Tag Archives: whose body

The Differences in Communities

  • Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Woolf (1925)
  • Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Neale Hurston (1937)
  • Whose Body, Dorothy Sayers (1923)
  • As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner (1930)

All these works represent community and social gatherings shown through different cultures and social levels.

The novel Mrs. Dalloway and Their Eyes Were Watching God explicitly portray social gatherings through the meetings of crowds of people whether it is out on the street or outside on the porch of one’s house. During those gatherings the crowd is left to ponder about a situation they are encountering or about a person. In Mrs. Dalloway, the crowds all gather to find out what the loud crash sound was. In Their Eyes Were Watching God the women all gather around the porch to gossip about Janie and the return of her presence sans partner.

Along, with those two novels, the novel As I Lay Dying features a small community of a family and the novel Whose Body features a community of people trying to solve the mystery. Through these four novels, they represent a different version of community.

World War I and the rise of Modernism

After World War I, many novels used characters that related their wartime experiences in a post-war time frame.
This reflects the change of the thoughts and feelings from pre-war sentiments towards modernity. In Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and As I Lay Dying (1930), we have two characters, Septimus and Darl, that have both returned from the war and have gone towards madness in silence. This is also reflected in In Our Time (1925) through the terse style of Hemingway, which is indicative of the reporting of the events of war. This shows that many of the generation that went through this war period became hardened and lost individuals due to it.

Whose Body? (1923) and Mrs. Dalloway both embody the post-war rise of highly concentrated and urban centers that is found in London. This is done in Mrs. Dalloway through the shared experiences found in the fast-paced change in focalization in this work and the shift from scientific deductive methods in traditional detective novels towards an intuitive detective method in Whose Body?.

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.

In Whose Body

Dorothy L. Sayers, Whose Body?

“Well, out with it, my Bunter, you imperturbable old hypocrite. It’s no good talking as if you were announcing dinner-you’re spilling the brandy The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau. What does that blessed darkroom of yours want now?” (Sayers 10)

This book was interesting because of that fact that Lord Peter constantly contradicts himself. For instance, even though he is talking fondly with Bunter about how useful he is in saving money,  Lord Peter is also ridiculing him for not speaking up properly. Because of his contradictory manner, the book has a humorous undertone that seemingly belittles the severity of certain situations.

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.)

Detail in Whose Body

“Mr. Parker was a bachelor, and occupied a Georgian but inconvenient flat at No. 12A Great Ormond Street, for which he paid a pound a week. His exertions in the cause of civilization were rewarded, not by the gift of diamond rings from empresses or munificent cheques from grateful Prime Ministers, but by a modest, though sufficient, salary, drawn from the pockets of the British taxpayer. He awoke, after a long day of arduous and inconclusive labour, to the smell of burnt porridge. Through his bedroom window, hygienically open top and bottom, a raw fog was rolling slowly in, and the sight of a pair of winter pants, flung hastily over a chair the previous night, fretted him with a sense of the sordid absurdity of the human form…” (44)

Unlike the contents of other modernist writings we have read, where much is omitted for the reader to figure out, or make their own assumptions of, Sayers’s book “Whose Body?” if very much detail oriented. In contrast, “The Jolly Corner” had descriptions that were meant to make the reader think more. The most descriptive moments in James’s story was in the silence, when nothing was said or told. Sayers uses a plethora of words to make the reader think more. As a mystery novel, the reader is prompted to read more into the words than into the silence. Her detailed descriptions do well to make the reader think.

Mr. Thipps’s Nerves

In Dorothy L. Sayers’s novel, Whose Body?, Lord Peter Wimsey visits Mr. Thipps, who is still in shock from discovering a dead body in his bathtub earlier that morning. Mr. Thipp’s describes his experience:

‘But it’s been a terrible shock to me, sir—my lord, I should say, but there! my nerves are      to pieces. Such a thing has never ‘appened—happened to me in all my born days. Such a state I was in this morning—I didn’t know if I was on my head or my heels—I reely didn’t, and my heart not being too strong, I hardly knew how to get out of that horrid room and telephone for the police. […] I’ve hardly known what to do with myself’ (5).

The use of dashes to break Mr. Thipps’s dialogue creates a stuttered speech, which effectively shows the distress and anxiety he was mentally experiencing. Mr. Thipps’ nerves and dialogue were fragmented to pieces. Mr. Thipps describes his experience with a rushed pace of speech, implying that he could still be in the same state he was in this morning.

 

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.

A Detective’s Self-Awareness

“Sugg’s a beautiful braying ass,” said Lord Peter. “He’s like a detective in a novel” (Sayers 13)

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

Within a small set of lines, we are given a self-aware and nearly parodic atmosphere to the novel, in which Lord Peters is acting as a detective within a detective novel claiming that someone else is a detective in a novel. This was also present when Sherlock Holmes was mentioned, in the first chapter. This gives the impression that the story is not about someone who happens to be interested in being a detective. Instead, Lord Peters is inspired, as Sayers most likely was, by detective novels and they were what encouraged him to go solve these mysteries, even though he has no occupational connection with the authorities. The fact that he is not aware that he is, in fact, a detective in a novel adds to the humor of the passage.

A thrilling response

“I don’t tell you so,” said Winsey. “You policemen are all alike – only one idea in your skills. Blest if I can make out why you’re ever appointed. He was shaved after he was dead. Pretty, ain’t it? Uncommonly jolly little job for the barber, what? Here, sit down, man, and don’t be an ass, stumpin’ about the room like that. Worse things happen in war. This is only a blinkin’ old shillin’ shocker. But I’ll tell you what, Parker, we’re up against a criminal – the criminal – the real artist and blighter with imagination – real, artistic, finished stuff. I’m enjoyin’ this, Parker.”

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

This particular passage calls for a thrilling, adrenalizing response from the reader which differs from that of Stein’s “Melanctha”. To begin with, the varied language of Sayers’s novel allows for more things to happen and allows Sayer to fill up the reader’s imagination with vibrant images that had not been done in “Melanctha”. In “Melanctha”, the language was simple with repetitive words that did not call for the kind of exciting response Sayers’s novel is calling for. Also, in Sayers’s novel, there is a plot that is following the murder of a body which adds to thrill a reader gets when the clues unravel and the reader is given more information. In “Melanctha”, I felt as if the same ideas were being stated over and over again, causing one to get tiresome and maybe even bored of reading about the same thing.