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.
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.
“Lord Peter’s library was one of the most delightful bachelor rooms in London. Its scheme was black and primrose; its walls were lined with rare editions, and its chairs and Chesterfield sofa suggested the embraces of the houris. In one corner stood a black baby grand, a wood fire leaped on a wide old-fashioned hearth, and the Sevres vases on the chimneypiece were filled with ruddy and gold chrysanthemums. (11)
Notes: This passage caught my attention particularly because of the details. Through the description that Sayers provides, it’s evident that Lord Peter is of the upper class and has very good taste. He seems to be an admirer of old fashioned things judging from the rare editions of books in his bookcases.
“Not a bit of it. He tips a glossy wink to yours truly and yours truly reads the the truth” (Sayers 12).
Dorothy L. Sayers, Whose Body?, (New York: Boni and Liveright, 2009), 12.
Notes: It’s interesting to see after Stein and Joyce that Sayers continues this theme of repetition that’s been so central throughout the course. Sayer’s too continues repetition, not only in stand alone sentences like the one above, but in these lyrical verses that are also found throughout, again, very much like Stein and Joyce.
“Even idiots occasionally speak the truth accidentally.”
Sayers, Dorothy. Whose Body?. New York: Dover Publications, 2009.
Notes: I just thought this was a really awesome quote. It does not only apply to this story, but to others as well. Furthermore, it shows how Wimsey feels about other people that he knows. He thinks he is smart.
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.
“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
“His long, amiable face looked as if it had generated spontaneously from his top hat, as white maggots breed from Gorgonzola” — Sayers, 1
“Mr. Alfred Thipps was a small, nervous man, whose flaxen hair was beginning to abandon the unequal struggle with destiny.” — Sayers, 4
Notes: unusual description of characters, comical details, metaphor, characterization, bold imagery used in peculiar ways. What is the reader supposed to make of these “first impressions” of these characters?
“…All I said was: ‘It might have been burglars,’ I said, ‘remember that, next time you leave a window open all night; this time it was a dead man,’ I said, ‘and that’s unpleasant enough, but next time it might be burglars,’ I said, ‘and all of us murdered in our beds.'” (6).
Note: the philosophy of “it could have been worse,” understatement, the idea of a dead body only being unpleasant.
Sayers, Dorothy L,. (2009). Whose body?. (p. 8). Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, INC.
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 recognisable 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).
Sayers, D. (2009). Whose body?. (p. 8). Mineola, New York: Dover Publications, INC.
Notes: Through describing the dead man in the bathtub, the reader can see that this story will be a detective story with a who-done-it story line. Through this description of the killed man, the reader sees and understands what this man looks like because Sayers paints a very clear picture.