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Jeeves

Reginald Jeeves is a fictional character in the short stories and novels of P. G. Wodehouse, being the "gentleman's personal gentleman" (valet) of Bertie Wooster (Bertram Wilberforce Wooster). Created in 1915 and named in the title of most of his stories since 1916 and most of his books from 1919 to 1974, he is Wodehouse's most famous character. Jeeves has come to be seen as the quintessential example of his profession, inspiring many famous similar characters, and the name of Internet search engine Ask Jeeves. A "Jeeves" is now a generic term in references such as the Oxford English Dictionary.

Jeeves is a valet, not a butler; a valet serves his employer as a person, whereas a butler serves his employer's house. However, Bertie Wooster has lent Jeeves out as a butler on several occasions, and notes that "if the call comes, he can buttle with the best of them".

Character

The essential concept that drives the Jeeves stories is that the brilliant valet is firmly in control of his rich and foppish young employer's life. Much of the comic effect derives from the fact that the clueless Bertie Wooster, who narrates most of the stories, is for the most part blissfully unaware of how he is being manipulated. When Bertie gets into one of his scrapes, leading to an unwanted social obligation, legal trouble, or marriage engagement, Jeeves invariably comes up with a subtle plan to save the day, often without Bertie's knowledge.

Jeeves is known for his convoluted, yet precise, speech and for quoting from Shakespeare and famous romantic poets. In his free time, he likes to relax with "improving" books such as the complete works of Spinoza, or to read "Dostoyevsky and the great Russians. He "glides" or "shimmers" in and out of rooms and may appear or disappear suddenly and without warning. His potable concoctions, both of the alcoholic and the morning-after variety, are legendary.

Jeeves frequently displays apparent mastery over a vast range of subjects : from philosophy (his favourite philosopher is Spinoza) to an encyclopaedic knowledge of poetry, science, history, psychology, geography, politics and literature. He is also a 'bit of a whizz' in all matters pertaining to gambling, car maintenance, etiquette and women. However his most impressive feats are a flawless knowledge of the British Aristocracy and making antidotes (esp. for hangovers). His mental prowess is attributed to eating fish, according to Bertie, and the latter often offers the dish to Jeeves.

Jeeves has distinct opinions about certain items that Bertie adopts, such as a moustache, monogrammed handkerchiefs, a straw boater, an alpine hat, a scarlet cummerbund, spats in the Eton colours, white dinner jacket, or purple socks. Bertie's decision to take up playing the banjolele in Thank You, Jeeves almost led to a permanent rift between the two. Should Jeeves express his disapproval for an accessory of Bertie's, it is certain that his charge will reluctantly dispose of it in some way or another before the end of the story, or will announce his intention to do so only to find Jeeves has already "taken the liberty" of discarding it himself.

Jeeves is a member of the Junior Ganymede Club, a club for butlers and valets, in whose club book all members must write down all the exploits of their employers. Thus, butlers and valets can be forewarned before taking up employment with the more infamous employers mentioned in the club book. The section labeled 'WOOSTER B' is the largest in the book. In Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit it contained "eleven pages, and by Much Obliged, Jeeves it has grown to "eighteen pages" « "[...] As a rule, a few lines suffice. Your eighteen pages are quite exceptional." — "Eighteen? I thought it was eleven." — "You are omitting to take into your calculations the report of your misadventures at Totleigh Towers [...]" » (Jeeves and Bertie, in Much Obliged, Jeeves, chapter one.) . However, at the end of Much Obliged, Jeeves, Jeeves informs Bertie that he has destroyed the eighteen pages, anticipating that he will never leave the latter's employment, thus eliminating the need to inform prospective valets about his employer's quirks; Bertie's answer provides the book with its name.

Only once in the Wodehouse canon does Jeeves appear without Bertie: Ring for Jeeves, in which he is on loan to the 9th Earl of Rowcester while Bertie attends a school where the idle rich learn self-sufficiency in case of social upheaval. The novel was adapted from Wodehouse's play Come On, Jeeves, which he felt needed a more conventional ending, but was unwilling to marry off Bertie.

Jeeves's first job was as a page boy at a girls' school, after which he had at least eleven other employers. Before entering the employ of Bertie Wooster, he was with Lord Worplesdon, resigning after nearly a year because of Worplesdon's eccentric choice of evening dress; Mr Digby Thistleton (later Lord Bridgenorth), who sold hair tonic; Mr Montague Todd, a financier who was in the second year of a prison term when Jeeves mentioned him to Bertie; Lord Brancaster, who gave port-soaked seedcake to his pet parrot; and Lord Frederick Ranelagh, swindled in Monte Carlo by the reappearing character Soapy Sid. His tenure with Bertie contained several gaps, during which he was employed elsewhere: he worked for Lord Rowcester for the length of Ring for Jeeves; Marmaduke 'Chuffy' Chuffnell for a week in Thank You, Jeeves, after giving notice due to Bertie's unwillingness to quit playing the banjolele; J. Washburn Stoker for a short period; Gussie Fink-Nottle, who masqueraded as Bertie in The Mating Season; and Sir Watkyn Bassett as a trick to get Bertie released from prison in Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves.

Jeeves's first name of Reginald was not revealed until the penultimate novel in the series, Much Obliged, Jeeves (1971), when Bertie hears a "Hullo, Reggie" greeting Jeeves. The readers may have been surprised to learn Jeeves's first name, but Bertie was stunned by the revelation "that he had a first name" in the first place.

The Jeeves type of a sagacious sarcastic styled servant has become a modern archetype which probably inspired most later similar characters, from Dorothy L. Sayers's 1923 manservant Mervyn Bunter, to Batman's 1943 butler Alfred, to Wodehouse fan Isaac Asimov's 1971 waiter Henry of the Black Widowers club, to Joseph Marcell's Geoffrey of the Banks residence on the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Jeeves's propensity for wisdom and knowledge is so well known that it inspired the original name of the Internet search website Ask.com (called AskJeeves from 1996 to 2006). In the twenty-first century, a "Jeeves" is a generic term (in the fashion of "a Jonah") for any useful and reliable person in dictionaries such as the Oxford English Dictionary or the Encarta World English Dictionary.

Stories

Wodehouse's work is often divided according to certain recurring characters and settings; the stories and novels about Bertie and Jeeves are often called "the Jeeves canon" or simply "the Jeeves books".

The concept which eventually became Jeeves actually preceded Bertie in Wodehouse's mind: he had long considered the idea of a butler — later a valet — who could solve any problem. A character named Reggie Pepper, who was in all respects very much like Bertie but without Jeeves, was the protagonist of seven short stories; Wodehouse soon decided to rewrite the Pepper stories, switching Reggie's character to Bertie Wooster and combining him with an ingenious valet. In his 1953 semi-autobiographical book with Guy Bolton Bring on the Girls!, Wodehouse suggests that Jeeves was based on an actual butler called Eugene Robinson that he employed for the purpose of study, and recounts a story where Robinson extricated Wodehouse from a real-life predicament; he also says that he named his Jeeves after Percy Jeeves (1888-1916), a then-popular English cricketer for Warwickshire. Percy Jeeves was killed at the Battle of the Somme during the attack on High Wood in July 1916, two months before the first appearance of the eponymous butler who would make his name a household word.

The Jeeves and Wooster canon was written between 1915 and 1974, and includes Wodehouse's last completed novel, Aunts Aren't Gentlemen. Bertie narrates all the stories but two, "Bertie Changes His Mind" (which Jeeves himself narrates), and Ring for Jeeves (which features Jeeves but not Bertie and is written in the third person). The stories are set in three primary locations: London, where Bertie has a flat and is a member of the raucous Drones Club; various stately homes in the English countryside, most commonly Totleigh Towers or Brinkley Court; or New York City and a few other locations in the United States. All take place in a timeless world based on an idealized vision of England before World War II. Only Ring for Jeeves mentions World War II.

Jeeves and Bertie first appeared in "Extricating Young Gussie", a short story published in September 1915, in which Jeeves's character is minor and not fully developed and Bertie's surname appears to be Mannering-Phipps. The first fully recognizable Jeeves and Bertie story was "The Artistic Career of Corky", published in early 1916. In the later stories, Jeeves assumed the role of Bertie's co-protagonist; indeed, their meeting was told in November 1916 in "Jeeves Takes Charge". In recent years, they have come to be called a comic duo.

The Jeeves canon consists of 35 short stories and 11 novels (or 24 short stories and 12 novels, depending on whether The Inimitable Jeeves is considered a novel or a collection of linked stories):

  • The Man With Two Left Feet (1917) — One story in a book of thirteen
  • (My Man Jeeves (1919) — Four stories in a book of eight, all four reprinted in Carry on, Jeeves. The non-Jeeves stories feature Reggie Pepper.)
    • ("Leave It to Jeeves", was reprinted in Carry on, Jeeves as "The Artistic Career of Corky")
    • ("Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest", was reprinted in Carry on, Jeeves)
    • ("Jeeves and the Hard-boiled Egg", was reprinted in Carry on, Jeeves)
    • ("The Aunt and the Sluggard", was reprinted in Carry on, Jeeves)
  • The Inimitable Jeeves (1923) — Originally a semi-novel with eighteen chapters, it is normally published as eleven short stories:
    • "Jeeves Exerts the Old Cerebellum" with "No Wedding Bells for Bingo" (together "Jeeves in the Springtime")
    • "Aunt Agatha Speaks Her Mind" with "Pearls Mean Tears" (together "Aunt Agatha Takes the Count")
    • "The Pride of the Woosters Is Wounded" with "The Hero's Reward" (together "Scoring Off Jeeves")
    • "Introducing Claude and Eustace" with "Sir Roderick Comes to Lunch" (together "Sir Roderick Comes to Lunch")
    • "A Letter of Introduction" with "Startling Dressiness of a Lift Attendant" (together "Jeeves and the Chump Cyril")
    • "Comrade Bingo" with "Bingo Has a Bad Goodwood" (together "Comrade Bingo")
    • "The Great Sermon Handicap"
    • "The Purity of the Turf"
    • "The Metropolitan Touch"
    • "The Delayed Exit of Claude and Eustace"
    • "Bingo and the Little Woman" with "All's Well" (together "Bingo and the Little Woman")
  • Carry on, Jeeves (1925) — Ten stories:
    • "Jeeves Takes Charge" – Recounts the first meeting of Jeeves and Bertie
    • "The Artistic Career of Corky", a rewrite of "Leave It to Jeeves", originally published in My Man Jeeves
    • "Jeeves and the Unbidden Guest", originally published in My Man Jeeves
    • "Jeeves and the Hard-boiled Egg", originally published in My Man Jeeves
    • "The Aunt and the Sluggard", originally published in My Man Jeeves
    • "The Rummy Affair of Old Biffy"
    • "Without the Option"
    • "Fixing It for Freddie", a rewrite of a Reggie Pepper story, "Helping Freddie", originally published in My Man Jeeves
    • "Clustering Round Young Bingo"
    • "Bertie Changes His Mind" — The only story in the canon narrated by Jeeves
  • Very Good, Jeeves (1930) — Eleven stories:
    • "Jeeves and the Impending Doom"
    • "The Inferiority Complex of Old Sippy"
    • "Jeeves and the Yule-tide Spirit" (US title: Jeeves and the Yuletide Spirit)
    • "Jeeves and the Song of Songs"
    • "Episode of the Dog McIntosh" (US title: Jeeves and the Dog McIntosh)
    • "The Spot of Art" (US title: Jeeves and the Spot of Art)
    • "Jeeves and the Kid Clementina"
    • "The Love That Purifies" (US title: Jeeves and the Love That Purifies)
    • "Jeeves and the Old School Chum"
    • "The Indian Summer of an Uncle"
    • "The Ordeal of Young Tuppy" (US title: Tuppy Changes His Mind)
  • Thank You, Jeeves (1934) — The first full-length Jeeves novel
  • Right Ho, Jeeves (1934) (US title: Brinkley Manor)
  • The Code of the Woosters (1938)
  • Joy in the Morning (1946) (US title: Jeeves in the Morning)
  • The Mating Season (1949)
  • (Come On, Jeeves — 1952 play with Guy Bolton, adapted 1953 into Ring for Jeeves, produced 1954, published 1956)
  • Ring for Jeeves (1953) — Only novel without Bertie (US title: The Return of Jeeves), adapting the play Come On, Jeeves
  • Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit (1954) (US title: Bertie Wooster Sees It Through)
  • A Few Quick Ones (1959) — One short story in a book of ten
    • "Jeeves Makes an Omelette", a rewrite of a Reggie Pepper story originally published in My Man Jeeves
  • Jeeves in the Offing (1960) (US title: How Right You Are, Jeeves)
  • Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves (1963)
  • Plum Pie (1966) — One short story in a book of nine
    • "Jeeves and the Greasy Bird"
  • Much Obliged, Jeeves (1971) (US title: Jeeves and the Tie That Binds)
  • Aunts Aren't Gentlemen (1974) (US title: The Cat-nappers)

Jeeves adaptations

By chronological order on the first item of each sub-section:

Films

There have been a few theatrical films based upon or inspired by Wodehouse's novels:-

  • Thank You, Jeeves (1935) – Arthur Treacher as Jeeves, and David Niven as Bertie, meet a girl and help her brother stop two spies trying to get his secret plans. The film has almost nothing to do with the book of that title. Although Treacher looks the part, the script calls on him to play the character as unhelpful and rather unpleasant, with none of the trademark brilliance of the literary Jeeves.
  • Step Lively, Jeeves! (1936) – Arthur Treacher as Jeeves is conned by two swindlers who claim he has a fortune waiting for him in America, where Jeeves meets some gangsters. Bertie does not appear, Jeeves is portrayed as a naive bumbler, and the film has nothing to do with any Wodehouse story.
  • By Jeeves (2001) – A recorded performance of the musical, released as a video (with UK Martin Jarvis as Jeeves, and U.S. John Scherer as Bertie). It was also aired on TV.
  • Arthur (1981) - A film loosely based on the Jeeves and Bertie characters. It is not based on any actual Jeeves novel or short story.

Plays

  • Come On, Jeeves (opened 1954, still played from time to time as of 2007 under its name or as Ring for Jeeves) – A 1952 play by Guy Bolton and Wodehouse (adapted into the 1953 novel Ring for Jeeves), opened 1954 in Worthing, England (cast unknown), published in 1956.

Television

Musicals

Radio

See also

References

Main primary sources consulted

All Jeeves books are relevant, but many key points are sourced from: Carry on, Jeeves (1925, first meeting, poaching Anatole); Ring for Jeeves (1953, butler, WW2); Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit (1954, great Russians, eleven pages section); Much Obliged, Jeeves (1971, eighteen pages section, Reginald). Secondary sources consulted

Further reading

External links

TV adaptations

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