For me, Bertram Wilberforce (“Bertie”) Wooster is one of Wodehouse’s most endearing, yet at times most irritating, characters. Endearing, because he embodies so many attractive personality traits: good humour, perserverance, generosity, unshakeable loyalty to his friends. Irritating, because one cannot avoid the feeling that, were he made of sterner stuff, he would resist those—mainly old school friends and aunts—who unscrupulously take advantage of his good nature and land him in the soup. At the same time, one is well aware that if Bertie was not so spineless, there would be no story.
But the sad fact is—for let’s not beat about the bush here—that Bertie is a chump, a fathead. Well-meaning, to be sure, but not one of Nature’s thinkers. We may assume that he was born with the usual complement of parents, one mother, one father, but we know little about them, save that his father had several siblings, from one of whom—his uncle George—Bertie has inherited sufficient wealth as to make gainful employment unnecessary. This is fortunate, because it is difficult to imagine how Bertie would have survived if he had had to work for his living. Not that he is without a certain native cunning. In Ring for Jeeves, the only story that does not feature Bertie, he goes back to school to learn how to fend for himself in the event of a social revolution and, by dint of cheating, succeeds in winning the sock-darning prize. Of course, being Bertie, he is found out and expelled!
Although not averse to the odd spot of cheating, Bertie adheres rigidly to a “Code of the Woosters”. This has two fundamental tenets: never refuse help to a pal in need; and never contradict or offend a female. So, when a friend finds himself in a spot of bother and turns to Bertie for help, he can be sure that help will be forthcoming. And when the spot of bother involves, as it so often does, the friend’s fiancée, we can be sure that, thanks to the second part of the Code, it will not be long before Bertie is himself in a spot (or two) of bother. Fortunately, Jeeves is usually on hand to save Bertie from the clutches of the law, amorous young women, or furious young men.
Wilberforce, by the way, was the name of an unfancied horse that Bertie’s soon-to-be father had the good fortune to back to win the Grand National steeplechase in the year of Bertie’s birth.