Tag Archives: Sayers

Historical Line: Urban Society

  • Henry James, The Jolly Corner (1909)
  • James Joyce, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1918)
  • Dorothy Sayers, Whose Body? (1923)
  • Virginia Woolf, Mrs. Dalloway (1925)

These works, to a greater or lesser degree, represent urban life, whether in New York City, Dublin, or London. Two trends, specifically, seem to stand out:

First, the idea of communal social interaction. Only explicitly seen in Mrs. Dalloway, there is a sense of shared consciousness among the denizens of the modern city, who experience the same locations and events, as well as the same sorts of social interactions.

Second, and more applicably to all four texts, is a sort of “urban mystery.” The Jolly Corner and Whose Body? are mysteries, peripherally in the case of the first and primarily in the case of the second – but Portrait and Dalloway also explore the mystery of the human consciousness, particularly Portrait’s first half, where the reader is meant to feel “lost” within the sea of human history and culture.

Social Class Disparities

Faulkner, Sayers, and Stein observe social class across their respective texts. A moment of social class disparity in Faulkner is the difference between the two doctors. Peabody is more educated than MCGowan, but Faulkner implies that social class trumps credentials when comparing the way the two characters interact with the Bundren family. In Sayers’ novel, Peter has money and can just do detective work almost for his own pleasure. Bunter is Peter’s servant, but he helps Peter in solving crimes along with taking care of his needs around the house. In Melanchtha, race seems to complicate social class by being an added level in that race is more distinctive than social class. For instance, a black person with a high prestige job such as a doctor would be lower than a working class white man in society.

Slang and tone

“I wonder what he did with himself,” said Lord Peter thoughtfully. “I really don’t think he was committing a murder. Besides, I believe the fellow has been dead a day or two, though it don’t do to build too much on doctors’ evidence. It’s an entertainin’ little problem.” (27)

(Sayers, Dorothy. Whose Body? 1923. Reprint, New York: Dover, 2009.)

I find the different ways that Lord Peter speaks to people very interesting. With some he adopts a slang of sorts and in others he is far more formal. Oddly, this is not something I notice in most other characters. While it is normal for most of us, it seems that often characters  in other texts are very similar in their interactions with all people.

Peter the Dilettante

“This is Lord Peter Wimsey, my dear, said Theophilus mildly.

She was unimpressed.

“Ah, yes,” she said, “I believe you are distantly related to my late cousin, the Bishop of Carisbrooke. Poor man! He was always being taken in by impostors; he died without ever leaning better. I imagine you take after him, Lord Peter.”

“I doubt it,” said Lord Peter. “So far as I know he is only a connection, though it’s a wise child that knows its own father.” (Sayers 25)

This exchange and te rest of the paragraph suggest that there is more to Peter Wimsey than there seems.

Stereotype

“The body which lay in the bath was that of a tall, stout man of about fifty.  The hair, which was thick and black and naturally curly, had been cut and parted by a master hand, and exuded a faint violet perfume, perfectly recognizable in the close air of the bathroom.  The features were thick, fleshy and strongly marked, with prominent dark eyes, and a long nose curving down to a heavy chin.  The clean-shaven lips were full and sensual, and the dropped jaw showed teeth stained with tobacco” (8).

This description is clearly of a British stereotype of a Jewish man.  Even before I got to the point where the characters are explicit about it, and before reading their anti-Semitic remarks, I was pretty confident that the dead man in the tub was Jewish.  Introducing stereotype through detailed physical description is a very different tactic from the one Gertrude Stein employs in Malanctha.  Rather than take advantage of a reader’s response to physical description, Stein mostly sticks to describing behaviors and thought patterns to communicate stereotype.  Sayers and Stein use call on different parts of the reader’s probable internalization of stereotype to advance their stories.

(Sayers, Dorothy. Whose Body? 1923. Reprint, New York: Dover, 2009.)

Whose Clothes?

“He had drifted across the passage into his bedroom, and was changing with a rapidity one might not have expected from a man of his mannerisms. He selected a dark green tie to match his socks and tied it accurately without hesitation or the slightest compression of his lips; substituted a pair of brown shoes for his black ones, slipped a monocle into his breast pocket, and took up a beautiful Malacca walking stick with a heavy silver knob.”

Sayers, Dorothy. Whose Body? 1923. Reprint, New York: Dover, 2009.

The shift from black to brown walking shoes signifies a shift to a lesser formality. As previously remarked, Peter doesn’t think dressing formally would be enough to rattle Mr. Thipps – instead, he wants to dress familiarly and comfortingly, so as to make Thipps confide in him. Changing into a grey suit and brown shoes, as opposed to frock and black shoes, brings his clothing into Thipps’s social register.

Wimsey the Obvious

“The deuce you have–what an energetic devil you are! I say, Parker, I think this co-operative scheme is is an uncommonly good one. It’s much easier to work on someone else’s job than one’s own–gives one that delightful feelin’ of interferin’ and bossin’ about, combined with the glorious sensation that another fellow is takin’ all one’s own work off one’s hands. You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours, what? Did you find anything?” (Sayers 29).

Sayers, Dorothy. Whose Body? 1923. Reprint, New York: Dover, 2009.

This passage contains many examples of Wimsey’s dialect, characterized by unfinished present progressive verbs and the act of spouting out all of his ideas as they come into his head. This type of dialogue is different from both Stein’s “Melanctha” and Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. For example, Wimsey’s dialect differs from that of Melanctha because it is rather common or believable, while Melanctha’s dialect is skewed to fit into Stein’s own writing style. Rather that structuring sentences in strange ways like Stein, Sayers merely uses dialects of voice or accents. Furthermore, Whose Body? clearly lacks the free-indirect discourse of a modern novel like Joyce’s and focuses more on direct reported discourse. Because of this, Wimsey’s thoughts come to the reader clearly and easily, unlike Joyce’s style of vague and “infected” narration in which the reader is unsure of whose thoughts he receives.

Differences in “Whose Body”

“”I mean to say,” said Lord Peter, “that it was not Sir Reuben Levy whom the cook saw last night on the doorstep. I say that it was another man, perhaps a couple of inches shorter, who came here in Levy’s clothes and let himself in with Levy’s latchkey. Oh, he was a bold, cunning devil, Parker. He had on Levy’s boots, and every stitch of Levy’s clothing down to the skin. He had rubber gloves on his hands which he never took off, and he did everything he could to make us think that Levy slept here last night. He took his chances, and won.” (Sayers).

“Whose Body?” By Dorothy L. Sayers. N.p., n.d. Web. 12 Oct. 2014.

Sayers has a completely different style from James. James uses the style of the delayed specification of referents, whereas, exemplified in the paragraph above, Sayers’ novel employs logical deduction. Through the delayed specification of referents, the detail in James’ text seems difficult to the reader to the point where detail is lost in different streams of consciousness. Both texts entail a level of mystery, but each author employs a completely different literary approach. Sayers writes a detective novel, and Peter deduces the mystery by going through a set of clues and ruling out certain factors by using logic. Sayers’ style comes off as more concise than James’ style.

Whose Body…Sayers

“Thipps asked again to explain, stammers worse an’ says he walked about for a few hours-met a friend-can’t say who-didn’t meet a friend-can’t say what he did with his time-can’t explain why he didn’t go back for his bag-can’t say what time he did get in-can’t explain how he got a bruise on his forehead. In fact, can’t explain himself at all” (27).

Sayers, Dorothy L. “Whose Body?”. 1923. Reprint. New York: Dover, 2009.

Sayers uses repetition within this passage specifically using the word can’t, the word did is italicized which is interesting, along with rhythm diction since we see the dashes after every phrase, which gives the readers an auditory sense of someone stammering about the jumble thoughts within their mind.

Describing the body

“The body which lay in the bath was that of a tall, stout man of about fifty. The hair, which was thick and black and naturally curly, had been cut and parted by a master hand, and exuded a faint violet perfume, perfectly recognisable in the close air of the bathroom. The features were thick, fleshy and strongly marked, with prominent dark eyes, and a long nose curving down to a heavy chin. The clean-shaven lips were full and sensual, and the dropped jaw showed teeth stained with tobacco. On the dead face the handsome pair of pince-nez mocked death with grotesque elegance; the fine gold chain curved over the naked breast. The legs lay stiffly stretched out side by side; the arms reposed close to the body; the fingers were flexed naturally.” (Sayers 8)

Sayers, Dorothy. Whose Body? 1923. Reprint, New York: Dover, 2009.

In her novel, Whose Body?, Sayers consistently gives the reader specific and detailed information on the characters as well as the events taking place. This passage directly tells the reader what the body in the bath looks like. This description distinctively states what Lord Peter sees, and therefore the reader gets a clear picture of the appearance of the body and can imagine himself at the scene. Contrastingly, in The Jolly Corner, Henry James is not as upfront with the reader. James’ character Brydon does not always relay to the reader the information needed to piece the story or scene together. There is not always an obvious picture of what he is experiencing, which leaves the reader frequently wondering about what is actually happening. This technique of delayed specification is not used by Sayers in this passage, which shows a clear difference between the two stories. One is very explicit in giving descriptions, while the other is continuously delaying in giving the reader information.