Dorothy Sayers, “Whose Body?”

I went to Columbia to watch the Inauguration.  They had a Jumbotron below the steps of Low Library and as we all stood there in the brilliant snowy cold listening to Obama’s speech, the bells at Riverside Church began to peal. It was amazingly moving.

It also got me thinking about campanology, a word no one would know without Sayers’ The Nine Tailors. I haven’t read it in a long time though it was the first Sayers I made my way through. I got a hankering to revisit it, but when I went to the shelf yesterday my pedantry got the better of me and I decided instead to start from the beginning, i.e. Whose Body, in which Lord Peter Wimsey makes his appearance.

Goodness: more shell shock. Between Siegfried Sassoon and Pat Barker you’d think I’d had enough of this. Mercifully Sayers confines herself to a mere flashback episode (clearly Lord Peter suffered from post-traumatic stress syndrome) but in a page and a half she redeems him from being an insufferable twit. In my eyes, anyway. But then, he’s my first love and as such beyond any substantive criticism.

It’s been many years since I read this one. It’s thin; more a matter of clever clockwork than interests me normally. Characters mere adumbrations of what they’ll become in later books. But very clever in places. At one point a walk-on character (Sayers at this point is writing in second person, a feat you rarely see in early twentieth-century detective fiction) feels that Wimsey’s “clothes were a kind of rebuke to the world at large.” Nifty.

The anti-Semitism is cringe-making. I’d forgotten that. But interestingly the villain, who feels that most emotions are merely physical quirks in the brain, seems scientifically prescient. When this was written (1923) that was probably a fringe point of view. But his explanation of Lord Peter’s trench-horror flashbacks seems to resemble some current thinking on neural pathways, while his anti-Freud stance seems to chime with the latest on brain chemistry.  Funny how even mental-health attitudes go in and out of fashion.

About carolwallace

I spend most of my time writing and reading. Most recent publications: the reissue of "To Marry an English Lord,"one of the inspirations for "Downton Abbey," and the historical novel "Leaving Van Gogh." I am too cranky to belong to a book group but I love the book-blogging community.
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One Response to Dorothy Sayers, “Whose Body?”

  1. Pingback: Smarter Than They Need to Be « Book Group of One

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