Tuesday, August 20, 2013
Jeeves Gets A Rewrite
I've been listening to The Inimitable Jeeves on my iPod over the last few weeks, and also occasionally watching the 2nd season of the Jeeves and Wooster television show. I came across one of those situations where a filmed version of a story sets out to make improvements on the story -- with mostly good results, I think.
The story is variously known as Aunt Agatha Takes the Count, or Aunt Agatha Makes a Bloomer, or Aunt Agatha Speaks Her Mind, or in the case of the television show, Pearls Mean Tears. (The tv show combines one story with another, I believe -- but we can ignore that part).
In the original tale Aunt Agatha sends for Bertie Wooster to come down to where she is staying (France, I believe) in order to be introduced to a woman and her clergyman brother. The aunt is convinced that Bertie and this woman should be married (a recurring theme with Aunt Agatha). After several days or a week, the woman and her brother come to Bertie with a tale of the brother having gotten involved in gambling and accidentally gambled away his parishioner's money. They want a loan, and as collateral they insist that Bertie take the woman's pearls and write out a receipt.
Jeeves informs Bertie after they've left that the two are con artists, and that they had switched the case with the pearls with an identical empty case when he wasn't looking, but Jeeves had lifted the second case when he helped them with their coats. He also explains that the pearls had been stolen from Aunt Agatha, who is at that moment berating the hotel staff about the burglary and accusing a maid of the theft.
The story ends with Bertie returning the pearls and then really laying into his aunt. It really feels to me that he goes over the top; he's very sanctimonious and self-important, and I expected that he'd overstepped his bounds and was due for a fall, but that's where the story ends, with him getting to tell off his aunt on the harshest of terms.
Although it's always the way with these stories that Jeeves knows all, this one in particular has the danger and the resolution to the danger all delivered by Jeeves after the fact. It's a kind of Jeeves ex Machina. In several ways the story fails to fully deliver -- one, there is little tension involved since only Jeeves knows a crime is being committed until after he's foiled it; two, the criminals get away; and three, Bertie's berating of his Aunt comes off as harsher and more self-righteous than the situation truly deserves. We only have Bertie's word that she's a terrible person who is hard on everyone -- we really haven't seen much of that first-hand.
In the television series they try to fix these problems. First, we get to see Bertie and Jeeves at the race track and see Jeeves witness the clergyman selling tips, so the audience knows early that something is amiss with the couple. When they come to Bertie for the loan, Jeeves is seen observing them with suspicion, but he does nothing. This allows them to return later for the pearls, and when Bertie can not find them, demand to be reimbursed, since they have the receipt. (In the story Jeeves explains how they would have done this, had he not lifted it from them). Jeeves has Bertie delay the couple with small talk as he writes out a check -- meanwhile, Jeeves sneaks down the hall to their room, recovers the pearls, and reappears just in time to insist that they take the apparently empty case with them. They think this is odd but take it, whereupon the police appear and demand to see what's in the case. They laugh, thinking it empty, but open it to reveal the stolen pearls.
Meanwhile, prior to this we've seen Aunt Agatha's discovery of the stolen pearls and there's been a scene where she is verbally berating the hotel staff, calling the police and berating them, demanding that the maid be arrested for theft, etc. This means that when Bertie returns the pearls and lays into his aunt, it feels far more justified to the viewer. His speech is also a bit shorter and not so over-the-top.
All in all I like the improvements. It certainly adds to the tension for the viewer to know ahead of time that something is up, and allow the con to carry out almost to the end where they appear to have extorted Bertie for another 3,000 lbs for the loss of their stolen pearls. It's also very satisfying to see them arrested, and the setup for the verbal lashing of Aunt Agatha works much better and the payoff feels much more justified. But one wonders why Jeeves would allow the initial re-theft of the pearls from Bertie to happen when he clearly suspects it, and also having him sneak into someone else's room to steal something -- even if it's to steal it back -- feels off. Not to mention, it's very convenient that he can find the pearls so quickly.
Overall I think the television version is an improvement, but has its own problems.
Anyway, last night I didn't get a lot of writing done, but what I did work on was The Statue Got Me High. I don't have a resolution in mind for this story yet, but I have a setting and a conflict now so that gives me somewhere to start and somewhere to go with the idea.