- Bertie Wooster
name = "Bertie" Wooster
caption = Hugh Laurie as "Bertie" Wooster
gender = Male
Hugh Laurieand others
P. G. Wodehouse
Bertram Wilberforce "Bertie" Wooster is a recurring
fictional characterin the " Jeeves" novels of British author P. G. Wodehouse. A British gentleman, member of the "idle rich" and the Drones Club, he appears alongside his gentleman's personal gentleman, Jeeves, whose genius manages to extricate Bertie or one of his friends from numerous awkward situations. As the first-person narrator of ten novels and over 40 short stories, Bertie ranks as one of the most vivid comic creations in popular literature.Fact|date=May 2008
Bertie is an orphan, but has at least three aunts and three uncles from the Wooster family. Wodehouse alludes to his father's having had many siblings, but only two of his aunts —
Aunt Dahliaand Aunt Agatha, sisters of his late father — play major roles in the stories. He has a sister, mentioned in Bertie Changes His Mind, who in turn has three daughters, none of whom are named.
Bertie has at least six uncles, three of whom he has acquired by marriage:
Tom Travers, Aunt Dahlia's husband;
Spenser Gregson, Aunt Agatha's first husband;
Percy Craye, Earl of Worplesdon, her second;
Henry Wooster, a "looney", whom the family find a considerable embarrassment;
* George, Lord Yaxley, who has a fondness for waitresses; and
Henry's twin sons, Claude and Eustace (Bertie's cousins), play significant roles in several stories, as do Aunt Dahlia's children, Angela and
Bonzo Travers, and Aunt Agatha's young son, Thomas Gregson, also known as "Thos".
At first, Bertie depends on his Uncle Willoughby for financial support, but upon his uncle's death, Bertie apparently inherits a vast fortune. He is what was known in Edwardian slang as a "knut", an "idle upper-class man-about-town". Nevertheless, he is perpetually afraid of his Aunt Agatha, who considers him "a spineless invertebrate"Wodehouse, 1916, "
Jeeves Takes Charge". Florence Craye to Bertie: "If you fail, I shall know that your Aunt Agatha was right when she called you a spineless invertebrate and advised me strongly not to marry you." and a burden on society; his Aunt Dahlia, on the contrary, likes him very much, often inviting him to stay at her country estate, Brinkley Court. Bertie's Aunt Dahlia often uses the threat of banning Bertie from Brinkley Court and the offerings of her peerless chef, Anatole, to bend him to her will. For instance, in the novel " The Code of the Woosters", Bertie is obliged to steal a silver cow creamer (a small ornamental milk pitcher) for his Aunt Dahlia, who wants it for her husband (Uncle Tom), for his collection. The cow creamer rightfully belongs to Uncle Tom, but by use of trickery, was purchased by Sir Watkyn Bassett(a rival collector and the magistrate who fined Bertie five pounds for stealing a Policeman's helmet one Boat Race Night). Bertie asks Madeline Bassettfor an invitation and goes through a harrowing experience at Totleigh Towers, but is ultimately crowned with success.
Bertie also has a cousin named Gussie, mentioned in the first Jeeves story, "
Extricating Young Gussie", in which his and his cousin's last name is Mannering-Phipps. Wodehouse apparently changed his mind afterward, and renamed the family, though Bertie does make occasional mention of his Aunt Julia, a character in that first story. The "Young Gussie" of the title, who becomes entangled with a chorus girl and goes on stage, is not to be confused with the much more prominent character of Augustus "Gussie" Fink-Nottle, the eminent newt-fancier and former schoolmate of Bertie's who falls in love with first Madeline Bassett and, late in the saga, Pauline Stoker's younger sister, Emerald.
Bertie's middle name "Wilberforce" is the doing of his father, who won money on a horse named Wilberforce in the Grand National the day before Bertie was born and insisted on Bertie carrying that name (mentioned by Aunt Dahlia in "
Much Obliged, Jeeves").
Bertie has been given a first-rate British establishment education, having been schooled at Eton and
Magdalen College, Oxford[Wodehouse, 1962: "Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves"] . However, the little he may have learned has mostly escaped him by the time he narrates the Jeeves tales. Standard characters and passages of English literature are typically recalled with scarcely more detail than "Tum-tum, tum-tum, tum-tumty-tum, I slew him, tum-tum tum!". Bertie typically fails to recognise Shakespearewhen it is quoted to him by Jeeves. The most that he seems to have retained from his Oxford days is a skill in stealing policemen's helmets.
His earlier school days were just as fraught with misunderstanding and misfortune as his later ones. About all that has stuck with him are attachments to former classmates such as
Bingo Little, Tuppy Glossop, and Catsmeat Potter-Pirbright, who cause Bertie more trouble than comfort. Although Bertie claims to have memorised a list of the Kings of Judahin order to win a Scripture prize as a youngster, Gussie Fink-Nottle insists that Bertie cheated.
Bertie appears to have read a fair amount of the
Bible. Many of the stories contain Biblical allusions, some of which are included in Bertie's narrative, and some of which are uttered by Bertie in dialogue with other characters. As with the rest of his education, Bertie frequently uses only partial quotes, and the situations for which he uses them are completely incongruous with the original meaning. For instance, in one story, Bertie is trying desperately to avoid Honoria Glossop's female cousin, who appears to be quite interested in him. Bertie complains that "Old Sticketh Closer than a Brother" won't leave him alone. The verse that Bertie almost quotes (Proverbs 18:24) actually praises the value of close friends. Bertie uses the partial quote as a pejorative to complain about someone who is not a friend.
Nevertheless, Bertie is among the more intelligent and wealthy members of the Drones Club, where many of his friends such as
Barmy Fotheringay-Phippsand Gussie Fink-Nottle are positively remedial. Many plotlines involve Bertie trying to solve a problem with schemes which, while usually good in themselves, are subject to Murphy's Lawwith amusing effects.
Bertie never marries, but does become engaged in nearly every story and novel. In the early years he is rather given to sudden and short-lived infatuations, under the influence of which he proposes to
Florence Craye(in " Jeeves Takes Charge", the second story in terms of publication and the first in the internal timeline of the books), Pauline Stoker, and Bobbie Wickham. In all of these cases, he rethinks the charms of the holy state and a "lovely profile" upon a closer understanding of the personalities of the girls in question. However, having already received a proposal from him, each assumes in her own way that she has an open invitation to marry Bertie whenever she has a spat with her current fiancé. Madeline Bassett and Honoria Glossopare similarly deluded, though in their cases Bertie was attempting to plead the case of a friend (Gussie Fink-Nottle and Bingo Little respectively) but was misinterpreted as confessing his own love. In all of these cases, Bertie feels himself honour-bound to agree to the marriage out of fear of being ungallant and hurting the girl's feelings. He often cites his determination to act as a "preux chevalier", and observes that "one is either "preux" or one isn't". In the later stories and novels, Bertie regards engagement solely as a dire situation from which Jeeves must extricate him.
Aunt Agatha is of the opinion that Bertie, whom she believes to be a burden to society in his present state, must marry and carry on the Wooster name; furthermore, he must marry a girl capable of moulding his personality and compensating for his many defects. (Interestingly, though, in the short story "Jeeves Takes Charge", Lady Florence Craye tells Bertie that his Aunt Agatha "called you a spineless invertebrate and advised me strongly not to marry you". Aunt Agatha later marries Florence's father Lord Worplesdon, and Florence begins to call Agatha "mother", to Bertie's bemusement, so evidently the two terrifyingly imperious females feel some sort of spiritual kinship.) This prospect mortifies Bertie, not least because it would mean he and Jeeves would have to part ways.
When Bertie caught his valet Meadowes stealing his silk socks, he sacked him and sent for another from the agency.
Jeeves, arriving in "Jeeves Takes Charge", mixes Bertie a hangover cure (Summing both the book and the TV Episode, this comprises an egg yolk, Worcestershire sauce, cinnamon oil, a hefty portion of cognac [Brandy] and perhaps a final ingredient of a chili-based concoction such as Tabasco Sauce) of his own invention and is hired almost immediately. According to the latter book, Bertie is twenty-four when he hires Jeeves. Thereafter, Bertie cedes much of the control of his life to Jeeves, clashing occasionally on matters of dress. When Jeeves expresses disapproval of a particular article of Bertie's clothing, be it a brightly-colored cummerbund, a check suit, purple socks, white mess jacket, various hats or even a mustache, it is certain that it will be disposed of by the end of the story, sometimes after a period of coolness between the two.
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.
Among Bertie's many reasons for not wanting to marry are his dislike of children and that all of his fiancées seem to have an aversion to Jeeves, insisting that Bertie sack him after their wedding. More importantly Jeeves is disagreeable to the prospect of his master's matrimonial alliance, as any prospective wife would likely dethrone him as the "true master" of the Wooster household. Because of this, he manages to steer Bertie out of every close relationship, sometimes against Bertie's will. Aunt Agatha also disapproves strongly of Jeeves's influence on Bertie, seeing his position as Bertie's "keeper" as further proof of self-insufficiency and unwillingness to take responsibility. Bertie's Aunt Dahlia, on the other hand, is extremely impressed by Jeeves's intelligence and is often party to his clever schemes.
Bertie has several friends who keep popping into his life mostly for Jeeves' help. A list of those who play major roles are:
* Tuppy Glossop, who once challenged Bertie to swing across the pool in the Drones club and looped the rope across the last ring thereby ensuring Bertie had to jump into the pool with all his clothes.
* Augustus (Gussie) Fink-Nottle, who keeps
newtsand has a face like a fish.
* Bingo Little, who had the penchant of falling in love with every girl he met before finally marrying Rosie M. Banks.
* Rev. Harold P. "Stinker" Pinker,
Curateof Totleigh-in-the-Wold. Pinker is consistantly clumsy except when playing rugby as a prop forward.
* Freddie Widgeon
* Harold Winship, Stands for Parliament as the Conservative candidate in Market Snodsbury.
* Beefy Bingham,
Parsonin the East End
* Marmaduke "Chuffy" Chuffington, the young landowner of Chuffnell Regis, an estate he tries to sell.
* "Sippy" Sipperly, an author who is arrested for assaulting the police on boat race night.
* Claude "Catsmeat" Potter-Pirbright, an old school friend of Bertie's.
* G. d'Arcy "Stilton" Cheesewright
With a single exception, all the Bertie Wooster stories are told in the first person by Bertie himself. This perspective allows Wodehouse a comedic paradox: although Bertie himself is, as Jeeves puts it, "mentally negligible", his descriptive style employs a considerable facility with English.
Bertie displays a fondness for pre-war slang, peppering his speech with words and phrases such as "What ho!", "pipped", "bally", and so on. He also commonly abbreviates words and phrases, such as "eggs and b." As the years pass, popular references from film and literature would also feature in his narratives.
Bertie belongs to the
Drones Club, where many of his adventures begin. He is also acquainted with Lord Emsworth, another of Wodehouse's best-known characters, and mentions having visited Blandings Castle.
Bertie is depicted in the television series as being a very capable
pianistand singer. He often plays and sings show tunes and musical numbers of the 1930s, including the songs "Nagasaki", " Puttin' on the Ritz", " Minnie the Moocher", and " You Do Something to Me". He extols his terpsichorean skills by claiming: "as a dancer, I out-Fred the nimblest Astaire".
Bertie's foppish foolishness was not popular with everyone. Papers released by the
Public Record Officehave disclosed that when Wodehouse was recommended for a Companion of Honourin 1967, Sir Patrick Dean, British ambassador in Washington, argued that it "would also give currency to a Bertie Wooster image of the British character, which we are doing our best to eradicate".
; Film and TV actors
David Niven, the only actor to play Bertie in a theatrical film, in " Thank You, Jeeves" (1935). This film bore almost no resemblance to Wodehouse's fiction, and portrayed Bertie as a woman chaser, the opposite of the usual situation in the stories.
Ian Carmichaelplayed the part of Bertie (opposite Dennis Priceas Jeeves) in the earlier BBC"World of Wooster" (1965–1967).
Hugh Laurieportrayed Bertie in the early-1990s ITVseries " Jeeves and Wooster" opposite his long-time comedy partner, Stephen Fry, as Jeeves.
; Radio actors
Terry-Thomasplayed Bertie in a dramatisation of "Jeeves Takes Charge" released as a record album in the 1960s.
Richard Briersportrayed Bertie in BBC Radio 4series "What Ho, Jeeves!" opposite Michael Hordernas Jeeves. The series ran occasionally from 1973 to 1981.
Simon Cadellplayed Bertie opposite David Suchetas Jeeves in a BBC radio adaptation of "The Code of the Woosters".
Marcus Brigstockeplayed Bertie in a Radio 4 adaptation of "The Code of the Woosters" in 2006, with Andrew Sachsas Jeeves.
; Audiobook actors
Audiobooks of many of the Jeeves stories and novels have been recorded by British actors, including
Jonathan Cecil, Martin Jarvis, and Frederick Davidson.
* Other characters in the Jeeves stories
By Jeeves", originally "Jeeves", a musical since 1975
* [http://web.archive.org/web/20070313002647/http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/guide/articles/w/worldofwoosterth_1299003415.shtml BBC's "World of Wooster"] (March 2007
Archive.orgcache) at the BBC Comedy Guide (down as of October 2007)
* [http://web.archive.org/web/20070313131845/http://www.bbc.co.uk/comedy/guide/articles/j/jeevesandwooster_1299001699.shtml ITV's "Jeeves and Wooster"] (March 2007
Archive.orgcache) at the BBC Comedy Guide (down as of October 2007)
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