Toodlepip: My Fascination with Jeeves and Wooster
Jeeves and Wooster is a tv series produced by ITV starring Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry. It is based on the classic stories of P.G. Wodehouse. I am presuming the television series was done in the nineties because I came across it in the late nineties when it was aired by Star Cable in Southeast Asia. I am not aware whether these were reruns or fresh episodes. Recalling how much I enjoyed these airings,and finding myself in front of YouTube, I searched Jeeves and Wooster and was happily surprised that the episodes are available, and, it is worthwhile to note, very organized. With season one, episode one designated as S01E01 and so on and so forth.
Jeeves and Wooster is set in the UK during the twenties around the time when Britain was still the world power (the world power, Britain is still a world power). Bertie Wooster is a young, financially independent member of the upper class - nobility, I would presume, since he is on a first name basis with current and future members of the House of Lords. Jeeves is his valet, or, as Jeeve's describes himself 'a gentleman's gentleman'. A job that he is superb at, doing everything from the usual cooking and cleaning to driving and making travel arrangements. And - being smarter than his employer - occassionaly getting Bertie and his friends out of troublesome situations of which there are many in the series.
Enough backgrounder. Why do I like it? You ask? Let me count the ways . . .
The Bertie Wooster Lifestyle
Bertie Wooster wakes up at 10am and typically has breakfast in bed. He doesn't work because he doesn't have to, and therefore spends the day as he pleases, sometimes spending it at a local club, the Drones, where other young men of his class congregate. Jeeves is there to do the chores and handle the details of daily life, leaving Bertie to focus on having a good time; whiling away the time while playing ditties on the piano is a big favorite. I'm watching this and I'm comparing it to my life. I, on the other hand, have to work everyday to survive whether I feel like it or not. I don't have a valet or maid at home so daily chores are part of my existence. But who knows? Maybe someday the endless striving might end, and what would my life be like? Why, like Bertie Wooster's, of course.
An Ordered Society
Jeeves and Wooster depicts the England that the British intended: problem free, affluent, and orderly. The reality is that 1920's Britain was a failing world power, on the brink of abandoning the gold standard, losing the East Indies, and being drawn into two world wars, after which it would see its influence, if not its prestige, much reduced, and eclipsed by the United States. But not in Jeeves and Wooster, no mention of the travails of the war-plagued Victorian age of yesteryear or the problems of the current Edwardian era. Society is orderly, caste is not a cause of issues, nor is race. Fact is, I have yet to see a non-white character in an episode (now, less anything unseemly be insinuated from my previous line, let me state that I myself am non-white). Going back to the topic of an ordered society and its attractions, the cause for my appreciation is yet another comparison with the current state of our societies. I don't care where you live - your place is a mess, just like mine. So let's high off to Bertie Wooster's England shall we? London, is a clean, well-lit, uncrowded place and so are its environs; and everyone's so well dressed. Ah yes . . .
Clothes Make the Man
I've always liked clothes and the ritual of dressing up, although you wouldn't know it if you'd met me, and my friends and family would be very surprised if they knew too. You see, I'm typically shabbily dressed, and I'm shabbily dressed because I don't spend much time remunerating on my clothes nor much money in buying them, the reason being because I'm fat. No matter how carefully chosen or expensive a piece of clothing, put it on a fat person and it looks like crap - so I might as well spare the time and money, and the frustration, most of all, the frustration. And yes, I have made several unsuccessful attempts at weight loss. The thing to take away from this is not that I'm a candidate for the Biggest Loser but that a good body is essential to make clothes work. Now, Bertie Wooster is on the thin side; perfect for clothes. Good thing too because he has an excellent wardrobe, ably maintained and mended by Jeeves who insists on strict standards. In fact, a number of disagreements between Bertie and Jeeves is due to clothing - evidently, embroidered handkerchiefs and fancy white dinner jackets are not for the proper gentleman. It's a beautiful thing to behold: Jeeves opening Bertie's wardrobe dresser and every inch of the dresser is full of organized articles of clothing. I distinctly remember Jeeves preparing Bertie's morning outfit and selecting a tie from a substantial collection draped over each other on tie racks cleverly located behind the wardrobe door. At another time, Jeeves and Wooster had a temporary parting of ways and Jeeves was giving instruction to the new valet. Opening the wardrobe door yet again, Jeeves showed the new man Bertie's suits carefully hanged, the informal evening wear on one side, followed by the formal evening wear, the tweeds . . . so on and so forth. It's easy to dismiss fabric these days, but to see it being weaved, even by machines, and certainly by hand, is to gain an appreciation of just how intricate the process is, even for the simplest of fabrics, and to consider all the fabrics and the differences they have in terms of texture, insulation, absorbency and all such, and consider further the craft of making clothes, the design and forms and the meanings society attach to specific types of clothing for particular seasons and occasions, all these considerations having bearing on the choices made to creating a gentleman's wardrobe. Not a necessity, of course, but how wonderful to be able to live that way.
Every Moment an Occasion
Fried eggs sunny-side up and crispy bacon is a common breakfast, easy to make, easy to serve, eat it in your underwear, no problem. Bertie also ate eggs and bacon in an episode of Jeeves and Wooster but he wasn't in his underwear, he was wearing a smart suit of clothing and eating breakfast in a place called Brinkley Manor, the food was in silverware on a side table and the dining table was formally set. The Lady of the manor joined him at breakfast also very well dressed, they conversed over bone china and real silverware. Jeeves and Wooster is full of regular, everyday situations like that, meals, walks, shopping, nothing dramatic or action oriented. But that is the magic and one of the key attractions of the show: It somehow makes the common special. And it does so by using one of the most vilified concepts of the modern age: Materialism
Materialism or The Magic of Stuff
Stuff, things, the things you own, from your house to your handkerchief. Retail therapy. The love of things, and services, and more things. The joy and obsession of owning stuff. High quality and lots of it. Materialism. To refer to someone as materialistic is never a complement. I'm dead broke right now (I'm not kidding), and you know what? There is nothing more wonderful to me at this moment as money and the stuff it can buy. I want stuff. I want all the stuff I need and all the other stuff that I don't need but simply want. I am materialistic and to me it makes total sense. We are physical beings living in a physical world and so what's the bother if we want physical things? I can't prove it but I feel that people who put down materialism must be rich. They have lots of stuff, so much that they are in a position to loathe it. Want to stop hating materialism? Try penury. There's nothing like not having anything to make you realize how important things are. And there's nothing like watching Jeeves and Wooster to show you what magic having things can do. The proper clothes, the proper stuff, can make common moments worth being in, and a string of this moments can add up to a life worth the bother. As mentioned, Bertie is independently wealthy. I love how '100 Bullets', a comicbook, describes such a condition: "Life without friction". Yes. Perfect. Life without friction. "How's life without friction?" says a bartender in '100 Bullets' to a wealthy patron. "Amazing" was the answer or some such. And the moments of your life are amazing because you can afford to be in amazing places, dressed in fine clothing, surrounded by stuff whose purchase is not compromised by lack of funds. Wooster moves in such a world. Jeeves and Wooster is a paean to the rightness of stuff and how it can make life so worth living.
As usual, I walk lands that have been tread on before. I've looked up P. G. Wodehouse and found that in addition to Jeeves and Wooster he has written stories such as 'The Drones', about the club Bertie belongs to. It seems Mr. Wodehouse has written a whole slew of tales set in the Jeeves and Wooster milieu. I've also come across insinuations that the British do not find the Wooster stereotype at all flattering. The actors Stephen Fry and Hugh Laurie seem to have found popularity since having made this show - hats off to them since they portrayed Jeeves and Wooster brilliantly. I'm sure if I dig in more deeply, I'll find all sorts of other stuff related to the show. If I dig in deeply enough I'll be able to link opinions together and get a sense of the popular positions and thus come up with the all encompassing opinion. The 'How the World Thinks I Should Think About Jeeves and Wooster and Furthermore, How I Should Think About It From Hereon'. This worldview would then bury my original thoughts on the matter as I go through the rest of my life. Well the world view can go suck. I am for my view, my honest view. In short, the truth as held by the individual. My truth in this case, which, on the matter of Jeeves and Wooster is: this series is worth watching.