Jeeves

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Jeeves
First appearance1915, in the story "Extricating Young Gussie"
Last appearance1974, in the novel Aunts Aren't Gentlemen
Created byP. G. Wodehouse
Portrayed byDennis Price (1965),
Stephen Fry (1990–1993),
others (1935–2006)
Information
GenderMale
OccupationValet of Bertie Wooster
RelativesCharlie Silversmith (uncle), and more
 
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Jeeves
First appearance1915, in the story "Extricating Young Gussie"
Last appearance1974, in the novel Aunts Aren't Gentlemen
Created byP. G. Wodehouse
Portrayed byDennis Price (1965),
Stephen Fry (1990–1993),
others (1935–2006)
Information
GenderMale
OccupationValet of Bertie Wooster
RelativesCharlie Silversmith (uncle), and more
Stephen Fry (left) as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster in the TV series Jeeves and Wooster (1990-93).

Reginald Jeeves is a fictional character in the short stories and novels of P. G. Wodehouse (1881–1975), being the valet of Bertie Wooster (Bertram Wilberforce Wooster). Created in 1915, Jeeves continued to appear in Wodehouse's work until his last completed novel Aunts Aren't Gentlemen in 1974, a span of 59 years. The name "Jeeves" comes from Percy Jeeves (1888–1916), a Warwickshire cricketer killed in the First World War.[1]

Both the name "Jeeves" and the character of Jeeves have come to be thought of as the quintessential name and nature of a valet or butler inspiring many similar characters (as well as the name of the Internet search engine Ask Jeeves). A "Jeeves" is now a generic term in references such as the Oxford English Dictionary.[2]

In a conversation with a policeman in "Jeeves and the Kid Clementina", Jeeves refers to himself as both a "gentleman's personal gentleman" and a "personal gentleman's gentleman."[3] This means that Jeeves is a valet, not a butler—that is, he serves a man and not a household. However, Bertie Wooster has lent out Jeeves as a butler on several occasions, and notes: "If the call comes, he can buttle with the best of them."[4]

Character[edit]

The premise of the Jeeves stories is that the brilliant valet is firmly in control of his rich and foppish young employer's life. When Bertie gets into an unwanted social obligation, legal trouble or engagement to marry, Jeeves invariably comes up with a subtle plan to save him.

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".[5] 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 mastery over a vast range of subjects, from philosophy (his favourite philosopher is Spinoza; he finds Nietzsche "fundamentally unsound"[6]) through 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 (especially for hangovers). His mental prowess is attributed to eating fish, according to Bertie, who often offers the dish to Jeeves.

Jeeves has a distinct—and often negative—opinion of items about which Bertie is enthusiastic, such as a garish vase, an uncomplimentary painting of Wooster created by one of the many women with whom he is briefly infatuated, a moustache, monogrammed handkerchiefs, a straw boater, an alpine hat, a scarlet cummerbund, spats in the Eton colours, white dinner jacket, or purple socks. Wooster's decision to take up playing the banjolele in Thank You, Jeeves almost led to a permanent rift between the two.

Jeeves is a member of the Junior Ganymede Club, a London club for butlers and valets, in whose club book all members must record the exploits of their employers to forewarn other butlers and valets. The section labelled "WOOSTER, BERTRAM" is the largest in the book. In Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit it contained "eleven pages",[7] and by Much Obliged, Jeeves it has grown to eighteen pages.[8] However, at the end of Much Obliged, Jeeves, Jeeves informs Wooster that he has destroyed the eighteen pages, anticipating that he will never leave the latter's employment.

Only once in the Wodehouse canon does Jeeves appear without Wooster: Ring for Jeeves, in which he is on loan to the 9th Earl of Rowcester while Wooster 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 he was unwilling to marry Wooster off.

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 Bridgnorth), 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 recurring antagonist Soapy Sid. His tenure with Bertie had occasional lapses, 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 because of Bertie's unwillingness to give up 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.

Richard Usborne, a leading scholar of the life and works of Wodehouse, describes Jeeves as a "godlike prime mover" and "master brain who has found to have engineered the apparent coincidence or coincidences".[9]

Jeeves's first name of Reginald was not revealed for 56 years, until the penultimate novel in the series, Much Obliged, Jeeves (1971), when Bertie hears another valet greet Jeeves with "Hullo, Reggie." 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.[10][11]

Inspiration and influence[edit]

In his 1953 semi-autobiographical book written with Guy Bolton, Bring on the Girls!, Wodehouse suggests that Jeeves was based on an actual butler called Eugene Robinson that Wodehouse employed for research purposes. He recounts a story where Robinson extricated Wodehouse from a real-life predicament. Wodehouse also recounts 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 most invaluable nugget contained in the book (Wodehouse at the Wicket by P. G. Wodehouse and Murray Hedgcock) traces the origin of the name Jeeves to Percy Jeeves, a Warwickshire professional cricketer known for his impeccable grooming, smart shirts and spotlessly clean flannels. Wodehouse probably saw him take a couple of smooth, effortless catches in a match between Gloucestershire and Warwickshire. The name, the immaculate appearance and silent efficiency stuck and the inimitable manservant appeared first in 1916, just weeks after the original Percy Jeeves died in the war in France." [12] Wodehouse witnessed Percy Jeeves bowling at Cheltenham Cricket Festival in 1913.

Jeeves was originally intended for one-time use with two speaking lines.[12]

Jeeves' 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, found in dictionaries such as the Oxford English Dictionary[13] or the Encarta World English Dictionary.[14] The term has also been used in World of Warcraft, where an engineering character may construct a "Jeeves" robot to repair equipment.[15]

Family[edit]

Jeeves has three aunts who, he informs Wooster, are very placid in nature, in contrast to Wooster's aunts. One of Jeeves's aunts is resident in the vicinity of Maiden Eggesford and owns a cat, which features in Aunts Aren't Gentlemen. Her address is mentioned to be "Balmoral Castle, Mafeking Road". In Right Ho, Jeeves he refers to his Aunt Annie: "in times of domestic disagreement it was necessary only to invite my Aunt Annie for a visit to heal all breaches between the other members of the household. In the mutual animosity excited by Aunt Annie, those who had become estranged were reconciled almost immediately." The third aunt had varicose veins in her legs that were hideous to view, though improved to such a great extent by a patent medicine that she allowed them to be photographed for an advertisement for the product.

Jeeves also has an uncle, Charlie Silversmith, who is butler at Deverill Hall in Hampshire. Jeeves frequently writes letters to his uncle and Wooster holds Charlie in high regard. On occasion, Jeeves has been known to take the place of his uncle when circumstances necessitate his absence.[citation needed]

By virtue of Uncle Charlie, Jeeves has a cousin, Queenie. Queenie is engaged to a police constable named Dobbs. She is also briefly engaged, in complicated circumstances, to Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright.[citation needed]

In The Rummy Affair of Old Biffy, we learn he also has a niece named Mabel, who falls in love with Charles Edward "Biffy" Biffen during an ocean voyage. An old friend of Bertie's, Biffy is so absent-minded that he subsequently forgets everything but her first name and that he successfully proposed to her. Feeling she has been toyed with, Mabel breaks off the engagement, only to resume it when Jeeves intervenes and sends Bertie, Biffin, and Roderick Glossop (to whose daughter, Honoria, Biffy became betrothed after the disappearance of Mabel) to see a historical sideshow at a fair in which Mabel is appearing.[citation needed]

Stories[edit]

The Jeeves "canon" consists of 35 short stories and 11 novels. With minor exceptions, the short stories were written and published first (between 1915 and 1930); the novels later (between 1934 and 1974).

The concept which eventually became Jeeves actually preceded Bertie in Wodehouse's imagination: he had long considered the idea of a butler—later a valet—who could solve any problem. A character named Reggie Pepper, who was very much like Bertie but without Jeeves, was the protagonist of seven short stories. Wodehouse decided to rewrite the Pepper stories, switching Reggie's character to Bertie Wooster and combining him with an ingenious valet.

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 recognisable Jeeves and Bertie story was "The Artistic Career of Corky", published in early 1916. As the series progressed, Jeeves assumed the role of Bertie's co-protagonist; indeed, their meeting was told in November 1916 in "Jeeves Takes Charge".

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 idealised vision of England before World War II, essentially the same world found in the fiction of Wodehouse's near-contemporary, Agatha Christie. Only Ring for Jeeves mentions World War II.

Most of the Jeeves stories were originally published as magazine pieces before being collected into books, although 11 of the short stories were reworked and divided into 18 chapters to make an episodic semi-novel called The Inimitable Jeeves. Other collections, most notably The World of Jeeves, restore these to their original form of 11 distinct stories.

The collection The World of Jeeves (first published in 1967, reprinted in 1989) contains all of the Jeeves short stories (with the exception of "Extricating Young Gussie") presented more or less in narrative chronological order. An efficient method of reading the entire Jeeves canon is to read The World of Jeeves followed by the eleven novels in order of publication. The novels share a certain amount of sequential narrative development between them, and the later novels are essentially sequels to the earlier ones.

Jeeves adaptations[edit]

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

Films[edit]

A few theatrical films have appeared based upon or inspired by Wodehouse's novels:

Plays[edit]

Record[edit]

Television[edit]

Musicals[edit]

Radio[edit]

Comics[edit]

Biography[edit]

A fictional biography of Jeeves, entitled Jeeves: A Gentleman's Personal Gentleman by Northcote Parkinson, fills in a great deal of background information about him.

Also, both Jeeves and Bertie Wooster make cameo appearances in Spider Robinson's Lady Slings the Booze.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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
Endnotes
  1. ^ Menon, Suresh. "The other Plum" Retrieved 25 July 2013.
  2. ^ "Home : Oxford English Dictionary". Oed.com. Retrieved 2013-09-15. 
  3. ^ Very Good, Jeeves, 1930.
  4. ^ Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves, 1963.
  5. ^ « "My personal tastes lie more in the direction of Dostoyevsky and the great Russians." » (Jeeves, in Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, chapter four.)
  6. ^ Jeeves Takes Charge, 1916
  7. ^ In Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit, chapter four.
  8. ^ "'[...] 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.
  9. ^ Wodehouse at Work to the End, Richard Usborne 1976.
  10. ^ "'Hullo, Reggie,' he said, and I froze in my chair, stunned by the revelation that Jeeves's first name was Reginald. It had never occurred to me before that he had a first name." (Bertie about Bingley greeting Jeeves, in Much Obliged, Jeeves, chapter four.)
  11. ^ In the 1936 film Step Lively, Jeeves, Jeeves, portrayed by Arthur Treacher, states his first name to be Rupert. However, Wodehouse had nothing to do with the script of that film, and Treacher's Jeeves character is so unlike Wodehouse's Jeeves that the viewer could easily believe him to be a different Jeeves altogether.
  12. ^ a b Navtej Sarna (June 3, 2012). "Of Lords, aunts and pigs". The Hindu Literary Review. 
  13. ^ Ring, Tony (2000?). "Jeeves and Wooster March Into The Twenty-first Century". Wodehouse.ru. Retrieved 2007-08-15. "The frequency with which the term 'Jeeves' is used without further explanation in the media of today, and its inclusion as a generic term in the Oxford English Dictionary, suggests that P G Wodehouse's Jeeves, together with his principal employer Bertie Wooster, remain the most popular of his many enduring characters." 
  14. ^ Encarta World English Dictionary (2007 copyright). "Jeeves". Encarta.msn.com. Archived from the original on 2009-10-31. Retrieved 2007-08-15. "Jeeves [ jeevz ], noun - Definition: resourceful helper: a useful and reliable person who provides ready solutions to problems ( informal ) [Mid-20th century. < a character in the novels of P. G. Wodehouse]" 
  15. ^ "Jeeves - WoWWiki - Your guide to the World of Warcraft". WoWWiki. 2009-08-04. Retrieved 2013-09-15. 
  16. ^ Ross 2002, pp. 44-45.
  17. ^ "P G Wodehouse's The World of Wooster". British Film Institute. Retrieved 5 December 2010. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Television adaptations