Golden Age of Detective Fiction Forum

January 28, 2009

Sayers’ Gaudy Night — and Chandler

On the Poe’s Deadly Daughters weblog, Elizabeth Zelvin
selects her favorite mystery authors — and there’s not a
man among them:

http://tinyurl.com/bdp5ke

“My feminist dander is up, and I’m ready to charge to the
defense of the traditional and especially the character-driven
mystery, as well as the matrilineage of mysteries by women.”


Dorothy L. Sayers,
Gaudy Night
The presiding genius of the Detective Club during the Golden Age of mystery in the 1930s, Sayers reached her peak in this mystery without a murder that is also a richly textured novel, which I believe earned her the right to be considered the mother of the character-driven mystery. I’ve posted this opinion elsewhere, but it bears saying again. The key passage is one in which Harriet Vane asks Lord Peter Wimsey for advice about her novel.

“‘Well,’ said Harriet….”I admit that Wilfrid is the world’s worst goop. But if he doesn’t conceal the handkerchief, where’s my plot?’
[Peter suggests a way to define Wilfrid’s character that would give him motivation for concealing the handkerchief.] ….’He’d still be a goop, and a pathological goop, but he would be a bit more consistent.’
‘Yes–he’d be interesting. But if I give Wilfrid all those violent and lifelike feelings, he’ll throw the whole book out of balance.’
‘You would have to abandon the jig-saw kind of story and write a book about human beings for a change.’
….’It would hurt like hell.’
‘What would that matter, if it made a good book?'”

I suspect that Sayers and her muse had precisely this conversation in her head, and Gaudy Night was the result. The creation of Harriet and Sayers’s increasingly three-dimensional portrayal of her both in relation to Lord Peter and grappling with her own dilemmas regarding her work and what kind of life to choose ushered in the transition of the traditional mystery from primarily a puzzle to a puzzle embedded in a character-driven novel.”

Mike Tooney

May 23, 2008

Snobbery with Violence

Filed under: Michael Innes,Snobbery — Jon @ 5:40 am
Tags:

I’ve been rereading some Michael Innes published in the ’60s and came upon this gem:

{“You know the Chief Constable? He’s — ?” Pendleton paused significantly.

“He’s a Colonel Morrison.” Appleby was conscious of a need for patience. “And not late-risen from the people, or anything disagreeable of that sort.”

“My dear John, if there’s anything I can’t be charged with, it’s being a snob. But there are times when one doesn’t want too many jumped-up fellows running around.”

Appleby found no reply to this — or no reply of any particular relevance. “I began on the beat myself, you know,” he said.}

In spite of which neat skewering, Innes himself has some very firm ideas about what’s proper behaviour for a gentleman.

I’ve also been reading some other ’60s published mysteries. I notice a considerable gulf between those written by authors who were first published in the GA and those by post-WWII authors. Few, if any, of the latter would have thought of penning this passage.

Carola

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