BBC Radio 7, 3-10 April 2009
This two-part reading by Alex Jennings recounted one of Bertie Wooster's
comic misadventures involving a policeman's helmet, a case of mistaken identity, a jaunt down to the shires and a chance encounter
with a young woman bearing a strong facial resemblance to Honoria Glossop, one of Bertie's ex-girlfriends. The picaresque
plot unfolded at a lively pace: Jennings obviously relished playing all the characters - Bertie, Jeeves, plus assorted elderly
aunts, uncles, butlers, dippy young women and air-headed men.
As I listened, I realized just what a clever comic writer Wodehouse was. On the face
of it Bertie is the archetypal silly ass with more money than sense, spending his days either sleeping or hobnobbing with
his chums at the Drones Club. Invariably he ends up in one scrape or another, which requires Jeeves's patient attention to
unravel. On the other hand Bertie loves to do those things which Wodehouse's readers long to do - to go out, get drunk and
dedicate themselves to the cause of hedonism. Bertie represents the heart, if you like, while Jeeves is the head; the cool-headed,
methodical thinker offering sound advice. They are a double act representing the two sides of the human psyche. Wodehouse
himself regards the tales with a kind of amused benevolence: no one ever suffers, and happy endings are inevitable with most
young men marrying their women - except Bertie himself who is perpetually 'married' to Jeeves.
Such a relationship could be thought to possess homosexual connotations. Jeeves is
both helpmeet and nursemaid to Wooster - a mother and father figure rolled into one. However Wodehouse would have seen nothing
improper in their relationship; throughout his lengthy career as a writer he embraced the public school ethos, which valued
the experience of boys living together and growing up as men, enjoying the benefits of their own company while remaining (mostly)
heterosexual. Bertie is the achetypal public school product who needs his fag - in other words Jeeves - to keep him on the
straight and narrow.
Why are these stories so popular today, despite the fact that they portray a world
which never existed except in Wodehouse's mind? The reason lies in the author's creation of a prelapsarian world in which
no one is actually very bad (not even Bertie's Aunt Agatha). Like Bertie, we are encouraged to have a good time while listening
to the stories, without worrying about the consequences. Everything will always turn out fine.