling ability.  His loose grasp of language may be riddled with half-quotations and imaginative analogies that don’t quite fit the situation at hand, but I certainly envy it anyway.

Until next time, I’d better toodle off.

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