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Does anyone want to chat about Dorothy L Sayers' books with me?

(173 Posts)
LRDtheFeministDragon Sun 02-Jun-13 16:45:40

From a feministy perspective, I mean. I've just recently got into them so haven't read that many, but things keep striking me. Not just Sayers herself having a feminist perspective (though she obviously does), but also details about the time period I wouldn't have known about.

The thing that made me smile most recently was in Gaudy Night, she has a conversation between Harriet Vane and one of the dons at her fictional Oxford college, who observe that the women undergraduates have a bad habit of sunbathing in their underwear and really, this is unfair ('not on the [male] undergraduates - they're used to it') on the male dons who might wander through the quad and see them.

It just struck me that it's such a different image from the rather buttoned-up idea of attitudes towards women's bodies I'd expect from that time.

What does anyone else think?

And what do you think of Jill Paton Walsh finishing of Sayers' last unfinished draft and writing continuations? Is it a travesty, or is this the kind of collaboration that feminism ought to be supporting? There being that argument that the 'lone genius author' is a concept that's always associated more with men than with women.

joanofarchitrave Sun 02-Jun-13 22:07:41

I have to say that despite all I say about Busman's Honeymoon, I've read it approx 15 times blush so I must have found something in it!

LRDtheFeministDragon Sun 02-Jun-13 22:09:02


Ah, isn't that true of the best books? We love them so much we have to pick them to pieces.

UptoapointLordCopper Sun 02-Jun-13 22:15:27

Talking about Lindsay Davis (another diversion, after which I am going to bed), she has good female characters too, and Falco himself is not all bad. And she's written a new book with Helena and Falco's adopted daughter as lead. Has anyone read that?

stealthsquiggle Sun 02-Jun-13 22:18:42

Oh, I have read Busman's Honeymoon lots of times too - I just much prefer the range of characters and the romance of Gaudy Night.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Sun 02-Jun-13 22:24:05

Joan, Aggie Twitterton is laughable but not nasty? Though people are nasty to her.

I have never read the BH play but I think AT must have been a caricature (as with the cleaner) whereas I think Mrs Venables and Superintendent Kirk must have been better developed for the novelisation. But yes, the mockery of AT after Gaudy Night is jarring.

BlueEyeshadow Sun 02-Jun-13 22:29:03

Fascinating thread. I love DLS but had never thought about her books from this angle before.

On the subject of fanfic/continuations of male authors - DH has just finished reading The House of Silk which is a Sherlock Holmes follow on. The other male authors I can think of who've had the fanfic treatment are JM Barrie and Ian Flemming. All genre fiction, FWIW.

LRDtheFeministDragon Sun 02-Jun-13 22:31:51

Oh, that's interesting ... I know there is a lot of Sherlock Holmes fanfic online, and I suppose the remakes and stuff like Dr Who are to some extent fanfic continuations. Difficult to know where something stops being a continuation and just becomes vaguely 'inspired by'. But yes, that's true.

Oddly, one of my mates who teaches English at secondary found out a while back that most of her class who'd heard of JM Barrie assumed he was a woman.

NorthernLurker Sun 02-Jun-13 22:40:45

I've read the new Lindsay Davis. It's pretty good though not one of her best plots - and anybody with 1/2 a brain can see the 'twist' coming.
The thing about Lindsay Davis is that though she acknowledges she sees part of herself in Falco, he's also very much inspired by her partner. He died a couple of years ago and I suspect that very much influenced her decision to move on a generation. Must be awfully painful to write about your fictional couple's loving bliss when your own heart is broken.

SconeRhymesWithGone Mon 03-Jun-13 00:29:45

On the Americanization issue: they must just use some sort of "search and replace" function aimed mainly at spelling, but it does irritate me, especially when single malt is called "whiskey,"(which of course is incorrect even in the US when referring to Scotch) and quoted letters and notes have American spellings. Does that happen in reverse? Does "behavior" in an American novel become "behaviour" when published in the UK? I have even ordered books from Amazon UK to avoid this, but unfortunately I can't get UK versions on Kindle in the US.

FairPhyllis Mon 03-Jun-13 02:18:53

I've been thinking way too much about this.

- One example with a definitely literary-male-author source: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, from Hamlet. Perhaps it's surprising there aren't more from Shakespeare. Much of actual "Shakespeare" also arguably fan fic, both of other authors and of Shakespeare? Also Gertrude and Claudius by Updike is parallel with Hamlet.
- The Aeneid is also arguably Homeric fan fic.
- Richardson got really pissed off by the contemporary sequels that were written for Pamela - not all just satire.
- Tristram Shandy and Don Quixote also had contemporary fan fic/sequels published.
- The Flashman series is a sort of continuation of a male written novel (Tom Brown's Schooldays).
- F Scott Fitzgerald's last novel was completed by someone.
- Eoin Colfer has written a sixth Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy novel.
- Philip K Dick, Robert Heinlein and Raymond Chandler have all had stuff that was unfinished completed by other people.
- The Dune series has had a lot of books added to it by Frank Herbert's son.
- Andrew Motion wrote a sequel to Treasure Island.
- The Frost novels and the Godfather novels are being continued.

Scone - I imagine that's how it's done, but there are definitely other kinds of more idiomatic changes that are made by editors for US readers - like notoriously 'Sorcerer's Stone' in Harry Potter for 'Philosopher's Stone'. It's also problematic when the same word has different referents in US and UK English. Lindsay Davis was getting worked up about being told by a US reader not to use 'corn' to denote ... well, corn (wheat). The reader thought 'corn' should be reserved for the US sense, i.e. maize. I'm not sure what happens in reverse tbh because I don't read a lot of US authors.

Thinking about it I bought US editions of the Patrick O'Brian novels though and I don't remember spelling being changed in them. But I ordered my copy of Deathly Hallows from Amazon UK to avoid being irritated by spelling changes.

UptoapointLordCopper Mon 03-Jun-13 07:41:22

Talking of Sherlock Holmes fanfiction, has anyone read Laurie King's Mary Russell books? Mary Russell is a pretty strong female character.

UptoapointLordCopper Mon 03-Jun-13 07:42:41

Northern interesting about Lindsay Davis. I do like her books and will read the new one once I've got through the stash that I purloined from my MIL.

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 03-Jun-13 08:41:27

fair - ooh, I like this! I was thinking about fairly recent writers.

There are more Shakespeare ones, I think? ('All for Love' and Westside Story and so on). I think writers that far back weren't so fussed about being 'lone male genius'. People constantly try to finish off Chaucer's unfinished works for him. And the Aeneid as fanfic. grin

Richardson getting pissed off feels to me closer to the modern ideas about male writers - damn it, it's my book, I get to tell the story, how dare you take the piss?

I did not know about Andrew Motion's sequel - is it any good?

Christine de Pizan wrote continuations or versions of the Troy story, too. One of the things she wrote is a set of Greek myths that were supposed to be written from the goddess Othea to inspire Hector as a teenager. But then she's fab and excellent.

FWIW, I have a couple of US children's books (by Cynthia Voigt), which have a note at the beginning saying that to save money, they have been printed for the UK market with US spellings. They are quite old, though. I don't know if popular US stuff over here, like Sweet Valley or Babysitters' Club, was edited at all but I'm fairly sure a lot of the references stay the same because they seemed very exotic to us. grin

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 03-Jun-13 08:41:57

I'm going to have to add Laurie King and Lindsay Davis to my Amazon list ...

FairPhyllis Mon 03-Jun-13 10:34:28

Yeah, if I run into my old Latin tutor I am going to run the 'Homeric fanfic' theory by him. He'll probably love it as well.

I think that 'pirated' novels and 'unauthorised sequels' were a common problem for Richardson and writers of about the same period because of copyright law being in its infancy at the time - you couldn't assert ownership of characters or a setting. So I think a bunch of the sequels written by early novelists, like Richardson's sequel to Pamela, were at least partly a response to the unauthorised continuations that were coming into circulation - plus lots of authors of the period including Richardson published anonymously to begin with. I suppose Richardson wanted a) the credit and b) the money.

It's a bit like JK Rowling shutting down that Harry Potter Encyclopedia, isn't it? She really doesn't like fanfic either - she very definitely wants to shut down any interpretation of the novels which she doesn't want out there. She seems to have particularly not liked all the slash that was being written about Sirius Black. So I suppose she is an example of a female 'lofty writer I will control my work dammit' type, although she has an unusual amount of cultural and legal clout.

No idea about whether the Andrew Motion book is any good - I'm not hugely fond of Treasure Island so I was never interested in looking at it. It's called Silver.

I knew Chaucer didn't finish the Canterbury Tales - but I didn't know people had tried to complete them. It's quite interesting when you think that most of the history of literature was basically a mad pre-copyright pilfering-of-each-other's-ideas-and-text free for all, and that the (pretty recent) introduction of copyright has totally changed the way we think about authorship and the idea of a text in such a short time.

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 03-Jun-13 10:39:23

YY, that makes sense about copyright law. I am wondering now how women and copyright worked - would it effectively belong to their husbands if they were married? It's strange to think, isn't it, but I suppose if your property all belonged to your husband, presumably that included intellectual property?

Rowling is interesting on author power. I wouldn't say she is a plagiarist exactly, but I don't think she is terribly gracious about citing her influences.

With the Chaucer - yes, people tried to round off the unfinished bits by putting new tales in. And lots of people write sort of pseudo-Chaucer texts. It's funny, because when Caxton first printed the Canterbury Tales, he got lots of old gentlemen writing to him in agitation to say they had excellent manuscripts of the book and he was printing it all wrong! grin

I do seriously think we've got a really different idea of what being an author means, now, though. I find it really interesting that - well, for me anyway - one of the least convincing bits in the Sayers books are the bits where Harriet is talking about what it's like writing detective fiction. I'm not a writer so I don't know, but the way she talks about plotting sounds dead twee and contrived. It's as if she wasn't quite comfortable explaining how she did it.

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 03-Jun-13 10:39:54

(Ahem. That is so only funny if you are me. Yeah.)

seeker Mon 03-Jun-13 10:40:15

I love the bit in Unnatural Death where Miss Climpson fakes a seance. I often wish I could cut and paste it and use it on here......

Did I hear someon say Michael Innes? I thought I was the only person left alive who read him!

seeker Mon 03-Jun-13 10:41:23

Funny if you're me too, LRD!

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Mon 03-Jun-13 10:46:02

"twee" might have been deliberate, LRD - HV is pretty sensitive to explaining her work. I think her comment to an academic in Gaudy Night about it being marvellous when you get a piece of prose exactly right is closer to the mark for her, but she is self conscious about the worthiness of detective fiction.

Which bit did you have in mind as being twee?

FairPhyllis Mon 03-Jun-13 10:48:38

I like the bit in Gaudy Night where Harriet talks to the undergraduates and concludes that if there were to be an Final Honour School of Detective Fiction it would produce a good crop of Firsts.

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 03-Jun-13 10:56:22

Thanks seeker. smile

doctrine - btw, I saw your name in her books! It made me grin. - yes, fair enough, could be deliberate. I was thinking of the bits in Have His Carcass, and then in Busman's Holiday when she has Kirk thinking about lady detective writers.

Btw, I find the Kirk bits rather cringe-inducing. Maybe this is to do with times having moved on, so that the literary references Peter and Harriet keep tossing about are less obvious and you can sympathise more with Kirk being slower to get them?

fair - I like that too. grin

UptoapointLordCopper Mon 03-Jun-13 11:38:15

seeker It was me talking about Michael Innes! I love his books. You are guaranteed to find words you have to look up in a dictionary in his books. (Perhaps that's only good if you were me. hmm)

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Mon 03-Jun-13 14:00:27

Oh sure, IRL you'd want to punch anyone "moderately familiar with the works of minor Elizabethan lyricists" or whatever it was, unless they were undertaking a DPhil in the subject at the time... grin

LRDtheFeministDragon Mon 03-Jun-13 14:01:33


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