Tag Archives: mystery

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.

Detail and Characterization in Whose Body?

“He sat down in the beautiful room in which Sir Julian’s patients awaited his healing counsel.  It was full of people.  Two or three fashionably dressed women were discussing shops and servants together, and teasing a toy griffon.  A big, worried-looking man by himself in a corner looked at his watch twenty times a minute.  Lord Peter knew him by sight.  It was Wintrington, a millionaire, who had tried to kill himself a few months ago.  He controlled the finances of five countries, but he could not control his nerves” (Sayers 117).


Sayers, Dorothy L. Whose Body? Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2009. Print.

Centering around the mystery of a dead body discovered in a bath tub, Whose Body? unfolds into a thought-provoking detective novel.  However, while the content is purposely kept confusing and misleading–as Sayers does not want readers to solve the crime prior to the point in which her protagonist does–the writing style is very direct and detail-oriented.  Sayers introduces readers to many minute observations that many other writers, especially modern writers, omit in their plots.  In fact, her attention to such details deters readers from figuring out the solution to the big question in her work: whose body?  Not only does Sayers provide careful observations about locations, but also about characters–even ones that do not appear to be important in terms of the plot of the work.  In this excerpt, she describes the waiting room of Sir Julian’s office, pointing out details about the patients that are waiting for their appointments.  She manipulates the language to directly characterize them rather than hinting at their traits, as she does when she describes the differences between the mental/emotional state and professional/business state of the the millionaire in the waiting room.


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.

“I feel sure that my brain will be of interest…”

“Trusting I have now made clear to you any point which you may have found obscure, and with congratulations on the good fortune and perspicacity which have enabled you to defeat me, I remain, with kind remembrances to your mother,

Yours Very Truly,

Julian Freke

Post-Scriptum: …I feel sure that my brain will be of interest to the scientific world. As I shall die by my own hand, I imagine that there may be a little difficulty about this” (pp. 139-40).

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

Sayers, in this passage and throughout the novel, knows how to keep a reader on the edge of their seat while reading Whose Body?. By the end of each chapter, Sayers has a tendency to use cliff hangers, wanting the reader to read more. However, in this passage specifically, it is quite interesting how Freke’s letter is ended mid-sentence, yet continues with the “Post-Scriptum” after he signs the letter. Compared to the other texts we have read, the other authors use many literary devices to somewhat distract the reader from the actual text. Stein’s story “Melanctha,” for example, has the tendency to use complex diction that leads readers away from the actual story/plot that is occurring. Sayers, on the other hand, is more of a easy-read, for lack of a better term. Readers know exactly what is happening while they are reading.