Tuesday, February 02, 2010

Archie and Bertie, Wolfe and Jeeves

I'm far from the first person to point out that Archie Goodwin, Nero Wolfe's right-hand-and-legman, bear similarities to Bertie Wooster--if, that is, you can imagine a Bertie Wooster who is capable, tough, and smart. Which, admittedly, is a difficult proposition. Really, the similarities usually begin and end at the two men's use of language: Archie is the best source of outdated slang I know of outside Wodehouse's world, able to work himself up to a dizzying pitch of idle--or, more frequently, needling--banter.

But every once in a while Rex Stout extends Wodehuose a nod that's a bit more overt, as in this passage from one of my favorite Nero Wolfe novels, The Silent Speaker (1946):
What Wolfe tells me and what he doesn't tell me, never depends, as far as I can make out, on the relevant circumstances. It depends on what he had to eat at the last meal, the kind of shirt and tie I am wearing, how well my shoes are shined, and so forth. He does not like purple shirts Once Lily Rowan gave me a dozen Sulka shirts, with stripes of assorted colors and shades. I happened to put on the purple one the day we started on the Chesterton-Best case, the guy that burgled his own house and shot a week-end guest in the belly. Wolfe took one look at the shirt and clammed up on me. Just for spite I wore the shirt a week, and I never did know what was going on, or who was which, until Wolfe had it all wrapped up, and even then I had to get most of the details from the newspapers and Dora Chesterton, with whom I had struck up an acquaintance. Dora had a way of--no, I'll save that for my autobiography.
Would Jeeves have done any less?

Which can't help but lead a reader to imagine the possibilities: what if Jeeves and Wolfe had met at some point, and teamed up? There's no question that they would have been a formidable duo, but would they have gotten along? Or would Jeeves merely have frustrated Wolfe, his silent efficiency eliminating any need for the drama and flourish that Wolfe loved so much?

Archie and Bertie, on the other hand. . . . Bertie would take one look at Archie and quail, seeing the inner tough guy beneath the dapper exterior, while Archie would instantly cross Bertie off any and all lists of both suspects and rivals, and thus would take barely any notice of him at all, methinks.

1 comment:

  1. Both pairs, Archie & Bertie & Wolfe & Jeeves, are a variation on Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. The often clueless narrator, the "brainy" friend, etc.
    No purple shirts in Conan Doyle, though Holmes seems to be the member of the duo with the sartorial eccentricities.