P.G. Wodehouse – Indian Summer of an Uncle
"Indian Summer of an Uncle" is a short story by P.G. Wodehouse, in which women are excluded as complex characters and men are portrayed as being in league against women. The male characters are the victims who support each other as if repelling an unwelcome, alien force. What makes this worse is the degree to which this is seen, simply, as the "stuff of comedy." Paradoxically, Wodehouse's approach is Englishness at its most depressing.
Brief Synopsis of the Story
Bertie Wooster’s fat old Uncle George fancied himself in love with young Rhoda Platt, a “lowly” waitress. Discussing possible repercussion with Jeeves, Bertie revealed he feared the disapproval of Aunt Agatha. When Aunt Agatha called, having heard of Uncle George’s intentions, she demanded the affair was stopped immediately. Aunt Agatha told Bertie to negotiate a money settlement with Rhoda and gave him a blank cheque to go to London immediately.
In London, confronted by Rhoda’s Aunt Maudie, he learned that her young niece had influenza and that she was thinking over George’s proposal. Mission unaccomplished, Bertie returned home to explain to his furious Aunt Agatha. Then Jeeves suggested presenting Uncle George with Rhoda’s Aunt Maudie, with her orange hair and magenta dress, to influence him against the marriage. When the meeting took place, it transpired the aunt was Uncle George’s barmaid, whom he wanted to marry years before. The two met and Uncle George and Maudie became engaged.
Bertie discovered that Jeeves had already planned the outcome. He wanted to help an old friend, who was in love with Rhoda. Resourceful Jeeves had Bertie’s suitcase already packed to escape Aunt Agatha’s wrath, and so the car was speedily prepared for a quick getaway.
Englishness and the Snobbery of Class-Conscious Men
In the first instance, Bertie Wooster addresses the reader as a pal, assuming it is a “he” and not a “she.” Chattily, he says: “Ask anyone at the Drones…” This assumes that the reader knows that the Drones is a London gentlemen’s club, making it clear Wodehouse is not writing for the female gender. Throughout the story, the (male) reader is invited to share the joke. Women are referred to continually in a patronising way, for example as “this female,” and more specifically as “the recent aunt,” and “Add the aunt.” Even more overtly, his own Aunt Agatha is described as “The Family Curse.”
There are dismissive, contemptuous allusions to working-class girls, showing stereotyping and English class-consciousness. “It is notorious… they always endeavour to marry chorus girls,” and “his intention of marrying some impossible girl from South Norwood.” This latter remark was addressed to Aunt Agatha, who “…comes sticking her oar in,” and who, on discovering her brother’s prospective love-match is a working-class waitress, emitted: “…a screech… like the Cornish Express.” Agatha is a caricature of an aunt.
Need to Exclude Women even Overcomes Class-Consciousness
Apart from involving the reader as a fellow-victim, the men in the story support each other, against women, even overcoming barriers of class. Aristocratic Bertie and manservant Jeeves are united in the cause of protecting the male sex against female idiosyncrasies. Jeeves, in sympathy, speaks of “gentlemen… yielding to a sentimental urge,” that he goes on to describe as “The phenomenon…” These comments echo Bertie’s own description: “The last bloke in the world… a victim to the divine pash.” Finally, after Jeeves has manipulated events to his own ends and persuaded Bertie it is all for the best, there is still the formidable Aunt Agatha to consider. Again, aristocrat and manservant unite; the suitcase is packed and they are: “…off over the horizon to where men are men.” The men have successfully thwarted the schemes of women by guile, cunning and cleverness, and they escape to avoid retribution. On balance, without wanting to mitigate Wodehouse’s tired and stereotypical presentation of women, the men, in their turn, are presented as effete and on occasion, as objects of scorn.
“Indian Summer of an Uncle,” Life with Jeeves, P.G. Wodehouse, Penguin Books, 1988.
Literature in the Modern World, Ed: Dennis Walder, Open University Press, 1990.