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A fictional alliance that always landed the chump in a pickle
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The Times 27 October 2001

A fictional alliance that always landed the chump in a pickle

Tim Reid

P.G. Wodehouse would have heartily approved of the cross-Atlantic union: he married his wife, Ethel, in 1914, and the two were still going strong when the author died in 1975. Bertie Wooster was rather less keen on tying the knot.

Despite 19 engagements and many near misses Wodehouse's most eligible bachelor never married, thanks mainly to the genius of his redoubtable valet Jeeves. He extricated his master from many scrapes and took a very dim view of the prospect of a woman taking over Sir's affairs.

Bertie was basically allergic to marriage, but on one occasion at least was genuinely keen, when he popped the question to Pauline Stoker, an American. But poor Bertie was thwarted. Her father was warned by Sir Roderick Glossop that Bertie was "loony", and that was that.

Three other proposals were voluntary: to Cynthia Wickhammersley and Vanessa Cook (both rejected), and Aline Hemmingway, although that occurred in a magazine version of a story. Fifteen engagements were imposed on him, often owing to Bertie’s aim to play the preux chevalier. Sometimes asked to marry, he could never say no, landing himself in the most terrible pickle.

He was affianced to Madeline Bassett (four times), Stiffy Byng, Vanessa Cook (the same girl who rejected him previously), Florence Craye (four times, and she had many fiances: there was talk of setting up a club called the Old Florentians), Honoria Glossop (twice), Pauline Stoker (this time at her father's insistence, she having being found in Bertie's pyjamas and Bertie's bed. Bertie was of course as shocked as anyone to find her there), Trixie Waterbury and Bobbie Wickham.

Observing married friends was another reason why Bertie fought shy of the aisle. In Very Good Jeeves, he asks his manservant: "Are wives very often like that? Welcoming criticism of the lord and master, I mean?" "They are generally open to suggestions from the outside public with regard to the improvement of their husbands, sir." Bertie says: "That is why married men are wan, what?" Wodehouse recognised, however, that sometimes avoiding marriage was impossible.

In Ring for Jeeves, Jill Wyvern insists to her father that she is not going to marry Lord Rowcester. Wodehouse writes: "It seemed to Colonel Wyvern that his child must be suffering from some form of amnesia, and he set himself to jog her memory.

"Yes, you are," he reminded her. "It was in The Times."

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