Tag Archives: Sayers

Post-War World Critiques

World War I made a huge impact in society. The novels that were published after it reflect the problems of the pre-war world that people began to observe and then look to change. Dorothy Sayers’ Whose Body?, published in 1923, is a detective novel with a completely different take on the method of investigation. The protagonist, Lord Peter Wimsey breaks away from the traditional method of deduction and instead relies on intuition. This novel slowly reveals people realizing that the world they were living in before the war was not ideal and that they wanted to change it. Moving away from what was once the main method signals that in the post-war era, people looked to new ways in life. The realization of the faults of pre-war way of life continue with the publication of Mrs. Dalloway in 1925. In this Virginia Woolf novel, readers are exposed to an upper class way of life that is ending. The old values of the pre-war world are crumbling. There is also a sense of how the old English way of thinking failed as exemplified by Septimus’ death since he was a soldier who fought for England. Then the critique evolves to one that pushes for change. In Mulk Raj Anand’s Untouchable, published in 1935, the problems of colonization and the enforcement of the caste system is exposed. The novel shows how the faults of society can lead an individual to look for change. Through the protagonist Bakha, Anand was able to point out the faults that exist within the treatment of the lower class.  The criticism on the way of life continues with Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, which was published in 1937.This novel exposes the problems within the unfair treatment of an individual based on his or her race. Hurston is able to illustrate the problems an individual must face in life due to the prejudice set against him or her due to their race. Through an analysis of these four post-war novels, we begin to see a pattern of critique on the social order and way of life. There is a continuation of the theme of finding faults within the way things are and wanting to correct them.

Footnotes: A Common Device in 20th Century Fiction

Untouchable by Mulk Raj Anand (1935), Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston (1937), Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers (1923), and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (1916) all utilize the device of footnotes  to bring forth a message to the readers.

Jeri Johnson, who wrote the introduction of Portrait: ” ‘Epiphany’: a word which Joyce appropriates from the lexicon of the sacred to that of the profane” (XXXVI).

Joyce, J. (1916). A portrait of the artist as a young man. (p. XXXVI). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Sayers: “Lord Peter’s wits were wool-gathering. The book is in the possession of Earl Spencer” (4).

Sayers, D. (1923). Whose body?. (p. 4). Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, INC.

Anand: “The Hindus do not allow a person to die in bed, but bring the dying to rest as near the earth as  possible; the idea being that from the earth we come, to earth we return.” (81).

Anand, M. R. (1935). Untouchable. (p. 81). London: Penguin Books.

Hurston: “A beating with the fist” (98).

Hurston, Z. N. (1937). Their eyes were watching god. (p. 98). New York: Harper Perennial.

The literary-historical trajectory that can be noted from these novels is that they each serve a purpose that fits the time and/or tone of the stories.  For example, Sayers’ novel is not meant to be taken seriously because it is a satirical detective story, so the footnote is consistent with the story and also meant to entertain the reader.  Joyce’s novel, although the footnote was not an original part of the story, still helps the reader understand a theme that will be seen throughout the novel.  Anand and Hurston’s stories are written later in the 20th century, and they both serve to make clarifications for the reader in terms of customs and the meanings of phrases.  The footnotes are for the most part continuous in that they are granting the reader clarifications.  However, Hurston’s novel in particular is the most controversial (a joke about violence?) and also is the novel that is published the latest.

Class and Social Status

Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad (1899): Conrad’s novella focuses more on the separation between civilized and uncivilized, the matter of colonization looming in the background.

Whose Body?, Dorothy Sayers (1923): Sayers novel focuses on the upper class through its protagonist, Lord Peter Wimsey.

Mrs. Dalloway, Virginia Wolf (1925): Similar to Sayers, Wolf’s novel focuses on the upper class as told from the point of view of Clarissa Dalloway. Clarissa realizes the importance and thus only wants to associate herself with people of the same class. For example when she expresses her dislike toward Mrs. Kilman and Ellie Henderson.

Untouchable, Mulk Raj Anand (1935): Anand steps away from English social stratus and introduces readers to the caste system of India. Unlike the English class system, where one can change class through education and work, the Indian caste system is much more rigid in the fact that one is predestined to a certain caste.

Literary-Historical Trajectory: For the most part, the literary-historical line for these 4 novels remains the same except for the novels at the beginning and towards the end. Conrad’s novella doesn’t really focus on social class but more of the question of what it means to be civilized. While Anand brings a new perspective to social class by breaking away from the English class system to demonstrate the caste system of India.

The Fate of Hair

Mr. Alfred Thipps was a small, nervous man, whose flaxen hair was beginning to abandon the unequal struggle with destiny (4).

Sayers, Dorothy L. Whose Body? Mineola: Dover Publications, 1923. Print

Note: full of description, even when talking about hair.  Makes a theatrical deal out of something. Brings a bit of humor to the situation. Stands out and makes one reread the sentence. Draws attention.

Poor Bunter

“In deference to your feelings,” replied Lord Peter, “I will take Bunter, though he could be far more usefully employed taking photographs or overhauling my wardrobe. When is there a good train to Salisbury, Bunter?”

Notes: aristocratic privilege; condescending but humorous; acknowledgment of one’s feelings but not the other’s; intentional jest? – poor Bunter

Sayers, Dorothy. Whose Body? 1923. Reprint, New York: Dover, 2009, 78.

not exactly anti-Semitic, but…

“Very curious, dear. But so sad about poor Sir Reuben. I must write a few lines to Lady Levy; I used to know her quite well, you know, dear, down in Hampshire, when she was a girl. Christine Ford, she was then, and I remember so well the dreadful trouble there was about her marrying a Jew.”

Dorothy Sayers, “Whose Body?” in Whose Body? (New York: Boni & Liveright, 1923), 27.

Notes: There seems to be an obsession with Jews throughout the novel. Some of the language in regards to Jewish people has slightly degrading implications. I’m not quite sure if this is a theme pertaining to the novel or if this was a common way to talk about Jews during this time.

More Racism. Really?

I’m sure some Jews are very good people, and personally I’d much rather they believed something, though of course it must be very inconvenient, what with not working on Saturdays and circumcising the poor little babies and everything depending on the new moon and the funny kind of meat they have with such a slang-sounding name, and never being able to have bacon for breakfast.

Dorothy L. Sayers, Whose Body?, (New York: Boni and Liveright, 2009), 28.

Notes: While Dowager Duchess is being blatantly anti-Semitic, the way she speaks (her dialect and her run-on-sentence-sounding nature) makes her seem very silly and foolish. This hopefully makes readers today realize how ignorant the Duchess’ beliefs are. I have no idea what Sayers’ intentions with this passage were, though. Maybe she just wanted to rely on stereotypes for humor, maybe she was purposefully being anti-Semitic, or maybe she was trying to point out the irony of having an idiotic sounding person passing judgments on an entire group of people. Then again, maybe this was just how people sounded when they spoke.

The Little Things

“His manner as he led the way along the passage convinced Lord Peter of two things–first, that, gruesome as his exhibit was, he rejoiced in the importance it reflected upon himself and his flat, and secondly, that Inspector Sugg had forbidden him to exhibit it to anyone. The latter supposition was confirmed by the action of Mr. Thipps, who stopped to fetch the doorkey from his bedroom, saying that police had the other, but that he made it a rule to have two keys to every door, in case of accident” (Sayers 10).

Notes: Lord Peter is an observer and good analyzer. The little details matter since they may be key to answering some questions. Lord Peter’s assumptions are often correct.

Sayers, D. Whose body?. FeedBooks. http://www.feedbooks.com/book/3406/whose-body