Posts Tagged ‘Aunt Agatha’


Other than the topsy-turvy romances of younger couples, P G Wodehouse also regales us with romantic affairs of those who are advanced in age and young at heart. An affection which was discernible in a couple’s younger days – whether declared or otherwise – survives the harsh slings and arrows of life. A chance meeting unearths and rekindles the deep buried embers of love. A well seasoned romance bears fruit. The Valentine Spirit prevails.PGW Man with two left feet

One such couple we get to meet is that of Joe Danby and Aunt Julia, who make an appearance in the story entitled ‘Extricating Young Gussie’ (The Man with two Left Feet). This is how the narrative unfolds.

An inconsiderate Aunt Agatha drags Bertie out of bed ‘in the small hours’ (perhaps around half past eleven in the morning!), much before he has finished his dreamless and sipped his first cup of tea. She is…

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The brand called Jeeves stands for impeccable service. It signifies delivery of results which exceed one’s expectations, that too with due respect, politeness and sagacity. The methods may be rough at times, but the neat results obtained do provide satisfaction to all concerned.

On the flip side, the brand also represents cunning. An undercurrent of subterfuge often manifests itself. An excessive control over the affairs of the hapless and mentally negligible masters is a cost to be borne to avail of the service package on offer.

Residents of Plumsville often wonder as to how Jeeves, the well-known gentleman’s personal gentleman, acquired the traits that eventually made him an indispensable asset to the upper crust of English society – the art of shimmering in and out, the detailed knowledge of Debrett’s British Peerage, the knack of solving some tricky problems facing his blue-blooded masters or his pals, and, of course, a deep understanding of the psychology of the individual.

C. Northcote Parkinson, the proponent of the famous law so very well known in management and bureaucratic circles, in his inimitable whodunit entitled Jeeves: A Gentleman’s Personal Gentleman’ (ISBN 0-312-44144-4), unravels the kind of life Reginald Jeeves led, much before we get introduced to him in the memoirs of Bertie Wooster. For good measure, he also captures for us his life in the later years.

The making of the brand Jeeves

A rolling stone gathers no moss, the wise men have said. Jeeves, with his keen intelligence and a bulky head bulging at the back, uses each of his career pit stops to acquire diverse skills. Failures do not deter him. Instead, he uses these to learn and assimilate his knowledge, to be used for any future employer who might end up needing it.

Jeeves has learnt to beware of aunts. He has learnt to move silently, hear everything and say nothing. As a page boy in an academy for young ladies, he has learnt that all girls are to be avoided as much as possible and that those with red hair are especially dangerous. He has learnt that the ideal employer must always be, and should always remain, a bachelor. He has understood the nuances of flat racing. He has realized that a gentleman’s gentleman leads a more interesting life than that of a butler. He has discovered his talent in playing bridge and poker.

The repertoire of his skill sets is vast indeed. Regrettably, the narrative is completely silent on the kind of fish Jeeves is said to be fond of.

What makes Jeeves happy?

Intense introspection has led him to conclude that his inner happiness lies in resolving a tricky situation in such a manner as to merit a hearty round of applause from all concerned. The final scene has to belong to him. While all others are bewildered and confused, he would like to walk in, offering a neat solution to the problem at hand. He must be imperturbable, dignified and conclusively right. The solution may be such as to not only solve the main problem at hand, but also tie up a couple of other loose ends as well, thereby winning a warm approval from a wider cast of actors in the play. At this stage, the curtains may fall.

His keenest pleasure is in solving problems for people whose ability fell short of his.

Looking for an ideal employer

During the course of his long career, Jeeves has found that his preference is for prosperous and reasonably but not fanatically honest men. His employer must always be a gentleman, without a passion for horses, dogs, goldfish and parrots.

Pragmatic to the core, Jeeves does not boast of exceptionally high moral principles. Instead, he places a higher premium on social standards, excellence in sartorial tastes and polite behaviour.

Glisteroll in hair he does not approve of. Dazzlo toothpaste he scoffs at. Use of Seductor after shave lotion he does not recommend. Such are his exquisite tastes.

Bunter, the man of Lord Peter Wimsey, the detective, advises Jeeves to never work for a very clever gentleman like his own employer. After all, of what use is to work for someone whom one can never hope to deceive, someone who sees through every excuse and knows every trick? One has one’s own private life to lead. One should therefore find an employer who need not be mentally handicapped but should certainly be far from clever.

By seeking an employer who is stupid – good-natured, popular, but utterly brainless – he has the great possibility of making him dependent on himself. In his career, he aspires to be a Holmes to a Dr. Watson.

According to the narrative at hand, Jeeves goes out of his way to ferret out an employer who matches his expectations. Diving deep into the exhaustive journal maintained at the Junior Ganymede Club, he comes across one Bertram Wilberforce Wooster.

For Jeeves to identify his manservant Meadows and file a complaint against him for misappropriating his employer’s socks is the work of a moment. Meadows gets the sack and a vacancy gets created.

Two days later, Jeeves calls at 6A, Crighton Mansions, Berkeley Street, W1, only to find that there is indeed a vacancy for a gentleman’s personal gentleman.

The rest, as we all know, is history.

From valeting to buttling

Bertie taking a fancy to playing the banjolele marks the beginning of a phase where he and Jeeves start drifting apart.

Whereas a butler becomes the key figure in an established household, he does miss his days of roving the world as a bachelor’s personal attendant. ‘In becoming a valet the former valet admits to himself that middle age has arrived. He is about to settle down and put on weight.’

Jeeves accepts a position with the fifth baron Chuffnell, who is struggling to maintain Chuffnell Hall with his limited means. Once the baron decides to settle down with Pauline Stoker, Jeeves moves back to Bertie, when assured that the banjolele had been burnt in a fire at the cottage.

But this turns out to be a short reunion. Soon, the master decides to go off to learning the art of mending socks and Jeeves takes up the role of a butler to William Egerton Bamfylde Ossingham Belfry, 9th Earl of Rowcester, who is struggling to stay afloat at Rowcester Abbey, a picturesque ruin subject to regular flooding. Having assisted him in resolving his problems, Jeeves tactfully gives notice.

Jeeves yearns for permanence

Followers of Plum’s narratives would recall Jeeves returning to Bertie in the role of a valet thereafter. But Parkinson would have us believe that Jeeves has by then realized that to achieve stability and permanence in life, he has to settle down in the role of a butler, but not with some impoverished nobleman. A background of solid wealth is necessary. Eventually, he decides to return to Lord Worplesdon, who is now married to the wealthy Mrs. Gregson, Bertie Wooster’s formidable Aunt Agatha.

For many years, Aunt Agatha has avoided an inner urge to ask her middle-aged nephew to walk down the aisle. Results of her last attempt to do so, when a seemingly innocent girl at Cannes had turned out to be a gangster’s moll, had proven to be highly embarrassing. This time round, however, her attention is focused on Valerie Pendlebury-Davenport. Unbeknown to her, Jeeves intervenes and saves Bertie from losing his bachelor status.

Working with Aunt Agatha needs nerves of chilled steel, something which could be trying even for someone like Jeeves. Moreover, he now goes about polishing the silver with a dwindling enthusiasm and a growing dislike of the Countess, whose dislike for him is fully reciprocated.

Eventually, he puts in his papers and starts wondering as to how to use his many talents in some other field.

Support from a dashing Bertie Wooster

Meanwhile, with the death of Sir George Wooster, the Earl of Yaxley, Bertie Wooster has inherited the family estate, Wooster Castle, which also comprises Angler’s Rest. Countess Maud Wilberforce plans to return to her previous home in East Dulwich.


Armed with a title and property, Bertie enjoys a higher degree of self-confidence. He is now a justice of the peace and can no longer afford to pinch policemen’s helmets. No longer can he be considered as one being mentally negligible.

He decides to take a walk down the aisle with one of the most famous, though dreaded, characters from the tribe of the delicately nurtured, overcoming serious objections from her mother. One would not like to play a spoil sport here and reveal the identity of the new Countess, though.

Bertie also offers Jeeves the position of a landlord at Angler’s Rest. If one were to visit it these days, one can be sure of being told by him one of the several Hollywood stories concerning the two movies he had appeared in: Little Lord Fauntleroy and The Vampire of Vitriola, both produced by Perfecto Zizzbaum. Alas, Mr Mulliner has faded slowly into the cold and darkness of the night.

Brand Jeeves: Managing bosses

The character of Jeeves has a distinctive aura of its own. It teaches us the art of managing bosses. Significantly, it also teaches us how to manage our own selves better.

A brand stands for reliability and credibility. It signifies professional excellence. It delivers satisfaction to those it serves. Jeeves qualifies to be labeled as a brand on all these fronts.

The narrative dished out by C. Northcote Parkinson reaffirms the following to be the key factors behind his success in his chosen profession:

  1. Clarity as to what he loves doing in life, and a relentless endeavour to steer his career in that direction.
  2. Using his intelligence to introspect and understand the profile of an ideal employer to suit his temperament; taking adequate steps through proper channels to zero in on such employers from time to time.
  3. A keen sense of observation which helps him to anticipate the needs of his blue-blooded employers; ensuring continued dependence of his employers on him.
  4. Being a respectful and dignified listener, speaking only when necessary.
  5. Excellent learning ability; seeking advice from those in the know of things and following the same when it matches with his own values.
  6. Leading people by appearing to be a devout follower.
  7. Cultivating a boss who would take care of one in one’s sunset years.

Managers of all hues, sizes and shapes could learn much from the brand called Jeeves. An ability to introspect and strategize. Understanding one’s own strengths and weaknesses. Making the best use of opportunities that come our way. Using our inner resources to neutralize the threats we come across. Meeting the boss, dim-wit or otherwise, half-way through. Learning from successes as well as from failures. Being open minded. Choosing the company to work for with due diligence. Commanding respect and building one’s brand equity by delivering in excess of what is expected of oneself.

Those who are not blissfully ignorant of the existence of Jeeves can belong to two schools of thought. One, those who admire Jeeves and would love to have someone like him at their disposal. Two, those who detest him and would not like someone like him controlling their lives, even if it means their having to handle the harsh slings and arrows of Fate single-handedly.

But if there were indeed a Jeeves’ Academy of Boss Management, would you not like to enroll for a course thereat, irrespective of the school of thought you happen to belong to? It might add a unique sparkle to your career graph!

Jeeves by Northcote Parkinson

The fictional biography of Jeeves whipped up by C. Northcote Parkinson supplements the Wodehouse canon beautifully. It is built around characters and events that Plum fans are already familiar with. It captures the spirit of Jeeves’ character very well.

One is left wondering as to how Monte Carlo never came up with the idea of offering a honorary citizenship to Reginald Jeeves, following the example of Meringen (Switzerland) which has honoured Sherlock Holmes thus!

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Other than the topsy-turvy romances of younger couples, P G Wodehouse also regales us with romantic affairs of those who are advanced in age and young at heart. An affection which was discernible in a couple’s younger days – whether declared or otherwise – survives the harsh slings and arrows of life. A chance meeting unearths and rekindles the deep buried embers of love. A well seasoned romance bears fruit. The Valentine Spirit prevails.PGW Man with two left feet

One such couple we get to meet is that of Joe Danby and Aunt Julia, who make an appearance in the story entitled ‘Extricating Young Gussie’ (The Man with two Left Feet). This is how the narrative unfolds.

An inconsiderate Aunt Agatha drags Bertie out of bed ‘in the small hours’ (perhaps around half past eleven in the morning!), much before he has finished his dreamless and sipped his first cup of tea. She is most distressed that her nephew, and Bertie’s cousin Gussie Mannering-Phipps, has lost his head over a ‘creature’ in New York who is on the vaudeville stage.

Bertie recalls the fact that his Aunt Julia, Gussie’s mother, was also a vaudeville artist once. His Uncle Cuthbert saw her first when she was playing pantomime and decided to make her his wife. The family had resisted, but to no avail. Aunt Agatha had then pulled up her socks and groomed her impeccably. Twenty five years later, one could not tell Aunt Julia from a genuine dyed-in-the-wool aristocrat.

Gussie had vaudeville blood in him, and it looked as if he were reverting to type, or whatever they call it.

‘By jove’, I said, for I am interested in this heredity stuff, ‘perhaps the thing is going to be a regular family tradition, like you read about in books – a sort of curse of the Mannering-Phippses, as it were. Perhaps each head of the family’s going to marry into vaudeville for ever and ever. Unto the what-d’you-call-it generation, don’t you know?’

‘Please do not be quite idiotic, Bertie. There is one head of the family who is certainly not going to do it, and that is Gussie. And you are going to America to stop him.’

In New York, Bertie runs into Gussie, now going by the name of ‘George Wilson’. Gussie is determined to win the approval of the father of the girl he loves. The father, one Mr. Joe Danby, used to be a well-known stage artist himself. He would not hear of his daughter marrying anyone who is not in the profession.

Helped by the ‘creature’, Gussie’s first show rolls around. Gussie has stage-fright and starts badly, but halfway through his second song a pretty girl beside Bertie joins in, bucking Gussie up and getting a big round of applause from the audience. It turns out that she is Ray Denison, the girl Gussie loves.Bertie image

Bertie, worried by Gussie’s unwavering affection for Ray, telegraphs Aunt Julia for help. Aunt Julia arrives. Bertie does not explain the situation to her but uses the novel technique of letting her sense the problem of her own. He first takes her to see Gussie’s show. Then he takes her to Ray’s show. Thereafter, they call on the girl’s father.

This is how the scene plays out:

‘Joe!’ cried Aunt Julia, and staggered against the sofa.

For a moment old Danby stared at her, and then his mouth fell open and his eyebrows shot up like rockets.


And then they got hold of each other’s hands and were shaking them till I wondered their arms didn’t come unscrewed.

Between the reunited lovers, back-falls on the stage get discussed. Buns and ham sandwiches offered to Aunt Julia get recalled. Seed-cakes lavished on to her by Joe Danby get fondly recollected. Her singing ‘Rumpty-tiddley-umpty-ay’ in a double act called ‘Fun in a Tea-Shop’ gets remembered.

Both undergo a transformation which leaves Bertie twiddling his thumbs. Aunt Julia sheds her grande-dame manner completely, blushes, smiles and even giggles. Danby, ‘a cross between a Roman emperor and Napoleon Bonaparte in a bad temper’, behaves like a school boy.

Old Danby made a jump at her, and took her by the shoulders.

‘Come back where you belong, Julie!’ he cried. ‘Your husband is dead, your son’s a pro. Come back! It’s twenty-five years ago, but I haven’t changed. I want you still. I’ve always wanted you. You’ve got to come back, kid, where you belong.’

Aunt Julia gave a sort of gulp and looked at him.

‘Joe!’ she said in a kind of whisper.

‘You’re here kid,’ said Old Danby, huskily. ‘You’ve come back……Twenty-five years!…..You’ve come back and you’re going to stay!’

She pitched forward into her arms, and he caught her.

‘Oh, Joe! Joe! Joe!’ she said. ‘Hold me. Don’t let me go. Take care of me.’

Meeting Gussie soon after, Bertie hears that Julia and Danby are to be married, as are Gussie and Danby’s daughter.

The narrative ends with Bertie receiving a telegram from Aunt Agatha.

‘What is happening? Shall I come over?’

Bertie resolves to avoid England for a long time and responds thus:

‘No, stay where you are. Profession overcrowded.’

When it comes to Cupid’s machinations, age, caste, creed, profession and social status do not really matter. Love may remain dormant for a long time, but can get revived in a jiffy – much like a Psyche getting revived by a Cupid’s kiss!

Psyche Revived by Cupid's Kiss

Psyche Revived by Cupid’s Kiss

Yet another mature romance we come across in Plum’s works is that of Piggy and Maudie. We get introduced to this couple in ‘Indian Summer of an Uncle’ (Very Good, Jeeves).

Aunt Agatha, eager to protect the family name, plays a spoilsport in both the narratives – ‘Indian Summer of an Uncle’ and ‘Extricating Young Gussie’*. In both cases, she fails, much to the delight of the romantics amongst us.

In both the cases, to escape the fury of an aunt scorned, poor Bertie has to stay away from England for a long time, missing Anatole’s delectable spreads, rave parties and the Drones Club!

*(A century back, this story was first published in The Saturday Evening Post of USA in September 2015).

(Related post: https://ashokbhatia.wordpress.com/2014/02/04/piggy-maudie-and-a-seasoned-romance)

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In old age, lust gets mellowed down and wisdom acquires a brighter shade of orange. Holding hands and physicalVeryGoodJeeves contact gets relegated to the background. Instead, common ailments and related medications and therapies rule the roost. At times, the lining of the stomach paves the way for a couple to start sharing the trials and tribulations of life together. One of the stories where P G Wodehouse puts this across succinctly is the one titled ‘Indian Summer of an Uncle.’

Uncle George is unduly attached to the pleasures of the table. The lining of his stomach is no longer in a good shape. Twice a year, his liver lodges a formal protest and he goes off to Harrogate or Carlsbad for some rest and recuperation.

He is contemplating a matrimonial alliance with a much younger Miss Rhoda Platt who happens to be a waitress at his club. Jeeves is of the firm opinion that Uncle George is experiencing an Indian summer. This is how he sums up the situation to Bertie Wooster:

‘One must remember, however, that it is not unusual to find gentlemen of a certain age yielding to what might be described as a sentimental urge. They appear to experience what I may term a sort of Indian summer, a kind of temporarily renewed youth.’

Uncle George’s plans to saunter down the aisle with a girl from the lower middle classes face a serious glitch – that of a stout disapproval from Aunt Agatha. After all, family honor is at stake. She promptly gives a blank cheque to Bertie who is expected to rally around and pay off the girl so as to secure a ‘release’ for Uncle George.

The family remembers that years ago, long before this uncle came into the title, he had had a dash at a romantic alliance. The woman in question then had been a barmaid at the Criterion. Her name was Maudie. He loved her dearly, but the family would brook no such nonsense. Eventually, she was paid off and the family honor protected.

Enter Smethurst – Colonel Mainwaring-Smith’s personal gentleman’s gentleman. He happens to be in love with Rhoda, who has to make a choice between love and ambition. If Bertie succeeds in his mission to wean off Uncle George from the influence of the young woman, she would possibly refrain from permitting herself to be lured by gold and the glamour of Uncle George’s position. Such a state of affairs would be a consummation devoutly to be wished by Smethurst.

Bertie does call on the young woman but instead ends up meeting her jovial aunt. The aunt is a kind-hearted soul, but definitely of the people, what with her orange hair, the magenta dress and the verbose outlook on life. Her intention is to continue residing with her niece after the latter’s marriage. 

Bertie’s nerve fails him and the matter is put in the hands of a higher power – that of Jeeves. His suggestion is to arrange a meeting between his lordship and the aged aunt. Once the two meet, this reflection might give his lordship pause.

Aunt Agatha takes a dim view of the proposal to arrange a lunch meeting of the two, thereby lowering the prestige of the clan by allowing menials to get above themselves. However, Bertie and Jeeves decide to proceed with their little act of doing good by stealth. However, Jeeves has a deeper purpose in mind – that of assisting Smethurst.

Bertie describes the meeting thus:

There was a stunned silence as he went in, and then a couple of startled yelps you hear when old buddies get together after long separation.



‘Well, I never!’

‘Well, I’m dashed!’

‘Did you ever!’

‘Well, bless my soul!’

‘Fancy you being Lord Yaxley!’

‘Came into the title soon after we parted.’

‘Just to think!’

‘You could have knocked me down with a feather!’

I hung about in the offing, now on this leg, now on that. For all the notice they took of me, I might just as well have been the late bw, disembodied.

‘Maudie, you don’t look a day older, dash it!’

‘Nor do you, Piggy.’

‘How have you been all these years?’

‘Pretty well. The lining of my stomach isn’t all it should be.’

‘Good Gad! You don’t say so? I have trouble with the lining of my stomach.’

‘It’s a sort of heavy feeling after meals.’

‘I get a sort of heavy feeling after the meals. What are you trying for it?’

‘I’hv been taking Perkins’ Digestine.’

‘My dear girl, no use! No use at all. Tried it myself for years and got no relief. Now, if you really want something that is some good –’

I slid away.

So, Uncle George and Aunt Maudie were like deep calling to deep. Between the sweet and cheese courses, their engagement gets announced.

Aunt Agatha is told that his lordship is going to get married to a Mrs Wilberforce. While she is trying to figure out which branch of the Wilberforce family the woman of sensible age belongs to, Bertie and Jeeves plan to quickly get off over the horizon to a place where men can be men. This appears to be the only way to avoid facing her fury when she learns of the lower middle class status of the future Lady Yaxley.

In most of his works, P G Wodehouse regales us with the topsy-turvy romances of couples who are invariably in the impressionable phases of their lives. The narrative in ‘Indian Summer of an Uncle’ (Very Good, Jeeves) somehow celebrates a seasoned romance. Gone are the impulsive break-offs linked to sharks, moustaches and beef puddings. Nor are we treated here to an impetuous affair kick-started by the heroine’s cat being saved by a chivalrous and dashing hero. Instead, we are allowed to bask in the soft glow and warmth of a long drawn out romance the embers of which get rekindled after several years – thanks to Jeeves and the lining of the stomach!

(In response to the fruity initiative of Plumtopia: http://honoriaplum.wordpress.com/2014/01/15/wodehouse-fans-needed-for-valentine-series-the-great-wodehouse-romances)

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