[I should mention, btw, that I keep all my book-analysis posts "indexed" on my Memories
page. "Indexed" is in sarcastic quote-marks because, as coffeeandink
bewailed some time back, LJ's Memories feature is about as much like a real index as a stuck-together clump of grubby post-it notes is like a card catalogue. But anyway, my book posts are archived there.]
Previous DLS posts: Concerning Lord Peter Wimsey
, the Hon. Freddy Arbuthnot
, Miss Katharine Alexandra Climpson
, Whose Body?
, Clouds of Witness
, Unnatural Death
, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club 1
, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club 2
, Strong Poison
, The Five Red Herrings
The inscrutable exhortations of my soul tell me that this afternoon I need to talk about Have His Carcase
, and I'm not about to argue.
This is going to be a longish subseries of posts, and because HHC
is a long and complicated book, I'm going to be making the posts as I go along. If I wait until I've finished reading to post about Chapter One, I'll just end up having to read Chapter One again. And while that's not really so much of a hardship, it does seem awfully damn recursive.
I'm also (for a change) following the rules of writing literary criticism and laying out the schematic of my argument before I wade in. This is contrary, you understand, to the natural human instinct to keep secrets, and especially to save the really
clever bits as a surprise. But I think it will help all of us keep track of where we're going and which way is up on the map.
My argument about HHC
is going to be all about the metatext. I see this book as DLS's disquisition on/argument with/consideration of the tropes of mystery fiction, and in particular the conventions of that peculiar beast, the Golden Age series detective. I would further argue (if this were an academic paper and I had to be arguing SOMETHING) that this is a necessary step in the process of making Lord Peter Wimsey into a human being. DLS wanted to end the series with Strong Poison
, but realized when she got to the end that she couldn't make Harriet marry Peter, particularly with that terrible weight of gratitude on her shoulders. (I can't remember where I read that, but I'm morally certain that I did
read it somewhere, and that this isn't just me making shit up.) So the four books between Strong Poison
and Busman's Honeymoon
--with the definite exception of The Five Red Herrings
and the possible exception of Murder Must Advertise
--are all about making Peter into someone Harriet can love and redefining their relationship until it can both survive and support a marriage.
Peter starts out the series as a constructed detective. (I'm not using his terms, but my argument is very much based on Peter Dickinson's excellent article, "The Lure of the Reichenbach," in Murder Ink
, in which he talks about the differences between detectives who are built because the author wants to write a mystery series and detectives who come organically into being out of the needs of the mystery the author discovers they're writing) His mannerisms; his convenient wealth and breeding; his hobby (like Nero Wolfe's orchids)--as he says to Harriet in SP
: "I collect first editions and incunabulae, which is a little tedious of me" (SP
40)--and its attendant footnotes; the valet who is conveniently also an assistant sleuth and photographer; the convenient relationship with Parker and with Sir Andrew Mackenzie; Sugg (who is even admitted to be "a beautiful, braying ass ... like a detective in a novel" (WB?
22)); his accoutrements that look so much like the prefiguration of James Bond: the cane with compass, ruler, and sword, the monocle that's really a magnifying glass, the electric torch that looks like a matchbox (WB?
29-30) ... all terribly ironic from a man who asserts, in "The Abominable History of the Man with Copper Fingers," "I've always hated things made in the shape of things" (LP
16-17). Peter begins as a figure compounded of clockwork and cardboard, with tantalizing glimpses of a real human being shining through the cracks.
It's interesting to note, however, that he begins to slough off his collection of mannered attributes almost immediately. In Clouds of Witness
, he takes the wrong stick with him (which I tend to read as a mockery of the "special stick" school of detective writing); Sugg has disappeared entirely by Unnatural Death
and isn't even hostile in Clouds of Witness
; the books retreat into the background; the mannerisms and accoutrements become part of his character instead of part of his job. The monocle, I think by Have His Carcase
and definitely by Gaudy Night
, is so much a part of the ensemble that it can't
be a magnifying lens, whereas about the stick (which in Unnatural Death
is discussed as a prop which can be "suitably handled to express emotion" (UD
87)), we learn in T5RH
: "he carried [it] with him everywhere, even in the car, for fear that by some accident he might be obliged to stagger a few steps when he got to places" (T5RH
121). Cane and stick aren't about playing Boy Detective any more; they're just part of the persona Peter presents to the world. He doesn't have them because he's a detective masquerading as a member of the Drones Club; he has them because he's a human being hiding behind the facade of a Drone. The process of making Peter human begins almost concurrently with the beginning of the series, but the process is foregrounded and accelerated starting with HHC
, in which the manners, habits, plots, and circumstances of series detectives are subjected to deconstruction from all sides.
And that's why the first chapter needs its own post.
Next up, "The Evidence of the Corpse," Have His Carcase
Sayers, Dorothy L. "The Abominable History of the Man with Copper Fingers." Lord Peter: A Collection of All the Lord Peter Wimsey Stories
. Compiled, introd. James Sandoe. 1972. New York: Perennial Library-Harper & Row, Publishers, 1987 (The Reader's Digest Association, 1990): pp. 1-20.
---. The Five Red Herrings
---. Have His Carcase
. 1931. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, n.d.
---. Strong Poison
. 1930. New York: Perennial Library-Harper & Row, Publishers, 1987.
---. Unnatural Death
. 1927. New York: HarperPaperbacks, 1995.
---. Whose Body?
1923. New York: Avon Books, 1961.