Monday, August 1, 2016

Little Old Ladies 3: Bertie Wooster’s Aunts

Much as I love Bertie Wooster, especially played by Hugh Laurie where he’s not quite so much of an upper-class twit as most illustrators make him, I can’t help but feel that he deserves all the trouble he gets for being such a doormat. It’s not that he’s a doormat to one person that knows his kryptonite and manipulates his weaknesses. It’s that he caves to every person he knows. This includes fellow Drones club members, old Eton classmates, cousins, girlfriends and fiancées, former girlfriends and fiancées, enemies, bullies, constables, and most especially his aunts. Of course his butler Jeeves also exerts a fair amount of influence on Bertie, but usually this is of a positive note, such as making him shave off terrible mustachios, and it is implied Jeeves would like Bertie to go to fewer parties and read more Spinoza. 

For someone who is particularly susceptible to the threats and manipulations of aunts, Bertie is flooded with more than his fair share. Of the ones that are mentioned (and I am led to believe there might be other unnamed aunts off skulking in the wings) there are Emily, Julia, Agatha and Dahlia. Emily and Julia are aunts by marriage, and not so much problems in their own right, except their children often are off getting into trouble which of course Bertie (rather than the actual parents) is responsible for getting them out of. To be fair, this may be less about aunts Julia and Emily feeling up to the task of reprimanding their children, and more about Bertie’s having a certain butler who has a knack for solving sticky issues.

Of all the formidable aunts of fiction, Bertie Wooster’s Aunt Agatha comes to mind right away, imposing, bellowing, proud and disgusted with her idle empty-headed nephew. She’s much like Hyacinth Bucket from the Britcom Keeping Up Appearances, overbearingly sophisticated and authoritative…which makes any embarrassment all the more hilarious when her plans backfire. Unfortunately for Bertie, oftentimes these backfires are his fault. (One wonders why Aunt Agatha even bothers trusting him with such important missions as Extricating Young Cousin Gussie from the grip of American dissipation.) 

Next on the list of aggravating aunts is Aunt Dahlia. Dahlia is Agatha’s sister, but they’re polar opposites. Dahlia gets along quite well with Bertie, actually, but that might not be such a good thing for Bertie. Dahlia is always into some mischief, often because she tries to own a magazine that is constantly going bankrupt, but she cannot get her husband to cough up the funds to keep the rag afloat. So instead of finding some kindly investor (why doesn’t she just ask Bertie for the money? He certainly never seems low on funds), she recruits Bertie to steal stuff like a silver cow creamer. Which he does. But not usually very well. Often Bertie is also the inadvertent cause of insulting Aunt Dahlia’s temperamental French chef Anatole, whose threats to leave are another problem for the genius of Jeeves to solve before the end of the stories.

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