Previous DLS posts: Concerning Lord Peter Wimsey
, and Ralph Lynn
, the Hon. Freddy Arbuthnot
, Miss Katharine Alexandra Climpson
, media whimsies
, Whose Body?
, Clouds of Witness
, Unnatural Death
, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club 1
, Strong Poison
, The Five Red Herrings
, Have His Carcase 1
, & 7
, Murder Must Advertise
I've decided I want to do The Nine Tailors
in very small increments, because it's not terribly long, but it is extremely dense. So this post will cover "A Short Touch of Kent Treble Bob Major: Two Courses."
My thinking on The Nine Tailors
has been heavily influenced by Catherine Kenney's book, The Remarkable Case of Dorothy L. Sayers
. Kenney is as much apologist as critic, bending over backwards to defend every aspect of Sayers's writing. (She says about Sayers's use of dialect:
Though some readers today are offended by Sayers's attention to the distinctions of social class, including dialect, her fine ear permitted her to write English as it was actually spoken. If this ability tends to highlight the differences among people in her society, it does so in the service of realism. And one could argue that this willingness to hear others in their own voices is an indication of an essential respect for their individuality and their right to be who they are.
This rather misses the point of most complaints about dialect in the Wimsey novels, and notice that Kenney is conspicuously silent on the treatment of Jewish characters.) But there are things she says about T9T
that I think are true and helpful, and have certainly shaped the way I think about the book.
She points out, for example, that in T9T
, Peter is separated from the cosmopolitan, urbane world in which we are accustomed to see him. This is also true in T5RH
, but in that book, Peter seems to carry an impermeable bubble of urbanity around with him, much like his walking stick. In T9T
, that world, which in the novels is associated with London, is literally rendered useless on the first page, via the metonym of the Daimler: "the car lay, helpless and ridiculous, her nose deep in the ditch, her back wheels cocked absurdly up on the bank, as though she were doing her best to bolt to earth and were scraping herself a burrow beneath the drifted snow" (Sayers 3). Those adjectives aren't accidental: helpless
. Later, when the Daimler has been extracted from the ditch, we have a further pointed comment: "The big Daimler stood outside the Rectory gate, forlornly hitched to the back of a farm waggon. The two stout horses who drew it seemed, judging by their sleek complacency, to have no great opinion of it" (Sayers 38). The Daimler, this modern child of the industrial revolution, is out of place in Fenchurch St. Paul, more hindrance than help.
Another sign that Peter is not in his usual world is the fact that Mr. Venables recognizes his name, but--unlike Mr. Goodacre in Busman's Honeymoon
--not for the usual reason: "Lord Peter Wimsey--just so. Dear me! The name seems familiar. Have I not heard of it in connection with--ah! I have it! Notes on the Collection of Incunabula
, of course" (T9T
6). This is a joke about the rector's parochialism, but it is also a marker that we, like Peter, are in a metaphorically foreign country.
I think it's also Kenney who points out that we see Peter making a fool of himself, and not on purpose, more often in T9T
than any other book, but I cannot find the passage I'm after and am afraid in fact that it is someone else who observes what a remarkable idiot Peter must have looked, standing in the church staring up at the cherubims (Sayers 24-5). Kenney makes a similar point ("Wimsey, the overweening sophisticate is rendered childlike in his dealings with Mr. and Mrs. Venables" (Kenney 69)), but not with that specific example. I must be drawing on someone else's reading, but I don't have any idea whose. If this rings a bell for anyone (so to speak), please sing out.
But this is a remarkably unsophisticated version of Peter that we get in T9T
, solemnly ringing handbells, staring distracted at the angels in the architecture, nearly fallling down the stairs of the bell-tower: "He swayed as he walked and would have pitched headlong down the steep stair, but for the blacksmith's sustaining arm" (Sayers 30). He is a much more human figure than we have seen before, certainly far more human than the Harlequin of Murder Must Advertise
(which Sayers wrote while she was working on T9T
(Kenney 54). And he is human--and this seems to me important--in a context which has nothing whatsoever to do with Harriet Vane. If it is important, as I have argued elsewhere
elsewhere, that Harriet's identity not be subsumed in Peter's romance, it is equally important that Peter's humanity not be dependent on Harriet's love.
Next, The Nine Tailors
Kenney, Catherine. The Remarkable Case of Dorothy L. Sayers
. Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1990.
Sayers, Dorothy L. The Nine Tailors: Changes Rung on an Old Theme in Two Short Touches and Two Full Peals
. 1934. New York: Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc., n.d.