The Romances of Bertie Wooster

pgw

“Bertie, it is imperative that you marry.”

“But, dash it all…”

“Yes! You should be breeding children to…”

“No, really, I say, please!” I said, blushing richly. Aunt Agatha belongs to two or three of these women’s clubs, and she keeps forgetting she isn’t in the smoking-room.”

The Inimitable Jeeves

Once again, Plumtopia is celebrating the romances of P.G. Wodehouse to commemorate the anniversary of his death on St Valentine’s Day 1975.

This year’s topic is the romances of Bertie Wooster. It’s a potentially controversial subject because Bertie is best known — celebrated even– as one of literature’s bachelors. Despite numerous engagements and entanglements, he always manages to slip the wedding knot.

Bertie’s romances, if we can call them that, are mostly unwanted entanglements brought about by Aunt Agatha’s efforts to marry him off, and his own chivalric code.

In Right Ho, Jeeves, Bertie makes it clear that “…the thought of being engaged to a girl who talked openly about fairies being born because stars blew their noses, or whatever it was, frankly appalled me.” But when Madeline Bassett offers to marry him, Bertie is helpless to refuse her.

 “ … I can never forget Augustus, but my love for him is dead. I will be your wife.”

Well, one has to be civil.

“Right ho,” I said. “Thanks awfully.”

Right Ho, Jeeves

Wodehouse was playing with a well-established romantic tradition, just as the great romantic satirist Jane Austen had done a century earlier.

“It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife.”

Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice)

Like Bertie Wooster, Jane Austen’s leading men had their difficulties with unwanted entanglements. In Sense and Sensibility, Edward Ferrars’ sense of chivalric obligation prevents him from breaking his engagement to the conniving Lucy Steele, and it takes an accident to save Captain Wentworth from an entanglement with Louisa Musgrove in Persuasion.

Austen also served up a smorgasbord of revolting relations. Mr Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is every bit as scaly and intimidating as Bertie’s Aunt Agatha.

“I take no leave of you, Miss Bennet: I send no compliments to your mother. You deserve no such attention. I am most seriously displeased.”

Jane Austen (Pride and Prejudice)

Jane Austen’s heroes have more to lose from an unsuitable marriage than Bertie because they have true love loitering in the wings. Wodehouse also used reluctant love-triangle plots of this kind in his Blandings stories and novels. But Wodehouse could never have allowed Bertie Wooster to marry. The introduction of a Mrs Wooster to the home would have broken up the winning Jeeves and Wooster double act. So Bertie remained a bachelor, with an inexhaustible supply of chums to play romantic lead.

Without the inducement of ‘true love’ to motivate Bertie, Wodehouse set about making his prospective spouses as ghastly as possible. They had to be — the reader (unless a misogynist) could hardly sympathise with Bertie’s predicament otherwise. Wodehouse thrived in the creation of ghastly characters and Bertie suffered more than his fair share of narrow escapes.

Bertie’s prospective wives were not always repulsive. He willingly proposed to Pauline Stoker (in Thank You, Jeeves) and was as mad as a wet hen when Pop Stoker cancelled their engagement under advisement from Sir Roderick Glossop. After Pauline’s affections transferred to Bertie’s pal “Chuffy” Chuffnell, the pair remained on terms of sufficient chumminess as to give Chuffy and Pop Stoker the distinct impression that the old love-light lingered.

“I am assuming that you wish to marry my daughter?”

Well, of course … I mean, dash it … I mean, there isn’t much you can say to an observation like that. I just weighed in with a mild “Oh, ah’.

Thank You, Jeeves

 We know Bertie was not opposed to marriage, or the opposite sex. He willingly proposed to Florence Craye (albeit inadvisably) and intended to propose to Roberta Wickham — before the infamous episode of the water bottle and the poker changed his mind. But he never seemed to find the right girl.

When I asked fellow Wodehouse readers on Facebook and Twitter, which of the women in Bertie’s life would have made the best marriage partner, Pauline Stoker and Roberta Wickham ranked clear favourites. But a substantial portion objected to the idea of Bertie marrying at all. It seems his creator’s determination to continue writing about Bertie’s bachelor days have led many fans to consider Bertie a confirmed bachelor for life – with the inimitable Jeeves by his side.

We wish them well.

HP

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17 thoughts on “The Romances of Bertie Wooster

  1. If we assume that Bertie is not celibate (despite his protests that imply the contrary), how does he manage, um, liaisons with Jeeves always in the offing? Can we imagine Jeeves bringing Bertie his soothing cup of Oolong in the morning, or one of his pals bursting uninvited into the bedroom, in circumstances where a third party might be present? His girls, moreover, never seem to have apartments of their own, always with parents or aunts or some such nosey parkers.

  2. Well interwoven post which connects Jane Austen to Plum!

    As to the delicately nurtured in Bertie’s life, perhaps they fall in three different categories: Those to whom he proposes but eventually realises his folly, those who use him temporarily when on the rebound, and those who wish to raise the level of his intellect.

  3. Murray Hedgcock

    Nice piece, HP, sparking memories of a competition held during one of The PG Wodehouse Society (UK) excursions into PGW country. This was to nominate Bertie’s most suitable bride. I can’t recall who won, but I proposed Emerald Stoker, whose agreeable character he stressed in his account of their friendship. Yes, I acknowledge that Ms S married Gussie Fink-Nottle, but I suggested that he proved so hopeless a husband that an exasperated Emerald divorced him, and married Bertie. How’s that for an argument?

      1. Especially if said progeny turned out to be female, given the general lawlessness of the sex without the added espieglerie (if that’s the word I want) of a Bobbie Wickham.

      2. Bobbie Wickham is Plum’s most splendid girl and probably his best female, Aunt Dahlia notwithstanding. As a rabbit of the Bertie Wooster class, I stand in the spotlight . . .

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