Dorothy Sayers

One of the trio of the then contemporary detective fiction writers, with Ngaio Marsg and Agatha Christie. Sayers was a graduate of Oxford, a Gemini, and inventor of the Lord Peter Wimsey character.

I began to read her novels again; I found Whose Body contained profuse semitic references; she herself was challenged with the idea that she was anti-semitic but denied it saying that many of her friends were jewish. She was a friend of Ezra Pound and C. S. Lewis. I completed the novel unsure of a judgement in this area.

Next I began Unnatural Death, slowly realizing that it was a novel about an unscrupulous lesbian, strong in mind and body but exemplifying the concept “epicene” to Lord Peter. The hatred Sayers exuded in developing this character quite surprised me.

Third on my list was Strong Poison, the work where Harriet Vane is charged with the poisoning of her de facto lover; listening in the courtroom Lord Peter realizes that this woman should be his wife, and he undertakes to prove her innocence. At their first conversation inside prison, Vane scornfully dismisses his declaration of love, declaring it the 47th she has received to date. His vulnerability is fetching, and undermines the attraction of his class and affluence.

Much as I deplored Sayers’ homophobia in Unnatural Death, perhaps the distaste with which she wrote the character may have reflected the illegal status of gays and lesbians of the time. I find myself uninterested in judging her. More interesting is the vulnerability of both Vane and Wimsey. Slowly they form each other’s Jungian psychic other.

The Sayers novels are well written; they balance landscape description and character development with the more tedious mechanism, almost steampunk, of detection.

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About anton veenstra

tapestry weaver, fibre artist, gay/qr activist, multiculturalist
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