Right Ho, Gaukrodger

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.

Some examples:

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.

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14 thoughts on “Right Ho, Gaukrodger

  1. Write on, Mr B. That is a screeching imperative.

    We should take the great iron horse to The Land of Many Crows and get the low country lowdown down on paper; therein resides an onomatopoeic aptonym descriptor.

    S Smith made 200 against my side and bowled me for nowt; this artisan of the great craft o’ cricket went on to become President of the MCC. Though why he moonlights as a lawyer is problematic.

    A Tiger-supporter repaired my carport; his name of S Morter fits the builder mold. At that time my GP was Dr Harms. Perhaps Harms railed against his family-transaction-induced ‘life-script’ and determined to go against the morbid prediction of his nominative descriptor. He did good not evil.

    The phenomenon of selective perception could well be at work in your piece. As might be the case with Mr Daley, the journalist, any one can be a critic. It’s like an ability to be uncomfortable; it takes little effort or intelligence.

    I note in parting that despite my nominative descriptor I have not thus far made a pilgrimage to The Holy Lands.

    Extra, extra; read oil about it: “Diverting Traveller Back On-track with Help of Occupational Therapy”.

    Like

  2. Another brilliant read. Thanks Noel. Thought provoking, in a wonderfully weird way, and witty as always. A pleasurable read once again.

    Like

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  4. I am back – and what a delightful surprise! I am quite flummoxed.
    Another interesting and absorbing post. There really is no ‘popping in’ at this site – I was forced to go away, make a pot of tea, and come back with some scones for a serious read.

    ‘The Naming of Names’ by Anna Pavord, discusses how plants came by their particular scientific names if you like that sort of thing. Which I do.

    Gaukrodger.

    Gaukrodger is, of course, an American criminal posing as a valet who has been hired by Bertie after a tiff with Jeeves during a visit to America. He has a strong Brooklyn accent but Bertie is impressed with him after he did some strong arm stuff during an attempted mugging in New York. He is after the jewels of the aunt whose name I have forgotten who was doing a tour of the prisons for her magazine and is now interested in exposing the Hollywood party scene. Gaukrodger persuades Bertie to take the train with her to Hollywood, as Cora Pirbright? is having some sort of problem there and has summoned Bertie’s aid thinking that he will have Jeeves to hand, believing that in such restricted environs he has more chance of stealing the jewels. He also wants to go to Hollywood because he has written a film script in his down time during previous jobs as a car mechanic, plumber and taxi driver during which he has met all of human life and its predicaments, and got a strong idea of what the cinema going public want, and believes that if he can just show his script to the big producer at one of the parties Bertie will doubtless frequent, he will be made.

    The ending is, of course, that, after numerous entanglements Jeeves steps in, does his deus ex machina bit, and it all ends happily, with Gaukrodger not just having his script accepted by the big shot producer but being offered a career as a film actor. ‘Though we might have to do something about the name…’

    ‘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.’ – this reminds me of a research council newsletter in my days as a University Research Funding Adviser. A £250,000 study on what people did in the evenings after they got home from work found that the favoured occupation was to watch television and eat a home cooked meal before going to bed.

    ‘Thomas Portarlington Travers’ – yes, that one’s particularly splendid.

    My tea’s gone cold now but I shall carry on regardless. Prepare for another plethora of likes.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Dear Victoria, I’m glad you’re back. I’ve been looking for new posts from you but like Honoria you’ve clearly had more important matters in hand. Loved your marriage of Bertie/Jeeves with Plum’s penchant for cheap detective yarns and with Mr Mulliner’s stories of his nephew in Hollywood. I’m sure you can work up a tale on the outline you’ve already done. A plethora! If you have ever seen the movie The Three Amigos you will never use that word again in a any serious fashion. “A plethora, El Guapo . . . what ees a plethora?” Pity you’re across the world instead of across the street. I like scones.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. ‘Life! Don’t talk to me about life!’

    Most of my time is spent trying to clear away life’s annoyances so that I can get on with the more important matter of attempting to emulate your delightful posts.

    Battalions simply aren’t in it at the moment, but I keep taking out my Honoria inspired piece on ‘Wodehouse and the Public School Spirit’ and tinkering with it at intervals. I’m sure it will see the light of day at some point …

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  7. I wrote twice to the lady of Wagga Wagga, who never responded.

    This post is the bee’s pyjamas, Noel. I’m going to re-read it again (and share if you don’t mind) when my eyes and brain are a little less fuzzy than they are at present, owing to flu induced lack of sleep.

    I am incredibly miffed that wordpress has not drawn my attention to this before now. Or perhaps it did, but I didn’t know where to look….

    For now, I’ll just say Goodnight, Gaukrodger!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Honoria, I hope you’ve recovered now. It’s been a nasty winter Down Under but summer flu is unjust. If you feel my post is worthy of your excellent site. which I enjoy all the time, feel free to reblog. I’d very much like a bigger audience. Cheers

      Liked by 1 person

      • Not quite summer here alas. That occurred in the second week of July I believe (though can’t say for sure as I stepped inside for a meeting and missed the whole show). It is most definitely Autumn now.

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