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19 March 2017 @ 06:41 pm
 
As a comfort read project, I've been rereading the Lord Peter Wimsey books for the first time since I was in high school - with the exception of Murder Must Advertise, which I wrote a paper on in college, and The Nine Tailors, which I realized I'd never read after writing my paper on Murder Must Advertise and therefore read shortly afterwards. But I haven't hit either of those yet on my reread; I've currently gotten through Whose Body, Clouds of Witness, Unnatural Death, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, and Strong Poison, and I just hauled myself over the finish line of Five Red Herrings today.

It's been an interesting and occasionally unexpected experience. Here are some general impressions:

- as a young person, I was never particularly interested in Bunter -- or at least, I remembered very little about him. On this read, and particularly after Clouds of Witness, I've gained a whole new appreciation for him. Bunter is having the absolute time of his life parodying the role of the perfect butler. It's a bit of a shame that the joke goes right over so many people's heads, but it's all right, because Peter is the most appreciative audience he will ever have.
- I have also gained a whole new appreciation for Parker, and I'm a bit sorrowful that, as I recall, he fades more and more from the novels after he and Mary marry. (I'm especially sorry about that because I am struck with a great curiosity to learn more about Mary, but anyway.) The value of Parker is not only that he is actually a professional police officer and competent at his job, but he does a better job of deflating Peter's air of infallibility by his sheer existence than anybody else. The books where Parker is strongest are also the ones where Peter comes off -- hmm, I guess the way that I want to put this is that he comes off the worst in a way that I like -- because Parker is trundling around doing all the groundwork, and the scenes in Parker's head are reminding us very explicitly that Parker is trundling around doing all the ground work so that Peter can airily make a series of deductions and then wander off to a book auction.
- reverse-wise, a distressing discovery: I have lost a great deal of my affection for the Dowager Duchess of Denver. Oh, she's so charming, and she talks such piffle, and all her piffle is peppered with things like "really such women -- born murderees as somebody says -- quite pig-faced but not of course deserving it and possibly the photographs don't do them justice, poor things" and "they wouldn't have minded so much if he'd pretended to be something else, and I'm sure some Jews are very good people," and so on, et cetera. And, you know, I would be all right with that if the narrative ever acknowledged the fact that talking about lower-class women as pig-faced born murderees is not actually a particularly charming thing to do, but in fact everyone in the book believes she's the most adorable human imaginable, and so we all go along with it.
- I had really forgotten how comparatively little of Harriet we get of Strong Poison! I mean, she's there and she's clearly a person, but not nearly so much of one as she'll become later. Next up for me is Have His Carcase, which I mostly remember as the one that Harriet and Peter are both embarrassed by in Gaudy Night. Looking forward to that!
- there are such a large number of lesbians in these books! How many lesbians did Sayers know?! There's the elderly lesbians in Unnatural Death, plus the evil lesbian about whom Miss Climpson is so judgmental, plus Harriet's lesbian friends in Strong Poison, plus a stray pair of lesbians in Five Red Herrings -- all this, and I haven't yet even hit the women's school yet!
- speaking of Five Red Herrings, thanks to [personal profile] starlady's interesting analysis, I had been under a merry conviction that this time around, I might actually understand and appreciate Five Red Herrings! Or at the very least follow the plot. OH, THE FUTILE AMBITIONS OF YOUTH. I have literally just put down the book and I cannot tell you why most of the red herrings wished to murder the victim, who any of the police officers were, or what actually DID happen to the bicycle and why ANYBODY CARED. That said, I do think it's interesting to look at why Five Red Herrings is so difficult to invest in, in comparison with the other books, and I don't think it's just the endless train-timetables (although, lord, they don't help.) Five Red Herrings is fairly singular in how very little it advances Lord Peter's emotional plot, and how little he actually cares about anyone involved. Compare with Unnatural Death, where both victim and murderer are entirely removed from Peter's social sphere, but Peter's emotions are thoroughly engaged throughout the whole thing, and his sense of responsibility at its height. Five Red Herrings, though -- it's a deeply academic thought experiment to nearly everybody in it; even the ending pulls its punches, as it turns out the murder was an accident and the sense of responsibility is at a minimum all around. And the fact that Sayers is usually so unable to shake that sense of responsibility is, I think, what generally gives the Wimsey books their weight.

Five left, but of those five, three of them -- Murder Must Advertise, Gaudy Night, and Busman's Honeymoon -- are the ones that I remember best, so it'll be interesting to see if the reread continues to be as much of a voyage of discovery as the early ones have been or if the later books generally match up with the impressions they've already left in my brain.

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tempestsarekind: books and flowerstempestsarekind on March 20th, 2017 12:48 am (UTC)
Re: Dorothy Sayers and lesbians - I assume you read this piece in The Toast, but just in case:
Dorothy L. Sayers, Marjorie Barber, and the Story of a Wartime Lemon
http://the-toast.net/2016/06/07/dorothy-l-sayers-marjorie-barber/

I ought to read more Sayers. When I was in grad school, a friend gave me Gaudy Night because it was one of her favorite books, so I only read Whose Body?, Strong Poison, and Have His Carcase so I could make sense of GN - and then I read Busman's Honeymoon after that. I actually started The Nine Tailors last year (I was into East Anglian angel roofs, randomly, so two or three people recommended it), but apparently I can no longer read during the school year now that I'm teaching. :/