Explaining the Butler
In which what I wrote last year explains what I just wrote about Jeeves and Wooster?
I’m starting on the next installment of How to Succeed in Evil (working title: Cheap Labor) And I’m re-reading the third novella, Brainitar. Re-reading something you’ve written is always a strange experience, especially once enough time is elapsed. Because I don’t remember it. The story, yes, but not the sentence-level stuff. And certainly not enough to avoid certain lines cracking me up when I read them for the audiobook.
So in any story with a loyal butler standing by a dissipated master, there is in implicit question. Why does the Butler stay? We accept this in comics because Alfred is loyal. He raised Bruce Wayne and they are the closest thing to family either of them have. It’s one of the givens of the of the story. Water is wet. Mountains are tall. Alfred is loyal.
In the animated series Archer, Woodhouse (the name a not subtle tip of the hat to P.G. Wodehouse) seems to be, not so much loyal, but a geriatric held prisoner for the comedic purposes of the show.
And I had the same problem in How to Succeed in Evil. Why doesn’t Cuthbert just leave? Because, up to this point in the story, Bryce Warner has been ridiculous. I’m not saying he’s going to become less funny as the series goes on (not if I can help it, that is) but he will become more human. But Cuthbert is in ridiculous position. His Master thinks he’s Batman, without being any good at it. And, he’s pretty abusive to his Butler.
You would quit that job. And so would I. But Cuthbert doesn’t. At some point in the story we need to know why. I didn’t consciously think about why. After all I needed the long-suffering Butler in the mess for the purposes of the story, but it came out nice.
Vulp said, “Enough of the Butler act already. We’re both equal in this mess.”
“As you say, sir,” said Cuthbert, easing the Bentley away from the curb.
“As it is. C’mon Cuthbert. This has to be a disaster for you as well.”
“Loyalty is often inconvenient, sir, but never a disaster.”
“Loyalty is often misplaced,” said Vulp, “What happened to him anyway? I get that he’s useless, most trust fund kids are. But why couldn’t he enjoy all the usual vices and assuage his guilty conscience with some large charitable donations.”
“He means well, sir. Perhaps he even means the best. And that is to his credit.”
“But… But…” Vulp sputtered.
“But he is grossly incompetent? And unaware of that fact? Is that the source of your agitation, sir?”
“YES!” said Vulp, relieved that someone had come right out and said it.
“Ah, yes. I forget that you do not know how this works.”
“Works, what in this scenario is working?”
“The English way, flawed and antiquated though it may be, is that all gentlemen are inherently flawed and dissipated. And are only to be kept in line by the diligent efforts of their loyal and cunning Butlers.”
“Is that what you are Cuthbert, cunning?”
“You can depend on it, sir.”
“This clown isn’t worth your loyalty.”
“That’s not how loyalty works.”
“Why? I don’t get it? I mean doesn’t the whole thing wear on you? The whole loyal manservant bit. And the fumbling, floundering hero show?”
“I suppose… because it could be worse, sir.”
“Worse? He’s wrecking Warner Industries. Sure it’s a big company, and it’s going to take him a while to do a real job of it — there’s a lot of ruin in a multinational — but he’s not just wrecking the stock price. People are going to lose their jobs. People who work in the real world. Provide for their families. All because Bryce Warner wants to live out some absurd fantasy.”
“He is trying to do good.”
“Well, he’s not succeeding.”
“Most people aren’t even trying,” said Cuthbert very quietly. “He may be flawed and he may be foolish — and his conception of justice may be beyond my ken — but still he is trying. And that is worth something.”
“Have you ever read Don Quixote?” asked Vulp.
“No, why do you ask?”
“I’ll tell you later.”
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