I have decided to shift the exercise to this blog (though there will be a link from Your Freedom and Ours) as there have been numerous references to and postings on Miss Sayers before - she was after all, a conservative thinker and writer.
My first blog is about Miss Sayers, Lord Peter Wimsey and capital punishment. (I am afraid there will be spoilers.) Though I have read essays and letters by DLS I have no clear idea whether she was in favour of capital punishment but I am assuming, unless proven otherwise, that she was. Famously, Lord Peter though eager and willing to hunt down criminals, especially murderers, loses self-control and comes close to break-downs when he is successful. It is important to note that, unlike Josephine Tey' Inspector Grant who has near-break-downs because he finds himself pursuing, hounding and almost driving to suicide the wrong men, Lord Peter's neurosis appears when he gets the right man.
For all of that, he does not ever think of letting criminals go - there is not a single case of "justified murder" in any of the Wimsey novels or short stories. In Busman's Honeymoon he replies to Harriet's unreasonable question as to why it should be his hands who deliver someone to justice with the comment: "These are hangman's hands." Then he explains that he had been allowed to watch an execution once as he thought he should see it all for himself but it did not cure him from meddling. Later on in the book Harriet remembers that if it had not been for his meddling she would probably have been wrongly convicted and probably hanged. As it is, the real murderer was.
Not all Wimsey novels end with the assumption of execution but, curiously, all but one that involve Harriet do. The one exception is Gaudy Night, where there is no death only some time in the past, let alone murder. In another novel, Nine Tailors there is violent death but it is not really murder though the person responsible dies in turn - a good death, trying to save the village from flooding and another man from drowning. In yet another one, the supposed murder turns out to be suicide so, once again, Wimsey does not have a problem, especially as he also saves his brother from being hanged.
That leaves ten Wimsey novels with murder at the centre and of these one, Five Red Herrings, is really self-defence. The others are definitely murder and Wimsey finds the killers and brings them to justice, at least after a fashion. We see him going through a nasty nervous break-down in the first one, Whose Body? and the last one, Busman's Honeymoon. We also know for certain that the murderers in those books suffer the highest penalty as Freeman Wills Crofts often said at the end of his novels. The first one does not have Harriet in it but the last one most certainly does.
Strong Poison and Have His Carcase see murderers being sent to the gallows as we learn from subsequent references, especially in Gaudy Night.
Three end in suicide - in Unnatural Death the killer manages to do it in prison and Wimsey comes close to breaking down. The interesting ones are Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club and Murder Must Advertise. Wimsey confronts the killer in one and has the killer seeking him out in the other. In both cases his decision is odd for a sensitive man with highly strung nerves: acting as prosecutor, jury and judge he condemns the murderers in those two novels to death by suicide instead of death by hanging. Indeed, in Murder Must Advertise he even pronounces the words as he watches the condemned man walk away: And may God have mercy on your soul.
That this should happen twice is extraordinary and it does make one wonder about Miss Sayers's attitude to capital punishment.
Other blogs on the subject are appearing. Kate Jackson is writing in Crossexamining Crime about Gaudy Night, the novel that divides readers. As befits the subject, it is a very careful analysis.
Noah Stewart writes about the various editions of Dorothy L. Sayers's books, with illustrations. The one I must find is The Recipe Book of the Mustard Club. According to Noah, most of the recipes were contributed by Mac Fleming, Sayers's husband who was a gourmet cook.
Moira Redmond casts a caustic eye over the first four Wimsey novels and points out an inconsistency or two.
Bev Hankins writes about one of the secondary characters, the Dowager Duchess, Honoria Lucasta, not one of my favourites as I tend to be allergic to charm but reading this posting I thought I might have been unfair to the old girl.
Lucy Fisher picks up some very odd "corrections" that make nonsense of the original and also some quite infuriating wrongly placed emphases.
Most readers of this blog would have heard by now of the death of Cecil Parkinson, one of the big beasts of Thatcherite politics in the eighties. He was one of several ex-future-Prime Ministers; at times it seemed that anyone who was seen as a successor to Thatcher was cursed, in Parkinson's case by his inability to run his private affairs in some kind of a seemly fashion.
In some ways his career is a modern morality play though, I think, the writer who could have done justice to him was not English but French: this son of a railway worker, grammar school boy, successful athlete and scholar at Cambridge, businessman, politician, probably the best Chairman of the Conservative Party in the late twentieth century, whose career was set back considerably by his behaviour towards his mistress and her child (and, ironically, the fact that he decided to stay with his wife) is really a fit subject of Balzac.
What could be more fitting than a picture of him and the Prime Minister (by some accounts the only woman he was really loyal to) at the moment of his greatest triumph - the sweeping 1983 victory - when they both already knew that the storm clouds were gathering.
The Telegraph, as you would expect, has produced a highly informative and objective obituary. There is a more personal memoir from Iain Dale who thinks that Parkinson remained a dissatisfied man, not having achieved what he really wanted and was capable of. Probably true but the fault lay not in his stars but in himself.
William Pitt the Younger became Prime Minister at the age of 24 and died, on January 23, 1806, at the age of 46, exhausted by work and, let us not mince our words, the amount of port he put away every day of his life. How much more might he have achieved if not for the interminable French wars.
One of my favourite films is Carol Reed's The Young Mr Pitt, a very fine propaganda film made in 1942 with the great Robert Donat playing both the Elder and the Younger Pitt. Here is a scene between him and Talleyrand, played by Albert Lieven.
It is hard to agree with that judgement: it underestimates Christie whose work was a great deal more interesting than just a series of mechanical plots and puts Tey into a category she does not belong to, that is the tough guy Chandleresque thriller writer. To be fair to Ms Henderson, she is not the first to voice that opinion but it is wrong, whoever says it. There can be no possible parallel between Inspector Alan Grant or any other of Tey's detectives and, say, Philip Marlowe, though it is true that Tey's books are more concerned with characters than plots, some of which are a little weak.
It has been an accepted theory for some time that Elizabeth Mackintosh who wrote as Gordon Daviot and as Josephine Tey was a particularly mysterious and private personality about whom virtually nothing was known. There had been books about her work and a collection of essays about her in general but Jennifer Morag Henderson's Josephine Tey - A Life is the first full-length biography and many revelations were promised. (Catherine Aird, herself a leading detective novelist, has been promising her own biography of Tey for some years but it has not appeared so far though there have been articles and essays by her and Ms Henderson has relied on them to a considerable degree.)
The new biography is fascinating, not least in that it destroys the myth of the very private Josephine Tey. In a way, the myth was always just that. After all, how many times can people insist that readers of Tey's better known books have no idea that she was also Gordon Daviot, a highly successful playwright and moderately successful novelist between the wars and during World War II when every single edition of, say The Franchise Affair or The Daughter of Time (the two most popular ones) mentions this fact? In The Daughter of Time there is even a reference to Daviot's best known play, Richard of Bordeaux.
It turns out that Beth Mackintosh who, according to her great friend Caroline Ramsden, used the different names with different friends, had a number of them and kept in touch with such people as Dodie Smith, John Gielgud, Gwen Ffrangcon-Davies, James Bridie as well as her sisters and at least one friend from Anstey College where she had trained to be a PE teacher. The letters are available in various collections as are notes Beth Mckintosh made and correspondence between her and her publishers and agents. Ms Henderson seems to have tracked down every piece of evidence about her subject wherever it happens to have been, collated it all and made a fascinating story out of it. Anyone who is interested in Josephine Tey, in life in Scotland in the thirties and forties and the world of English and Scottish theatre should read this book. They will not regret it - there is so much material there.
On the other hand, one must admit that there are also problems with it. Firstly, the style is clunky and full of unnecessary modern jargon. Tey herself was a brilliant and witty stylist and it is a pity that her biographer cannot come even close to it. Secondly, there is a great deal of padding and repetition - trite comments about the First World War, repeated assurances that Tey was a complex personality and kept her family and her friends apart, pages on the growth of Scottish nationalism with which she had nothing to do - all this is unnecessary when the real story is so interesting.
Finally, those mysteries. Ms Henderson found out that Gordon Daviot was busy during the Second World War, writing short stories and short plays that were broadcast by the BBC, something, as she rightly and indignantly points out, the Corporation should not have lost track of. There is also the curious fact of the third nom-de-plume, F. Craigie Howie, used only once for a play, Cornelia, produced by the Glasgow Citizens' Theatre soon after the war. Apparently only two people knew the real identity of the author, Beth Mackintosh herself and James Bridie and neither revealed it so how it became known is not clear.
The link with Hollywood is spurious and consists of a single event when Gordon Daviot, a then successful dramatist, was asked to produce a script for a film. She did not go to Hollywood but wrote the script at home; it was then sent off and re-written several times by other authors as was the custom. She was not credited though the most recent list on IMDB does give the name of Josephine Tey as one of the contributors. By no stretch of the imagination can this be called experiencing Hollywood.
Finally, those young men she is supposed to have romances with and who are supposed to have a great influence on her. Some of this comes from Catherine Aird who relies on vague reminiscences by one Beth Mackintosh's sisters. Ms Henderson discusses the likelihood of some kind of an affair with a young Scottish officer, Gordon Barber, supposedly the source of the name in Gordon Daviot, who was killed at the Somme and who had kept a diary, which does not mention Beth, and comes to no conclusions. It might have been him she remembered and mourned, it might have been another young officer, Alfred Trevanion Powell or it might have been someone completely different. One cannot help wondering whether it might not have been merely an idealized young man.
The supposed brief post war affair with Hugh Patrick Fraser McIntosh who died of TB in 1927 is presented as a fact with no supporting evidence at all, beyond the fact that Josephine Tey used the name Patrick in several books and quoted one of McIntosh's poems in To Love and Be Wise. Well, maybe. The book is given to presenting a number of "would have beens" and "might have beens" and "probablys" as facts and that is irritating in the extreme.
There really is no need for any of that. The book is based on detailed and meticulous research and presents a fascinating portrait of a very good and many-faceted writer who will no longer be hidden by rather spurious mythology. For all of that we must thank Jennifer Morag Henderson.
Some years ago I wrote an article about Kipling for the Reputations section of the Salisbury Review but, at the moment, I cannot find it either on the internet or in hard copy, which I do have. As soon as I do so, I shall either link to it or quote from it. I do recall that I referred both to Orwell's and T. S. Eliot's essay on the man and his work. They are both interesting in that they were written at a time when Kipling was seen as something of an embarrassment to the literary establishment and the two critics, approaching the subject from different political perspectives, came to similar conclusions: a very good poet, often a good prose writer, difficult to accept politically but not quite as bad as people make him out.
Times have changed and our attitude to Kipling (give or take idiot students in Oxford, I imagine) has also changed. We still think of hims as a good and accessible poet. If was voted as the nation's favourite poem and I am not surprised. Recessional is not seen as a glorification of imperialism and racism, as it was for many years, by anyone who has actually read it but as a warning against hubris and arrogance. His later poems about the First World War are full of woe, not least because he lost his only son in it and felt guilty about pushing him towards enlistment, despite him being too young.
His children's books are a delight and his Indian stories continue to be popular. He was one of the few authors who understood children and could write about them as well as for them without making one cringe with embarrassment. He also understood and could write about people usually dismissed by the literary establishment, such as ordinary soldiers, the people of India who are between castes and races as well as the lower ranks of the Indian Service.
There are so many things to say about this man who is still underestimated by many but let me just add one highly admirable characteristic: he consistently refused state honours even when George V personally offered him a knighthood. He even declined the Poet Laureateship. A writer and a poet, he thought, should not be accepting such honours. He did accept honorary degrees and, eventually, the Nobel Prize for Literature. How many literary personalities who pretend to be far more radical jump at the chance of a gong, a handle or the ermine?
Meanwhile, here are some links to discussions about Kipling: an OUP blog about what he really wrote about the First World War, an interesting piece about Kipling's birthday being celebrated in India and an excellent piece by Christopher Howse in the Telegraph about Kipling "the misfit poet".
Having not managed to wish readers of this blog a merry Christmas and not put up any illustrations from Dickens, who, to my knowledge, describes festivities only in A Christmas Carol and in Pickwick Papers (by far preferable), I feel I must express a hope that everyone had a merry or jolly or peaceful Christmas according to their preferences. On to the last week of the year and then the new one.
What with one thing and another this blog has been languishing, which shameful. There have been other projects but that is not a real excuse. Anyway, one of the projects concerns Josephine Tey, who is sometimes described as the fifth Queen of Crime, after Christie, Sayers, Marsh and Allingham. I like Tey's novels but am not altogether sure she is up there with the leaders. My own preference for that fifth queen would Edith Caroline Rivett who wrote as E. C. R. Lorac and Carol Carnac. As they say, discuss.
However, reading about Tey I came across an interesting point. In her first detective novel, The Man in the Queue, published in 1929 under the name she used as a playwright and novelist, Gordon Daviot, part of the problem that faces Inspector Alan Grant is the lack of any identification on the victim. There are, for instance, no laundry marks on his clothes. Not a detail that could be used by detective writers these days: we no longer send our shirts, handkerchiefs or other parts of our apparel to the laundry, using washing machines at home or in the nearest launderette. There are, of course, dry cleaners and some clothes do have to go to them but that is a much less reliable form of identification.
That set me thinking about other details of evidence that can no longer be used by detective story writers but were so very popular in the thirties and even the forties. Monograms, for instance. Who on earth has his or her luggage, handkerchiefs, underwear and, in the case of certain very unreliable characters, both male and female, their specially made cigarettes monogrammed?
Then there are bigger issues: train timetables. Inspector French solved many a case in Freeman Wills Crofts's novels by co-ordinating trains whose arrivals and departures could be predicted with the use of the published time table. Imagine trying to do that nowadays. Imagine being the criminal planning an elaborate heist or murder, using that timetable, only to find that the original train has been cancelled and the one that was running later was so delayed that the connection was missed.
Mind you, there were problems even in those halcyon days. In Murder at the Vicarage (1930) Griselda Clements, the vicar's young and irresponsible wife, tells everyone that she came home from London, it being a day when you could get a cheap daily excursion ticket, with a certain train. Miss Marple, on the other hand, knows that the train was late so if Griselda was seen in the village at the "right" time she must have returned with an earlier trains. Sure enough she had done just that in order to carry out a somewhat dubious though not criminal plan with the vicar's nephew.
Then there is a question of postal delivery. I vividly recall a short story by Margery Allingham where the solution depends entirely on when the evening post is delivered in a certain street. First of all, what is this concept, the evening postal delivery? Is there anyone still alive who remembers it? Secondly, the notion that anyone, let alone the man who runs, as I recall the chemist's on the corner, should be able to tell you for certain, what time the post is delivered on any day, is so weird and wonderful as to belong to another genre, fantasy.
Delivery boys play a big part in various detective stories right up to the fifties. Messages are carried by the boy from the butcher, the fishmonger, the grocer to various houses and behaviour in those houses is noted by those self-same boys. We have delivery vans but I somehow do not think the driver from Waitrose or Tesco's is going to be much use to the detective, whether police or private. Then again, with the absence of those boys how would Miss Marple or even Miss Silver find out all that detailed information the police always misses?