Bertie Wooster (left) as depicted on the cover of Carry On, Jeeves (First edition)
|Created by||P. G. Wodehouse|
|Portrayed by||Richard Briers,
Hugh Laurie and others
|Family||Aunt Dahlia (aunt),
Aunt Agatha (aunt),
Sister Mrs Scholfield (no first name given)
Bertram Wilberforce "Bertie" Wooster is a recurring fictional character in the Jeeves novels of British author P. G. Wodehouse. An English gentleman, one of the "idle rich" and a member of the Drones Club, he appears alongside his valet, 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 30 short stories, Bertie ranks as one of the most vivid comic creations in popular literature. 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 in Much Obliged, Jeeves).
The name 'Wooster' reflects the correct pronunciation of Worcester sauce, suggesting that Wooster is a little 'saucy', and similar to the pronunciation of the name 'Wodehouse', which pronunciation the author references in a memoir as rhyming with 'good house'.
Bertie Wooster appears in all but one of Wodehouse's Jeeves stories and novels, which were published between 1915 and 1974 (see the article Jeeves for a complete list). The sole exception is the novel Ring for Jeeves (1953) a third-person narration in which the character is mentioned but does not appear. All of the other Jeeves novels and short stories are narrated by Bertie, with the exception of the short story Bertie Changes His Mind (1922), which is narrated by Jeeves.
Due to the volume of stories and time span over which Wodehouse wrote them, there are a number of inconsistencies and contradictions in the information given about his relatives. "Bertie" and several of his relations appear in the early Wodehouse story Extricating Young Gussie. In that story the family name is Mannering-Phipps, not Wooster, and the story has been excluded from most collections of Jeeves and Wooster material, even though the incidents in Extricating Young Gussie are referenced in later stories.
It is established throughout the series that Bertie is an orphan who inherited a large fortune upon the death of his parents, although the exact details and timing of his parents' deaths are never made clear. In the story Bertie Changes His Mind he mentions a sister who has three daughters, referred to by Jeeves as Mrs Scholfield (although in the later novel Thank You, Jeeves he states that he has no sisters during a conversation with Lord "Chuffy" Chuffnell). No other siblings are mentioned.
Aunts and uncles
Bertie's father is said to have had many siblings. In Extricating Young Gussie Bertie's Uncle Cuthbert is described as the "late head of the family". Bertie's Uncle George carries the title of Lord Yaxley. Other uncles who come into the stories are Henry Wooster, a "looney", whom the family find a considerable embarrassment; and Willoughby Wooster, upon whom Bertie is initially dependent for financial support, but who apparently passes away during the course of the stories, allowing Bertie to inherit a vast fortune.
Two sisters of Bertie's father play major roles the stories and novels. They are Aunt Agatha, who appears mainly in the earlier short stories, and Aunt Dahlia, who appears mainly in the later novels. Bertie's description of the two aunts makes them appear opposites, although both criticize him heavily for his aimless life. Aunt Agatha is demeaning and demanding towards Bertie, causing him to shrink in terror of her. Aunt Dahlia is more good natured, but can also be a little demanding. Bertie feels obliged to follow their whims, often getting in trouble for doing so.
An aunt by marriage, Aunt Julia, the widow of Uncle Cuthbert, appears only in Extricating Young Gussie but is mentioned by Bertie occasionally. Another aunt by marriage, Aunt Emily, Claude and Eustace's mother, is mentioned in The Inimitable Jeeves.
Henry's twin sons, Claude and Eustace, play significant roles in several stories, as do Aunt Dahlia's children, Angela and Bonzo Travers, and Aunt Agatha's young son, Thomas Gregson, nicknamed "Thos". The title character of Extricating Young Gussie is Bertie's cousin Gussie, son of Aunt Julia and Uncle Cuthbert.
The family title
Bertie's Uncle George is Lord Yaxley, suggesting that he is the eldest living uncle and that Bertie's paternal grandfather likely held the title as well. However, the relative ages of Bertie's father and remaining uncles are unclear, so it is unknown whether Bertie or one of his male cousins would be in line to inherit the title. In Extricating Young Gussie Uncle Cuthbert is described as the "late head of the family"; however it is explicitly stated that his son Gussie "has no title." This could be explained if the title Yaxley was a life peerage under the Appellate Jurisdiction Act 1876.
Bertie's early education took place at the semi-fictional Malvern House Preparatory School. Wodehouse himself attended a school by that name, located in Kearsney, Kent; however, the Malvern House which appears in the stories is located in the fictional town of Bramley-on-Sea.
Most of Bertie's friends and fellow Drones Club members depicted in the stories attended one or more of these institutions with him. Also, Bertie's former schoolmaster at Malvern House, Aubrey Upjohn, appears or is mentioned several times.
One detail of Bertie's school life which comes into several stories is his winning of the prize for Scripture Knowledge while at Malvern House. Bertie speaks with pride of this achievement on several occasions; however, in Right Ho, Jeeves, the character of Gussie Fink-Nottle, while intoxicated, publicly accuses Bertie of having achieved the award through cheating. (Bertie stoutly denies this charge, however, and on the same occasion Gussie makes other completely groundless accusations against other characters.)
Bertie's scriptural knowledge (like most of his mental catalogue) often retains at least part of the literal quote, while completely losing the original meaning and context. In one story, Bertie complains about the lavish and constant attentions of a woman in whom he has no interest by referring to her as "old sticketh closer than a brother" in an annoyed fashion. The verse (Proverbs 18:24) that Bertie partially quotes actually is praising the value of close friendship when it refers to a "friend that sticketh closer than a brother".
Bertie never marries, but does become engaged frequently. 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 fourth story in terms of publication and the first in the internal timeline of the books), to Pauline Stoker, and to 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.
Having already received a proposal from him, each girl 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 Glossop suffer from a similar delusion, 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 (through "the Code of the Woosters") to agree to the marriage. He often cites his determination to act as a preux chevalier (valiant knight), 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 regards as 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. (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".) The prospect of marriage mortifies Bertie, not least because it would mean he and Jeeves would have to part ways.
Bertie shares an obvious platonic affection with his cousin Angela (Aunt Dahlia's daughter), towards whom he feels protective during her choppy engagement to Tuppy Glossop.
When Bertie catches his valet Meadowes stealing his silk socks, he sacks him and sends for another from the agency. Jeeves, arriving in Jeeves Takes Charge, mixes Bertie a hangover cure. The cure is remarkably effective, and Bertie engages Jeeves immediately. According to the text, Bertie is 24 when he hires Jeeves. Thereafter, Bertie cedes much of the control of his life to Jeeves, clashing occasionally on matters of dress and appearance. When Jeeves expresses disapproval of a particular article of Bertie's clothing or grooming, be it a brightly coloured cummerbund, a check suit, purple socks, white mess jacket, various hats or even a moustache, it is certain that it will be disposed of by the end of the story, sometimes after a period of coolness between the two. In one particular instance, Jeeves goes to the extent of breaking a vase he disliked which had been purchased by Bertie.
Jeeves frequently displays mastery over a vast range of subjects from philosophy (his favourite philosopher is Spinoza) to an encyclopedic knowledge of poetry, science, history, psychology, geography, politics and literature. He is also a 'bit of a whiz' in all matters pertaining to gambling, car maintenance, etiquette and women. His mental prowess is attributed by Bertie to eating fish, and Bertie often offers the dish to Jeeves.
Among Bertie's many reasons for not wanting to marry are his dislike of children and the fact that all of his fiancées seem to have an aversion to Jeeves, and insist that Bertie dismiss him after their wedding. More importantly Jeeves is hostile 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. 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:
- Hildebrand "Tuppy" Glossop, who once challenged Bertie to swing across the pool in the Drones club and "looped back the last ring, thus rendering it necessary for me [Bertie] to drop into the deep end in formal evening costume". He is the cousin of Bertie's sometime fiancée Honoria Glossop, and is usually engaged to Bertie's cousin Angela.
- Augustus "Gussie" Fink-Nottle, who keeps newts and has a face like a fish.
- Oofy Prosser, the Drones Club Millionaire with a pimply face. His wealth apparently exceeds Bertie's, though it can't be by much.
- Richard "Bingo" Little, who had a penchant for falling in love with every girl he met before finally marrying Rosie M. Banks.
- Rev. Harold P. "Stinker" Pinker, the hearty curate of Totleigh-in-the-Wold, who was at Oxford with Bertie. Harold and Bertie had not seen each other for years, becoming reacquainted when Bertie is recruited by Harold and his fiancee, Stephanie, to assist in their matrimonial plans. Pinker, an amateur athlete of renown, is 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, Parson in the East End of London
- Marmaduke "Chuffy" Chuffnel, the young landowner of Chuffnell Regis, an estate he tries to sell.
- George "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.
- Charles "Biffy" Biffen
- Cyril "Barmy" Fotheringay-Phipps
Bertie is loyal to his friends, willing to do whatever he can to solve their problems, saying "when it comes to helping a pal we Woosters have no thought of self". This has led to problems as he is regularly volunteered for troublesome tasks— he muses in Jeeves in the Offing that "whenever there is dirty work to be undertaken at the crossroads, the cry that goes around my little circle is always 'Let Wooster do it'."
Many Drones Club members appear in the separate Wodehouse Drones Club stories. Bertie is acquainted with Lord Emsworth, another of Wodehouse's best-known characters, and mentions having visited Blandings Castle.
Bertie also has several adversaries who are constantly suspicious of him and on occasion, threaten him. One of these, the founder of the Black Shorts fascist movement, Roderick Spode (Lord Sidcup) – a satiric version of the British fascist Oswald Mosley, rises to the level of nemesis when he believes that Bertie has toyed with the affections of the winsomely lisping Madeline Bassett, whom he himself admires and wishes to marry.
Language and inspiration
With one exception, the Bertie Wooster stories are told in the first person by Bertie. Although Bertie is, as Jeeves puts it, "mentally negligible", his narrative style reflects remarkable facility with the English language. He displays what would be considered by today's standards a broad, if not very deep, knowledge of English literature, from the King James Bible down to the romantic literature of the 19th century (all of his references typical of the schooling he and his early 20th-century audience received), even if he relies on Jeeves to complete quotations for him.
Bertie is fond of pre-World War I slang, peppering his speech with words and phrases such as "what ho!", "pipped", "bally" and so on. He slangily abbreviates words and phrases, such as "eggs and b" (eggs and bacon). As the years pass, popular references from film and literature feature in his narratives. Bertie has some linguistic quirks that continue through almost all of his stories – he almost never uses the word "walk", for example, instead using terms like "oil", "stagger", "shimmer", "toddle", and "ankle".
Depictions outside the Wodehouse stories
In the Granada Television series Jeeves and Wooster, Bertie is depicted as being a capable pianist and singer, making use of actor-musician Hugh Laurie's musical talents. He plays and sings show tunes and popular songs of the 1920s and 1930s, including the songs Nagasaki, Forty-Seven Ginger-Headed Sailors, Puttin' on the Ritz, Minnie the Moocher and You Do Something to Me.
In the fictional biography Jeeves: A Gentleman's Personal Gentleman by Northcote Parkinson, Bertie comes into the title of Lord Yaxley on the death of his uncle George, marries Bobbie Wickham and makes Jeeves the landlord of the Angler's Rest pub, which is on the Yaxley estate. Jeeves then supplants Mr Mulliner as the resident expert and storyteller of the pub.
In Alan Moore's graphic novel The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier, Bertie appears in the segment What Ho, Gods of the Abyss? which comically mixes elements of Wodehouse with H.P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. Bertie blithely recounts the arrival of a Mi-go to Brinkley Court and Aunt Dahlia's possession by Cthulhu. The Lovecraftian menaces are driven off by Jeeves with the assistance of Mina Murray, Allan Quatermain, Carnacki and Orlando but not before Gussie Fink-Nottle's brain is surgically removed (a condition that, in the end, causes no real difference in his behaviour). Throughout the events, Bertie remains unaware of the true nature of the goings-on.
In 2013, novelist Sebastian Faulks, with the authorization of the Wodehouse estate, published Jeeves and the Wedding Bells, a new Jeeves novel narrated by Bertie Wooster. The audiobook version was narrated by Julian Rhind-Tutt as Bertie.
- Film and TV actors
- David Niven was the first, and to date the only, actor to play Bertie in a mainstream theatrical film, in Thank You, Jeeves! (1936). This film bore almost no resemblance to Wodehouse's fiction. Bertie was portrayed as woman-chaser, the opposite of the more common situation in the stories, in which Bertie strives to avoid marriage entanglements. Jeeves (Arthur Treacher) seemed more of a pompous prig than a brilliant helper. Paradoxically, on one occasion when Bertie grows a moustache that Jeeves disapproves of, Bertie cites Niven's moustache as a justification; Jeeves coldly remarks that Bertie is not David Niven. A follow-up film, Step Lively, Jeeves (1937), did not feature Bertie as a character.
- Ian Carmichael played the part of Bertie (opposite Dennis Price as Jeeves) in the BBC television series, World of Wooster (1965–1967).
- Jonathan Cecil (who, like Wooster himself, was an Old Etonian) played him in the BBC tribute film Thank You, P. G. Wodehouse (1981).
- Hugh Laurie (also an Old Etonian) portrayed Bertie in the early-1990s ITV series Jeeves and Wooster opposite his long-time comedy partner, Stephen Fry, as Jeeves.
- Radio actors
- Terry-Thomas played Bertie in a dramatization of Indian Summer of an Uncle and Jeeves Takes Charge released as a record album in the 1960s.
- Richard Briers portrayed Bertie in BBC Radio 4 series What Ho, Jeeves! opposite Michael Hordern as Jeeves. The series ran occasionally from 1973 to 1981.
- Simon Cadell played Bertie opposite David Suchet as Jeeves in BBC Saturday Night Theatre radio adaptations of Right Ho Jeeves and The Code of the Woosters in 1986.
- Marcus Brigstocke played Bertie in a Radio 4 adaptation of The Code of the Woosters in 2006, with Andrew Sachs as Jeeves.
- Audiobook actors
Audiobooks of many of the Jeeves stories and novels in which Bertie is the narrator have been recorded by British actors, including Simon Callow, Jonathan Cecil, Martin Jarvis, Frederick Davidson, Dinsdale Landen and Alexander Spencer.
- Wodehouse, 1934: "Thank You, Jeeves"
- Wodehouse, 1962: "Stiff Upper Lip, Jeeves"
- Right Ho, Jeeves ch. 8
- Hastings, Chris and Beth Jones. "The real-life Jeeves, Wooster and master of Blandings Castle finally unmasked", The Sunday Telegraph, 6 January 2008
- Thank You, P.G. Wodehouse at IMDb.com