The more Tory Historian reads works by and about Dorothy L. Sayers (who has appeared on this blog a few times) the more it becomes apparent that Miss Sayers (who was, for certain purposes Mrs Fleming) would not have liked the appropriation of her carefully crafted characters by Jill Paton Walsh. She spent some time discussing the whole process of creation both in literary and theological terms in The Mind of the Maker, a book TH has read twice and intends to read again at some later stage. She has also referred to the subject if obliquely in the letters she exchanged with Dr Eustace Barton, her co-author or, at least, collaborator in the unusual Documents in the Case. [The link gives away some of the plot.]

Dr Barton was a fascinating character, a doctor and a writer of mystery stories (not an unusual combination) but mostly a collaborator with other writers like L. T. Meade and, in the case of one novel, Dorothy L. Sayers. He supplied the outline of the plot and the scientific details about which there was a great deal of discussion in various letters and scientific journals after the book's publication. So far as Tory Historian who is, most definitely not a scientist, can tell, the general view now is that the detection of the crime is entirely possible but there might be more recent theories that say otherwise. Catherine Kenney discusses his role in the creation of the book here as part of her own study, The Remarkable Case of Dorothy L. Sayers, mentioned on this blog before.

In an early letter ( 7 May 1938) to Dr Barton in which Sayers discusses various aspects of the planned book, she writes:
I am so glad you like Lord Peter. I certainly don't intend to kill him off yet, but I think it would be better to invent a new detective for any tales we do together. For one thing, people would associate his name with mine and be inclined to hand me out more than my half-share of credit for the story, which wouldn't be just. Also, it would simplify matters to have somebody with more scientific surroundings, don't you think? Lord Peter isn't supposed to know a lot about chemistry and that sort of thing, and it would mean inventing a docotr or somebody to help him out. Also, I'm looking forward to getting a rest from him, because his everlasting breeziness does become a bit of a tax at times!
A whole list of reasons for not writing a novel about Lord Peter in collaboration with "Robert Eustace" but what one cannot help feeling behind it is a reluctance to share the character and his associates. They are her creation and hers they must remain. Which raises a question or two about Ms Paton Walsh's calm appropriation of them all.

Interestingly the first volume of the letters that takes up the story to 1936, with the last complete Lord Peter Wimsey novel, first written and produced as a play, Busman's Honeymoon, does not solve the mystery of why he and his entourage were abandoned. Sayers did not comlete the novel she started that year, Thrones, Dominations, later completed by Paton Walsh, and produced only odds and ends about the Wimseys and those around them: a couple of short stories and a series of letters, published in The Spectator in 1939 - 40 as part of her war effort.

There are indications in the letters of 1935 and 1936 that Sayers was planning further adventures. There are references to Viscount St George (Wimsey's nephew and the heir to the Dukedom of Denver) coming a cropper matrimonially (to Helen Simpson 25 March 1936) but also losing his life (eventually she told somebody that he would be killed in the Battle of Britain but she could not have had that in mind in 1936)), leaving Lord Peter as the "heir to those damned strawberry leaves" (to Donald Tovey 22 November 1935). In the same letter she outlined plans for tidying up the chronology a little and to dispose of various ladies in Lord Peter's pre-Harriet life. She certainly made plans for Thrones, Dominations and produced ideas for the Wimseys' future. None of that seems to have materialized and though Tory Historian has read various theories by authors who had known the lady and others who had not but read everything by and about her (TH has a long way to go), none of them seem completely satisfactory. Possibly, she did suddenly get bored with the whole menage but that does not mean that she would have liked someone else appropriating them.


  1. dfordoom Says:
  2. I'm generally uncomfortable with the idea of authors taking over another author's creations. Especially when it's a modern author making use of the creations of an author of the past. They always end up shoehorning modern attitudes and values into the stories that are usually totally inappropriate and anachronistic.

  3. Jill Paton Walsh is better than many others but even she makes far too many errors of presentism.

Powered by Blogger.




Blog Archive