Friday Book Club: The Art of Being Jeeves

SWT-Book-ClubsWelcome back to Friday Book Club, where we’ve been reading Thank You, Jeeves by P.G. Wodehouse!

Although some recall Jeeves as a butler, they are mistaken.  Jeeves “can butte with the best of them”, but his primary occupation is that of valet to Bertie Wooster.  So what exactly does a valet do?  I’m referring here to an ordinary valet.  “Rescue your employer from a continual series of farcical mishaps” is not generally part of the valet’s job description.

A valet is the male equivalent to a lady’s maid.  Basically, the valet is the gentleman’s personal assistant.  He lays out his employers clothes in the morning and makes sure they stay clean, ironed, and dust-free.  He may personally order new clothing for the gentlemen.  He helps the gentleman dress and undress and lays out and cleans shaving implements.  He may also be the gentleman’s barber.

A valet may help arrange travel for the gentleman and will certainly pack and unpack the gentleman’s clothing.  While other servants will usually clean the gentleman’s rooms, the valet ensures that the rooms stay tidy and comfortable (lighting a fire on cold day, airing the rooms, etc.

A valet is not a butler, but in many households a valet will do double duty and fill both roles.  Jeeves fills in as a butler on several occasions in the P.G. Wodehouse novels, and he does it well, as he does everything well.  The difference between a butler and a valet is that a valet attends to the personal needs of one person, while a butler is the head of male staff and may in some cases manage the entire household.

Want more details?  Here are links!

Jane Austen’s World lists the duties of a valet in great detail, using information from these sites:
The Book of Household Management, Mrs. Beeton, 1881 edition, page 978

The Encyclopedia of Domestic Economy Thomas Webster, Mrs. William Parkes, Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1852

And the duties of a valet don’t seem to have changed much.  Here’s an ad from an agency, TriState Domestic, that will help you hire your very own valet.  Please note that I am NOT endorsing this agency – I don’t know anything about it.  I mention it because I found its very existence to be fascinating.  One assumes that the modern valet uses modern technology to achieve his aim, but the actual job requirements seem pretty much the same as those in the 1800’s.  Note that “computer literacy” is a must if you wish to be hired as a valet by TriState.

Wednesday Videos: Jeeves and Wooster

WednesdayVideoToday you get a medley of Wednesday videos!  Jeeves and Wooster  was a series based on the Jeeves stories by P.G. Wodehouse that ran from 1990 to 1993.  It starred Stephen Fry as Jeeves and Hugh Laurie as Bertie Wooster.  Fun fact:  Emma Thompson introduced Fry and Laurie to each other, thus sparking a comedic duo of epic proportions.  Here are a few clips from YouTube to give you the feel for the thing.

Here is Jeeves meeting Bertie for the first time:

There’s nothing Jeeves can’t handle, including syncopation:

And I haven’t the foggiest idea of what’s going on here but I laughed so hard I almost dropped my laptop.  “We should loosen his collar!”  “Oh, I hardly think such drastic measures are called for.”  Harrrr!

Friday Book Club: Thank You, Jeeves!

SWT-Book-ClubsThis month we’re reading Thank You, Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse.  Join us here every Friday, and if you are in the Sacramento area join us at Arden Dimick Library at 2PM on January 26th!

As usual, we’re kicking of Book Club with some cool facts about the author, P.G. Wodehouse.  Here’s a few things you may not have known about this prolific comedic author:

1.  His real name was Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse.  It’s hard to picture looking at a tiny infant and saying to oneself, “I think I’ll name him Pelham Grenville!” but somebody did.  His nickname was “Plum”.

2.  He spent most of his life away from England.  His father was a British judge in Hong Kong, and Wodehouse lived there until he was three years old.  He was then sent to England to live with a nanny before starting boarding school.  He saw very little of his parents for most of his childhood, as they continued to live in Hong Kong while we was in England.  He started spending quite a bit of time in the United States in 1914.  He was also fond of France and moved there in 1934.  When war broke out, he stayed in France, which leads us to our next fact:

3.  He scandalized Britain by making some comedic radio broadcasts while he was held prisoner by the Germans during WWII.  He was branded a traitor and in fact never lived in Britain again (after France he lived in the United States).  He was eventually acquitted and given a knighthood.  His broadcasts seem to not have been pro-German or treasonous, but simply terribly tone-deaf to the belligerent and patriotic mood of the British who were in the middle of The Blitz.  P.G. Wodehouse repeatedly expressed embarrassment at his political naiveté.  Harry W. Flannery  said, “Wodehouse was his own Bertie Wooster”.

4.  Wodehouse became a United States citizen in 1955.  He continued writing well into his nineties.  He always wrote about the same time period (approximately 1910 – 1930, but with no mention of WWI or any political or social upheavals).  He lived from 1881-1975.

More to read:

Georgeorwell.gov has a great essay by Orwell that defends P.G. Wodehouse and, along the way, puts the Wodehouse novels into historical context.  This is the site where I found the Harry Flannery quote, by the way.  The essay is long but its wonderful, thought-provoking reading.

The Paris Review has a wonderful in-depth interview with P.G. Wodehouse that was conducted shortly before his death – it’s fascinating!

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Friday Book Club: Prepare to be Amused

SWT-Book-ClubsFriday Book Club is going on a bit of a vacation, but we will be back in January with a three-month series that features humor writing.  If the last series, Gothic Literature, made you mopey, then January should perk you right up.

Our January book will be:  Thank You, Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse.

This classic British comedy is the first full-length Jeeves novel, and what a joy it is, as the unflappable butler, Jeeves, has not one but two upper-class idiots to take care of.  Thank You, Jeeves was published in 1934.  I’m still waiting for the final Jeeves installment, which I’m sure will come any day now:  Jeeves, Put Down that Uzi!

Cover of Thank You, Jeeves

The February Book Will Be:  The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams

I can’t imagine humor, or science fiction, or…well, anything, without this delightful book.  The Guide has been a radio show, a TV show, and audiobook, a hollywood film, a stage play, and of course a trilogy consisting of five books (not a typo).  Follow the insane adventures of Arthur Dent, Earthman, as he travels though space with his friend Ford Prefect, fellow earthling Trillian, the two-headed party boy and President of the Galaxy Zaphod Beeblebrox, and the eternally depressed robot Marvin (“Life.  Don’t talk to me about Life”).

Cover - Hitchhikers Guide

And for the Grand Finale:  700 Sundays, by Billy Crystal

700 Sundays is a change of pace, from wacky madcap British comedy to bittersweet autobiography from one of America’s most beloved comics.  In this book, Billy Crystal talks about the family and friends who supported and inspired him.

Cover of 700 Sundays

So, start reading now, and join us back here for Friday Book club, starting January 3rd!