Welcome 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.