Quite a few fans of P G Wodehouse often wonder as to how Jeeves and Bertie come together and why they stick together despite having stark differences in matters of attire, appearance, love and relationships in general. Is there an underlying message in all their innumerable escapades that we are treated with, each one laced with intoxicating verbosity and linguistic opulence – a hallmark of this great author?
Getting Hired the First Time
In Jeeves Takes Charge, we are treated to the scenario of Bertie Wooster hiring Jeeves in the first place.
For the privilege of someone of the caliber of Jeeves shimmering into Bertie’s life, we have to thank two persons. One is Bertie’s previous valet, a bloke by the name of Meadows. Had he not stolen a couple of things from the master’s place, a request for a replacement would not have gone to the registry office. Second is some brainy bird at the registry who, God bless his soul, ended up sending Jeeves across. But for these two blokes, all of us would have missed a lot of fun in life.
Having attended a rather cheery party the previous night, Bertie is struggling to make sense of a book recommended by Florence Craye. Her intention was merely to boost Bertie a bit nearer to her own plane of intellect. Jeeves streams in, concocts one of his after-morning specials for the master, making hope dawn once more. He gets hired instantly.
Jeeves therefore displays an uncanny skill of diagnosing the problem and deploying his extensive knowledge and marvelous skills whip up a solution. No marks for guessing why he gets hired in the first place. All job seekers can learn from his example.
Getting Re-hired; Becoming Indispensable
Given his track record, Jeeves does not really need to exert himself to get rehired. In Thank you, Jeeves, he puts in his papers, annoyed as he is with Bertie’s insistence on playing the banjo. Towards the end of the narrative, Chuffy, Jeeves’ new boss, decides to get married to Pauline Stoker. Bertie declares that he is no longer interested in pursuing his interest in the instrument; nor is he planning to retain Brinkley, Jeeves’ replacement. The following dialogue ensues:
Jeeves: ‘I ventured to express the hope, sir, that you might be agreeable to considering my application for the post. I should endeavor to provide satisfaction, as I trust I have done in the past.’
Jeeves: ‘I would not wish, in any case, to continue in the employment of his lordship, sir, now that he is about to be married. I yield to no one in my admiration for the many qualities of Miss Stoker, but it has never been my policy to serve in the household of a married gentleman.’
Bertie: ‘Why not?’
Jeeves: ‘It is merely a personal feeling, sir.’
Bertie: ‘I see what you mean. The psychology of the individual?’
Jeeves: ‘Precisely, sir.’
Bertie: ‘And you really want to come back with me?’
Jeeves: ‘I should deem it a great privilege, sir, if you would allow me to do so, sir, unless you are thinking of making other plans.’
He gets re-hired!
Employees who wish to be labeled as indispensable have to be in the learning mode, almost always. Those who continue to ‘sharpen their saw’ (as Stephen Covey would put it) stand a much better chance of attaining this exalted status.
Key challenges faced by HR honchos are: (a) Retaining good people who are routinely getting poached by aggressive competitors, (b) Wishing away those who are below average performers, and (c) Keep motivating those who are average performers but believe themselves to be star performers!
Managements need to identify critical positions in the organization which need continuity over a longer duration so as to bring home the bacon. In not-so-critical slots, they could otherwise end up being vulnerable to people who prove themselves to be indispensable.
The Art of Gentle Persuasion
In one of the rare pieces written by P G Wodehouse on behalf of Jeeves, Bertie Changes his Mind, Bertie expresses his frustration at the monotony of his life and his loneliness. He says he desires to have a larger house with several children prattling about around him. Jeeves realizes that if a wife comes in from the front door, he – the valet of bachelor days – has to go out at the back.
Landing up at a girls’ school, Jeeves manages to portray his master as a celebrity and somehow motivates the headmistress Miss Tomlinson to announce a lecture by Bertie Wooster to the students. The assembled lot of giggling students quickly manages to unnerve Bertie, thereby erasing from his mind any thoughts of children and matrimony. Thus, Jeeves’ employment prospects remain unaffected.
Smart managers often use the art of gentle persuasion to get overly enthusiastic employees to be realistic in their goals, thereby improving the team’s contribution to the organizational goals.
Jeeves is not a Yes-Man
On several occasions, there arise serious differences between the two. Even if Bertie displays annoyance and irritation, Jeeves remains steadfast in his views. Right from purple socks, check suits, mauve pyjamas and pink-feathered alpine hats to growing a moustache, Bertie invariably has to give up his bizarre tastes to accommodate the rather rigid views of Jeeves in matters of attire and appearance.
Yes, there are times when Jeeves appears to be rather flexible in his approach. For example, in Much Obliged, Jeeves, he confesses to having destroyed the eighteen pages of The Junior Ganymede club book, covering some intimate details about Bertie.
When Bertie contemplates a marriage, Jeeves does not hesitate to speak freely. In Jeeves Takes Charge, he tells Bertie that Florence Craye is of a highly determined and arbitrary temperament, quite opposed to his own. In Jeeves in the Offing, he opines that Roberta Wickham is volatile and frivolous.
This is a sterling trait of Jeeves’ character, worth emulating for all senior managers. Registering dissent in a polite but firm manner is a great quality to have.
What makes Jeeves and Bertie Tick
The fact that Jeeves gets unbridled authority to run Bertie’s affairs single-handedly is surely an important motive for him to aspire to continue in latter’s employment.
As to Bertie, he desists from the prospect of ever getting married. He shudders to think of Honoria Glossop who is hearty and a confirmed back-slapper. Madeline Bassett has large, melting eyes and thinks the stars are god’s daisy chain. Roberta Wickham is easy on the eyes but has the disposition and general outlook on life of a ticking bomb. Pauline stoker has the grave defect of being one of those girls who want you to come and swim a mile before breakfast and expect you to play five sets of tennis post-lunch. Florence Craye is an intellectual girl, who would like the male of the species to be sculpted into fine examples of cerebral excellence.
Also, Bertie is a perfectly chivalrous gentleman. He is bound by the Wooster Code which does not allow him to refuse a proposal coming his way. Nor does it allow him to bandy the name of a female in public. He is always open to risking his own reputation to help a pal of his.
Bertie and Jeeves – A Formidable Team
Why does Bertie allow himself to be dominated over by his valet? Despite being an employer, he is reduced to a hapless victim of circumstances and Jeeves invariably gets the full credit for having pulled him out of the soup almost every time. Bertie’s aunts consider him a blot on the landscape. His close friends, while seeking favors from him, describe him as being utterly unselfish. At times, he is held to be mentally negligible!
Overall, we get the picture of a person who represents a decaying aristocracy, is content to live a routine and comforting life where he is surrounded by goofy friends, potty females and scheming aunts. As to thinking things through deeply, he appears to have outsourced this function in his life to Jeeves. It is not that he does not try coming up with fruity schemes. Unfortunately, the harder he tries, more of a mess his intended beneficiaries get in to. Add to this his obvious distaste for a saunter down the aisle and the picture is almost complete.
In The Inimitable Jeeves, we are treated to a scenario where Bertie has made up his mind to sack Jeeves. To quote a delectable passage from the memoirs:
“I buzzed into the flat like an east wind…and there was the box of cigarettes on the small table and the illustrated weekly papers on the big table and my slippers on the floor, and every dashed thing so bally right, if you know what I mean, that I started to calm down in the first two seconds. …. Softened, I mean to say. That is the word I want. I was softened.”
Needless to say, Jeeves stays put!
P G Wodehouse has visualized two characters which form a mutually appreciative team. Both Bertie and Jeeves complement each other, thereby forming a perfect team.
In business organizations, it is not uncommon to find teams comprising members who play the roles of Bertie and Jeeves alternately. Smart bosses often form such teams to extract the best results in a difficult situation.
A Beacon of Hope
The character of Jeeves essentially symbolizes hope for all those who are depressed and temporarily knocked off by the rugged punches of life. He stands out as a friend, philosopher and guide – par excellence.
Howsoever bleak the scenario in life, if one picks up any of Wodehouse’s works, the clouds in one’s life start getting cleared away, the good old sun starts buzzing along on all six cylinders, the sky turns a bright shade of azure, the birds start chirping merrily, a soft breeze starts swaying the palm trees, the spirit is uplifted and one feels…,well, I mean, dash it!
(Related Post: http://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2013/11/09/when-jeeevs-takes-charge)