I was basking in the autumn sunshine, mellowing fruitlessly, when an unbidden thought drifted into my cerebellum: what if Jeeves had not been called Jeeves? What if another cricketer’s name had caught P.G. Wodehouse’s ear and the gentleman’s personal gentleman who made his entrance on 18 September 1915 had been called something else? Would Jeeves now be a metaphor for members of the butlerine genus everywhere, or for sources of infallible information on any topic, but most especially in matters of correct dress for all occasions? I mean to say, what?
These be deep waters and, before I stick my toe in, perhaps I should recap the story so far.
It all started when the By The Way newsletter of The P.G. Wodehouse Society (UK) marked the centenary of Jeeves’ premiere with the lengthy and detailed opinion of Wodehouse authority Tony Ring that the un-surnamed Bertie in the first “Jeeves story”, Extricating Young Gussie, was actually a Mannering-Phipps and not the Wooster of enduring fame. The formidable Mr Ring reckoned Bertie’s birthday would have to wait until 5 February 2016, the centenary of the story, Leave it to Jeeves, in which Bertie was definitely named Wooster and Jeeves was promoted from his brief walk-on the previous September to the starring role he has never relinquished.
Since then, those of us so inclined have been having a little fun with Mr Ring’s proposition, via the editor of Wooster Sauce, the quarterly journal of The P.G. Wodehouse Society (UK)*, but I don’t propose to go into that debate. I’m sure if I did even those who are still with me would quickly find more interesting things to do, such as complete another thousand games of Solitaire on your computers.
The only significance in our little bit of trivial amusement is that it is about the importance of names – and it’s led me into considering why Jeeves is Jeeves and, I think, couldn’t be named anything else. So let’s move on.
What happened next was that the lovely Honoria Plum reblogged my Trio of Musical Fame piece on her Plumtopia site. This seemed to pique the interest of her devoted following of Wodehouseans, to my immense self-satisfaction, and some of them sacrificed a slice of their lives to peruse the meanderings of The Traveller a little further . . . especially a lady from Warrington, Lancashire. I know she lives in Warrington because she says so, and I’m quick on the uptake.
Anyway, there I was on a fairly dreary Saturday night, desultorily watching TV and pondering The Times cryptic before the mighty Arsenal came on to rescue their season from complete oblivion, when my phone erupted in a flurry of e-mails from Warrington. She read my entire output and “liked” each bit. I was immediately undrearied, if more than a little bemused.
But again that’s not the point. I’m on about names, remember.
It was a couple of days later when I was basking, as I said, that Jeeves blew in on the west wind . . . and I headed inside to reread a piece in the latest Wooster Sauce, headed What’s in a Wodehouse Name and authored by veteran Aussie expat writer Murray Hedgcock. As all Wodehouseans know, Wodehouse named Jeeves after a cricketer, Percy Jeeves, whom he saw playing at Cheltenham one day in 1913 and mentally filed away his name for possible use at some time he knew not when. The Wooster Sauce article was a republication of a talk Murray gave to the society’s AGM in 2013 following the centenary of Plum’s day at the cricket.
After the preliminaries, Hedgcock settled down to it. He pondered the names of the other bowlers alongside Jeeves in the attack for Warwickshire that day – Foster, Langley, Hands, Santall and Quaife – as possible monikers for a valet as yet not even conceived. None stood out.
“Names do matter, not least in cricket,” he said. “Neville Cardus . . . once wrote a pleasant essay under the title ‘What’s in a Name?’ He mused over the significance of names within cricket, recalling how as a schoolboy he had been indignant to find his beloved Lancashire held up against Worcestershire by an unknown who scored an unbeaten 82 – named Gaukrodger: ‘I decided on the spot that a) this was outrageous and absurd; that b) Gaukrodger was an impossible name for a cricketer; and that c) with such a name, he ought never have in this world score 28 let alone 82.’
“George Warrington Gaukrodger went on to make 91 in that innings . . .”
Well it was already pretty quiet in my house, given I was alone at the time. But somehow the silence deepened. Warrington! Playing for Worcestershire . . . Wooster! In a story about Jeeves! Pardon the exclamation marks (screamers, as we used to call them in the trade). This was a Twilight Zone moment.
And it all came together. What if Wodehouse had gone to watch Lancs v. Worcs and Gaukrodger had stuck in his mind? Would this have been the passage in Extricating Young Gussie that ushered in an immortal:
Gaukrodger came in with the tea. “Gaukrodger,” I said, “we start for America on Saturday.”
“Very good, sir,” he said; “which suit will you wear?”
I don’t know about anyone else but somehow this rings no bells. I can’t see a Gaukrodger as a valet, unless perhaps he were to take his place alongside the villainous Meadowes or Bingley. Maybe at a pinch he could fit into Wodehouse’s bulk of butlers, inter alia Beach, Biggleswade, Cakebread, Keggs, Peasemarch, Silversmith and Swordfish. Between Cakebread and Keggs? Cakebread, Gaukrodger, Keggs? Dunno.
But setting prejudice aside (if that is at all possible), could Gaukrodger be made into a credible gentleman’s personal gentleman? After all, as the fragrant Juliet observed: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet.” (My cultured readers would have noticed the reference already, of course.)
This is where the waters to which I’ve referred above start to deepen. For, according to the modern Jeeves, Wikipedia, it was none other than Carl Jung who, in his “seminal 1952 paper on synchronicity” – follow me here; I’ll get you through this without your having to swallow too much – raised the idea that names may significantly influence choice or behaviour.
“We find ourselves in something of a quandary,” he says, “when it comes to making up our minds about the phenomenon which Stekel [no, and I don’t care either] calls the ‘compulsion of the name’. What he means by this is the sometimes quite gross coincidence between a man’s name and his peculiarities or profession. For instance . . . Herr Feist (Mr Stout) is the food minister, Herr Rosstäuscher (Mr Horsetrader) is a lawyer, Herr Kalberer (Mr Calver) is an obstetrician . . . Are these the whimsicalities of chance, or the suggestive effects of the name, as Stekel seems to suggest, or are they ‘meaningful coincidences’?”
Jung listed striking instances among psychologists, including himself: “Herr Freud (Joy) champions the pleasure principle, Herr Adler (Eagle) the will to power, Herr Jung (Young) the idea of rebirth . . .”
The concept of synchronicity holds that events are “meaningful coincidences” if they occur with no causal relationship, yet seem to be meaningfully related . . . i.e. all that I have related above: Bertie, Jeeves, Warrington, Gaukrodger, Worcestershire. Nothing caused these names to come all together in the one place – they just did.
Still with me? Head above the water? Nearly there now. Back on solid ground soon.
First we need to go round via the shallows of New Scientist magazine which observed a phenomenon of its own in 1994 and called it nominative determinism. I guess this bastion of modern scientific thought had never heard of synchronicity, nor probably Stekel. I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt on Jung.
The magazine’s Feedback column noted at the time: “We recently came across a new book, Pole Positions – The Polar Regions and the Future of the Planet, by Daniel Snowman. Then, a couple of weeks later, we received a copy of London Under London – A Subterranean Guide, one of the authors of which is Richard Trench. So it was interesting to see Jen Hunt of the University of Manchester stating in the October issue of The Psychologist: ‘Authors gravitate to the area of research which fits their surname.’ Hunt’s example is an article on incontinence in the British Journal of Urology by A.J. Splatt and D. Weedon.”
New Scientist tracked nominative determinism for the best part of 20 years but couldn’t establish any scientific basis for the synchronicity. “There’s something going on here, or maybe there isn’t, but it’s funny anyhow,” the editor, John Hoyland, told the BBC.
Bruno Fromage, then managing director of French-owned dairy company, Danone UK.
Rem Koolhaus – architect.
William Wordsworth – poet [I know you know].
Larry Speakes – one-time White House spokesman.
Dominic Dropsy – goalkeeper.
And apparently Buzz Aldrin’s mother was named Marion Moon.
The likes of carpenters named Carpenter and butchers named Butcher are not meaningful coincidences. Those surnames exist for good reason. Back at the start of naming, Mr Baker the baker didn’t become a baker because his name was baker; he came to be Mr Baker because he baked. And Butlers because they buttled.
Which brings us safely to dry land again and the proposition that Jeeves just has to be Jeeves and not, for example, Gaukrodger, although it’s a nearer run thing than you might imagine. Gaukrodger, or the more common Gaukroger – there are 1155 of both varieties in the England White Pages – is a Yorkshire surname, so Dr Google tells me, derived in medieval times from a nickname for someone perceived to be clumsy and awkward. Well, I don’t know where Cardus’s favourite cricketer was born but I do know that Percy Jeeves was a Yorkshireman, although he played for Warwickshire. He was born near Dewsbury (I had a girlfriend once named Dewsbury), either in Soothill Nether or in Earlsheaton – both splendid potential Wodehousean village names, but let’s not go down that path now. Maybe another time.
Why Jeeves though? Why not one of the millions of Gaukrodgers of this world? Indeed, would Gatsby be great as, say, Gaukrodger. Or Marlowe, invented by another Dulwich Old Boy, Raymond Chandler . . . would he be hard-boiled as, I dunno, Gaukrodger perhaps? Or Sam Spade? Or Mr Pickwick, or David Copperfield, or . . . or . . . ?
Norman Murphy, an equally formidable Wodehouse authority, notes that Plum had previously used the name “Jevons” several times in stories. Further, he says, Arthur Conan Doyle – why Sherlock; why not Fred? – liked to name his characters after cricketers. Murray Hedgcock notes that, when Doyle captained the Authors in 1912 against the Publishers, Plum was a member of the Authors side.
Wodehouse usually gets his characters’ names right. There are some I might quibble with but most of them sound just right – “Bingo” Little, “Pongo” Twistleton, “Catsmeat” Potter-Pirbright, Thomas Portarlington Travers, Ukridge, Madeleine Bassett, Bobbie Wickham, Honoria Glossop etc etc and etc. Furthermore, if they’re not real names, like Gaukrodger, they’re usually plausible. I’ve spent a little time looking through the current England White Pages and it’s a parade of all human life. Jeeves appears 3204 times, which surprised me a little as the variations Geeves (1352) and Geaves (401) are much more common than Jeeves in the Australian White Pages. As for all the other millions of names in the England White Pages – there are 182,412 “G” names alone – none I’ve seen seems suitable for the one-time chairman of the Junior Ganymede.
Of course, many will complain, oh, you’re just saying that because you’ve been reading Jeeves for half a century. Juliet, they’ll say, is right: a Jeeves by any other name would be just as great a character. Well, all right, forget Gaukrodger and substitute Smith, or Jones, or ffeatherstonehaugh. Does anyone really think “Smith” would have endured for a century?
No, none but Jeeves would have had the credible authority to rule against soft-fronted shirtings for evening wear and alpine hats with feathers at any time. None could have quoted Shakespeare and Schiller to such effect. None could have outsmarted a surging sea of aunts, nor a phalanx of fiancees. None could have booked rail and sea voyages at a moment’s notice. None, none, none.
Bertie without Jeeves is like Smith without a P. . . or like Warrington without a lady who reads The Traveller on a Saturday morning. I love you for it, Victoria; please don’t stop. But even in Warrington it seems to me that, with the sun having barely poked its face above the horizon, you’d be better off with a Jeeves special†.
*I keep having to spell out The P.G. Wodehouse Society (UK), especially the UK bit, because there’s The Wodehouse Society in the United States. It does not feel the need to carry either the sacred initials or a qualifying “US”. In fact, there are Wodehouse societies all over the place, including one in Russia. http://www.pgwodehousesociety.org.uk/ has a list of them. An Australian version is apparently a lady in Wagga Wagga. I keep meaning to write to her but never get around to it. She has what looks like a Dutch name but that’s not surprising. Old Plum is big in the Low Countries.
†Not a Gaukrodger special.