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I Endeavour to Give Satisfaction, Sir

I came to it, as I do so many things, through RPGs. I thought it might be fun to play “the ultimate manservant” as a character, and even worked out how to simulate that seemingly psychic responsiveness to the master’s needs without resorting to anything as fickle as precognition. And eventually, I got around to dredging the source material for inspiration. There are many indispensable butler sidekicks, but they all pale in significance to Jeeves.

Jeeves is P. G Wodehouse’s masterpiece, valet to the callow, dimwitted, and self-absorbed Bertie Wooster, living off an allowance and engaging in misadventures with his equally callow, dimwitted, and self-absorbed chums from boarding school days, spouting banalities in fashionable 1905 slang, and generally making an ass of himself until his difficulties begin to look like looming calamities—marriage, for example—at which point Jeeves mildly steps in and saves Bertie from himself before setting out the evening’s scotch and soda and coasting silently from the room. Jeeves is infinitely the better man than his master, but remains happy to serve; one gets the distinct impression he would not care to rise to a station, such as prime minister, more befitting his talents.

They’re wonderful little stories, though I am at a loss to explain why. Simple trickster tales, and not very clever tricks at that, there’s really only one story told over and over—possibly two, if you distinguish between Bertie worming out of trouble some fussy aunt or half-wit chum dumps upon him (one trick) and trouble he creates for himself through failed subterfuge (two tricks). But they’re delivered with an art that makes them a delight to read, Thurber minus the resentful undercurrent, and decorated with Jeeves’ unflappable propriety and foresight.

“I ventured to take the liberty of doing so a few minutes before you arrived, sir.”
“You did?”
“Yes, sir. I thought it probable that the plan would meet with your approval.”

Postscript: Checked out the television version of Jeeves and Wooster, with Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie. Blah. Too much farce, not enough gentle whimsy.

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