Tuesday, April 29, 2008

From Market Snodsbury to Madison Square Garden?

Jeeves takes Charge Revenge
(with apologies to PG Wodehouse)

by Niranjan Ramakrishnan

The usual Jeeves story is as follows: Bertie gets in hot water, goes bleating to Jeeves, who brings to bear his infinite sagacity to rescue his master. While doing so, he also extracts a victory of sorts -- making Bertie give up something -- now a jacket, now a tie, another time his moustache! The story ends with a restored Bertie Wooster calling for a restorative brandy and soda, only to find the effects already at his elbow. Jeeves is perfect.

Unsuitable romantic dalliances are one thing, calling for no more than minor strictures as above, but a permanent change in the status-quo is a different matter altogether. In such instances, Jeeves can be ruthless, as when Wooster contemplates having his sister and her three daughters move in with him ("it will be nice to hear the pitter-patter of little feet about the place, Jeeves", or words to that effect). Jeeves realizes that immediate and salutary measures are called for. In an unforgettable episode (the only one written in Jeeves' hand rather than Wooster's), he puts Bertie before an audience of schoolgirls, from which Wooster emerges a chastened man, cured of his illusions about how charming the young ladies are.

Something similar occurred last month, when Sen. Bertie Wooster (D-IL) was asked about a ripe idea (assumed, naturally, to have emanated from Jeeves). Instead of paying tribute to the great man ("from the collar upward, he stands alone" would have been mot juste), he instead chose to take the tack of I was reluctantly compelled to hand the misguided blighter the mitten...

Addressing the girls school in Philadelphia shortly thereafter, he sought to exercise the full force of his own personality, freely throwing all and sundry under the bus as he did so -- from public figures to private individuals -- most notably his own grandmother -- no wonder he was described later by Jeeves as merely doing what politicians do. But in his defense, we must add that here Bertie was only following the ancient Wodehousian dictum, drilled into every Drones Club alum: stick to stout denial.

Jeeves, meanwhile, bided his time, making no comment. As the expression goes, he watched Bertie's future progress with considerable interest, shaking his head many times over the next few weeks, with an avuncular sadness, as he watched the young master's discomfiture -- whether it was letting his hair down in San Francisco CA, bowling in Altoona, PA, or blowing it in the debate a couple of days before the big primary. A lesser gentleman's gentleman would have said that nature had scored the equalizer, and proceeded to tear out those eleven pages from the book at the Junior Ganymede.

But as Bertie Wooster has said often, Jeeves stands alone (in this instance quite literally, and that was one huge grievance right there).

He waited his moment, and when he was ready, he burst forth...as Gussie Fink Nottle.

Now there are two unforgettable speeches in the Wodehouse canon. One, mentioned above, is Bertie Wooster addressing the Girls' School. The second is Gussie Fink Nottle's speech to the Market Snodsbury Grammar School. Fink Nottle, the shy and reclusive friend of Wooster's (and student of newts -- your joke here) is fully drunk (Wooster and Jeeves, unbeknownst to each other, have both spiked his drink, with the common objective of getting him over his fear of audiences) as he plows ahead with his speech, inebriation having vanquished inhibition:
[A snippet of Bertie Wooster's description of the speech]
"G. G. Simmons was an unpleasant perky-looking stripling, mostly front teeth and spectacles... Gussie, I was sorry to see, didn't like him. 'So you've won the Scripture-knowledge prize, have you?'

'Sir, yes, sir.'

'Yes,' said Gussie, 'you look just the sort of little tick who would. And yet,' he said, pausing and eyeing the child keenly, 'how are we to know that this has all been open and above board? Let me test you, G. G. Simmons. Who was What's-His-Name - the chap who begat Thingummy? Can you answer me that, Simmons?'

'Sir, no, sir.'

Gussie turned to the bearded bloke. 'Fishy,' he said. 'Very fishy. This boy appears to be totally lacking in Scripture knowledge.'"

[Bertie leaves around this point, embarrassed as Gussie spots him and discloses to the audience that Bertie Wooster, the pessimist, had said that if he spoke, his pants would split in the back. Later on, Jeeves fills him in...]

"...he proceeded to deliver a violent verbal attack upon the young gentleman, asserting that it was impossible for him to have won the Scripture-knowledge prize without systematic cheating on an impressive scale. He went so far as to suggest that Master Simmons was well known to the police.
'Golly, Jeeves!'

Yes, sir. The words did create a considerable sensation. The reaction of those present to this accusation I should describe as mixed. The young students appeared pleased and applauded vigorously, but Master Simmons's mother rose from her seat and addressed Mr Fink-Nottle in terms of strong protest.

'Did Gussie seem taken aback? Did he recede from his position?'

No, sir. He said he could see it all now; and hinted at a guilty liaison between Master Simmons's mother and the head master, accusing the latter of having cooked the marks, as his expression was, in order to gain favour with the former.

'You don't mean that?'

Yes, sir.

'Egad, Jeeves! And then -'

They sang the national anthem, sir."
Jeeves, in Gussie Fink Nottle's costume (Fink Nottle once was arrested dressed as Mephistopheles) is now embarked upon a veritable spree of Market Snodsburys, giving the original a run for its money. Starting with the NAACP convention, where he showed off his mimicry, sang, danced and conducted a mock orchestra, he went on to a packed house at the National Press Club in Washington DC.

As the show hits the road, Bertie squirms, helpless. But as he has himself often noted, pity the poor fish that would match its wits against Jeeves.

Copyright (c) Niranjan Ramakrishnan, 2008.