Monday, March 9, 2015

Character Play

It’s time to play every writer’s favorite game show, “Pretend to Know What the Writer Was Thinking.” Brought to you by Dave Barry Enterprises, where We Believe if You Regularly Come up with Idiot Interpretations of Novels, you Should Major in English.

Today’s subject: “My Man Jeeves,” by P.G. Wodehouse.

First, let me say I have nothing but respect for Wodehouse. I love his novels. His Jeeves and Wooster characters are among the funniest I’ve read.

But in reading My Man Jeeves, a collection of short stories in which Jeeves and Wooster play only a 50 percent part, it’s interesting to see how Wodehouse played with character and narrative to decide which were going to work the best for the stories he wanted to tell.

Winners: Jeeves and Wooster (Really, us, because we get to read Jeeves and Wooster).

Evidence: Reggie Pepper. Reggie Pepper is a character that plays the central role in about half the stories in My Man Jeeves. He is basically the Jeeves character: The smart schemer always ready with a plan to help fix the relationship or monetary foibles of the hapless, morose character who is in trouble at the moment.

These are the Jeeves and Wooster tales told from the point of view of Jeeves but without the gormless Wooster present.

The Reggie Pepper stories work to a point, but it’s clear in even the simplest of Jeeves and Wooster tales that it’s the character chemistry between the two that make the stories work as humorously as they do. Both the Reggie Pepper and Jeeves and Wooster stories have the smart chappie fixing the hapless’ problems (or sometimes fixing them, given the happenstance of unintended consequences and acting on incomplete information, hallmarks of the best Wodehouse stories) and the victim, but not the Wooster go-between. Reggie Pepper is both Jeeves and Wooster. And while those stories are amusing, they’re better told with two characters rather than just one.

Why do we need Wooster? Because Jeeves would never narrate one of his own stories. 
Self-effacement is a major portion of his character. The silent brain, you know. It’s out of character for Jeeves to be bot the doer and the teller. Wooster is the teller. Jeeves is the doer. And whoever is fortunate or unfortunate enough to wander into their path is what the doer acts on (with celerity and good grace) and what the teller tells (with sympathy, pathos, emotion and wise-acreing).

Conclusion: Am I right? I don’t know. But it feel right.

And now this:

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