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
, Have His Carcase 1
, Have His Carcase 2
Endemic and pandemic spoilers--especially, for people who are reading HHC
for the first time, I should warn you that there will be spoilers for later parts of HHC
. I'm discussing Ch. 2 through Ch. 10, but will be referring to much later bits of the plot. Including the identity of the murderer.
Proceed at your own risk.loligo
has taken care of a big chunk of fiction vs. reality stuff. And said it better than I would've. Go read
what she has to say, and then come back. I'm going to talk about sexual politics.
"The Evidence of the Road" introduces Perkins, whose function in the novel is to be exactly what he seems to be: a red herring. Peter and Harriet try to invent all sorts of marvelous stories about Perkins ("Can that name be real?" Peter wonders. "It seems almost too suitable" (HHC
110)), clothing him in clouds of mystery and glory, but first to last, he resists them. His later relevance as the Man Who Asks The Time only heightens this effect. Perkins is the banal untidiness of real life, shoved into the middle of a highly artificial, clockwork plot. No wonder he's nervous.
"The Evidence of the Road" is, in fact, largely about the monumental inconvenience of real life, as Harriet struggles vainly to find someone to help her--or at least not hinder her. Perkins is specifically introduced in a deflatory manner (I'm sorry; I know that's not a word, but it's the only thing I can think of to express what I mean): "With a foolish relic of Victorianism she had somehow imagined that a man would display superior energy and resourcefulness, but, after all, he was only a human being, with the usual outfit of legs and brains" (HHC
27). We saw in Strong Poison
that Harriet is particularly vulnerable to Victorian ideas, and nothing could drive that home more strongly than her expecting Perkins, "a weedy, sandy-haired person with a bulging brow and thick spectacles, gaz[ing] at her with courteous incompetence" (HHC
27), to be able to do anything better than Harriet can manage herself. And thinking about this has also drawn to my attention the fact that of all the detectives cited as examples in HHC
, not one of them is female--including Harriet's own brainchild.Gaudy Night
is very much about women's communities, women's power, women's knowledge, but Have His Carcase
seems to me to be much more about being a woman trapped in a man's world: Harriet, Mrs. Weldon, Leila Garland, Doris, Charis, Olga Kohn, even the cypher-like Mrs. Morecambe. Some of them have given into the system: Mrs. Morecambe most notably. Most of them trade on their beauty, the coin men are most willing to grant them: Leila, Doris, Charis, Olga. Mrs. Morecambe did, before she aged (and became ineligible for that particular game--cf. Charis's comments on p. 86-7), as did Mrs. Lefranc. Mrs. Weldon wants
to yield, to be a "womanly woman" as the SCR will put it in GN
, but her male attribute--all that money--makes it impossible for her to play the game. She is in that way the obverse of Antoine and Alexis, who are men feminized by their lack of money, the fact that they are "the dolls that are bought and sold" (HHC
90). Alexis seems to have been rather in love with the idea of being a "manly man," but his slaughter by the brutishly masculine Henry Weldon shows that he is not equipped to win at that game. Antoine (who I think is one of the most sympathetic characters in the book) seems to have succeeded in personally opting out of the system, although that does not affect how other people view him, and he seems to pay for his detachment with his familial and personal psychological difficulties. Antoine is depressive and potentially suicidal--which one may argue is the only realistic response to the world he is trapped in.
Because the sexual politics of Wilvercombe are a trap, and a trap that it is almost impossible to climb out of. Even Harriet, who is resolutely against
that submissive, phallocentric view, descends to it in order to "vamp" Henry Weldon. She won't stoop to it for Peter, and I think in this book, that is one sign that their relationship is NOT based on illusion, fiction, deceit, and that it is not toxic.
But, as I said above, all the detective role-models available are male. Harriet is very clearly playing a man's game, and the moment at which I least like Inspector Umpelty is the moment at which he tries to use that against her:"'Ah!' Inspector Umpelty winked in a friendly manner at Wimsey. 'When the ladies get to knowing thing by this feminine intuition and all that, there's no arguing with it.'" (HHC
118-9). Peter won't play with him (although I always wish he'd just come out and say, "Don't be offensive, Umpelty."), but the horrible thing about that maneuver--as I'm sure DLS knew--is that Harriet's perfectly right. We know as well as she does that Mrs. Weldon would never have harmed a hair on Alexis's pretty head, not by "feminine intuition," which is surely one of the ugliest phrases in the English language, but because we, like Harriet (and unlike Umpelty), have seen Mrs. Weldon's reaction to Alexis's death. To have that experience dismissed as female unreasonableness ... is actually a very good capsule summary of women's history in the Victorian era, come to think of it.
Victorian attitudes permeate Wilvercombe's sexual politics. They are largely fictitious; aside from Harriet's contemplation of modern dress-making (HHC
43-4, and the word "Victorian" comes up explicitly), there's also this bit from the inquest: "This naturally led to an inquiry into the relations between Miss Garland and Mr. Alexis, from which it transpired that their acquaintance had been conducted on a footing of rigid, and even Victorian, propriety" (HHC
277)--in fact, it would be interesting (for someone who isn't me) to go through and note the occurrences of the word "Victorian," because my impression is it recurs quite frequently. But fictitious or not, they're also poisonous, because Harriet's cavalier assumption is untrue:
If this was the "return to womanliness" hailed by the fashion correspondents, it was to a quite different kind of womanliness--set on a basis of economic independence. Were men really stupid enough to believe that the good old days of submissive womanhood could be brought back by milliners' fashions? "Hardly," thought Harriet, "when they know perfectly well that one has only to remove the train and the bustle, get into a short skirt and walk off, with a job to do and money in one's pocket. Oh, well, it's a game, and presumably they all know the rules."
Harriet is perfectly sincere--and I think the idea she expresses is DLS's ideal--but the other female characters in the book prove, first from one angle and then from another, that it isn't that simple. Women's independence is much more fragile than Harriet wants to believe.
Harriet's own independence is not so complete as she believes, either. It's Inspector Umpelty's mention of Lord Peter that gets her the view, balcony, and bath with her first floor room ("It was just as well that Harriet did not know this. It would have annoyed her" (HHC
41)). Later, we will discover that her brisk, assertive manner with the Morning Star
35) cut absolutely no ice, and it was only Peter's interference that kept her from being pilloried in the press (HHC
173-4). Peter hates this as much as Harriet does, but it is nevertheless the way the world works--it is the reason that their romance in HHC
(and I use the word loosely) is so fraught and dysfunctional: because, as DLS discovered at the end of SP
, it has to contend with the real world, not the smooth platitudinous happiness of fiction. The world of Wilvercombe is a world of inherent sexual inequality; Peter and Harriet wrestle it to a draw, but it's only in the world of Oxford that they can triumph.
Next up, Have His Carcase
Sayers, Dorothy L. Have His Carcase
. 1932. New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, n.d.