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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.

UptoapointLordCopper Sun 02-Jun-13 18:56:36

I've read probably all of the Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane books and I like them all, apart from a slightly queasy feeling that the author herself was a bit too in love with Peter Wimsey, which came across most, I think, in Gaudy Night. (That is a bit of a long sentence but hopefully not too garbled!) I think Gaudy Night is my favourite. I haven't thought about them very systematically, but here goes:

The dons are/were probably not quite representative of what the general attitude was towards women. They were a ruthlessly logical bunch (I love them!) and were not shy in discussing anything and were seemingly quite confronting of their own views too. (There was a scene where they discussed shirt fronts which made me laugh ... ) I also like the conversation between Peter Wimsey and one of the dons about his opinion on women's education and he said that it should not be a question and "you should not imply that I have any right either to approve or disapprove".

I read one of Jill Paton Walsh completion - can't remember which and can't remember if there is more than one - but didn't like it much. I think I'd probably like it if it wasn't a continuation of PW and HV, but as it is it was too easy to read, and Sayers never made anything easy ... hmm

LRDtheFeministDragon Sun 02-Jun-13 19:00:43

Oh, I'm sure you are right about the dons. I just liked that she could write them like that, at that time. I agree with you that she obviously loved Peter. I also think occasionally, hmm, really? to the more obviously 'isn't he a great feminist' bits.

I come at the Paton Walsh stuff having loved her books first, you see, so was curious.

NorthernLurker Sun 02-Jun-13 19:09:01

The Paton Walsh books pass the time but are basicaly fan fic and that's all. Paton Walsh's 'voice' is quite different from DLS.

GAudy Night caused a major rift with DLS and Somerville. The college was not happy with it's portrayal.

UptoapointLordCopper Sun 02-Jun-13 19:16:59

I didn't know about DLS and Somerville. What were they unhappy about?

I think it's true that PW is too much of an obvious feminist. grin But I still like it. Perhaps it was a bit of wish-fulfilment? I think the thing that appeals to me is the search for intellectual equality in a fucked-up world (OK, so DLS would never put it like that ...) Maybe it reminds me of my younger, more stuck-up (grin) days when I could not see much such equality in the relationships surrounding me...

LRDtheFeministDragon Sun 02-Jun-13 19:21:29

Well, I've not read enough Sayers, but I think I agree.

I didn't know that about Somerville either. Seems a pity - there's a really lenghty disclaimer in my copy of Gaudy Night about how it's not based on real people or places, and I wonder if that was put in after the rift?

Btw - random trivia - but I noticed that the chestnut tree she mentions growing in Lamb and Flag passage is still there, 80-odd years on.

I think something I do notice about the dons is how un-intellectual a couple of them are. The way Harriet, who has been off writing detective fiction, suddenly slides back in as a quasi-don researching her own book, is a bit suspect. So I suppose I can see that Somerville dons might have felt a bit 'oi!' about that.

I do love the wedding from the college with the dons as bridesmaids, though.

CaptChaos Sun 02-Jun-13 19:42:34

Perhaps because it is set between the wars, which would place the dons in question as having been born and brought up, and therefore received their moral education during, the late Victorian era, when women were covered from head to toe, table legs allegedly wore little trousers etc etc. After the Great War, women's dress was more relaxed for the younger set, swimwear became less of a joke etc.

I haven't read the books, always meant to but haven't, so I can't comment specifically, but that might put the don's view that the young women lounging about in their underwear was shocking into some context? Although, I realise that I'm no doubt telling you what you already know.

NorthernLurker Sun 02-Jun-13 19:48:55

I ^think SOmerville were unhappy with the portrayal of the SCR - suspecting each other and nevertheless more than a little smug?

scallopsrgreat Sun 02-Jun-13 19:55:30

I don't think I have read any Sayers but already this thread is making me want to! Off to kindle myself up so any recommendations for my first buy would be great grin

LRDtheFeministDragon Sun 02-Jun-13 19:58:32

Oh, do read her!

I really enjoyed what I've read so far. I haven't read them in order, though, so probably someone else can recommend better than me.

capt - mmm, I don't think so from the way she says it. I think the implication is that the dons are pretty permissive and only drawing the line at people sunbathing in underwear? I mean, when I went to university in 2003, no fucking way would you have been allowed to strip off and lie on the lawn.

northern - ah, ok, I see.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Sun 02-Jun-13 19:59:48

DLS collaborated on the play of Busman's Honeymoon and the book of The Documents in the Case.

I like "Thrones, Dominations" but the second "collaboration" was really a JPW only effort and "The Attenbury Emeralds" is completely JPW. The tone is very different but it would be difficult for it not to be that way, I think. Peter and Harriet just don't come so much to life with JPW, and I think she definitely prefers writing Harriet.

UptoapointLordCopper Sun 02-Jun-13 20:00:56

Strong Poison, I think, is the first Harriet Vane one. Actually that one is very interesting too from the feminist perspective. LRD have you read that one?

There are other donnish detective novels. For example, Michael Inns' Death at the President's Lodge (and may be The Weight of the Evidence - sorry, I am a fan ...) was not entirely complementary to the fictitious Oxford college of St Anthony (I think). I wonder if there was an outcry about that. Perhaps the suspicion of a group of women "cloistered together", being "sexually repressed" etc was a bit too much for Sommerville?

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Sun 02-Jun-13 20:01:42

I would read them in order, but I'm like that grin

I actually think "Whose Body?" is pretty strong, which is the first one.

TheDoctrineOfSnatch Sun 02-Jun-13 20:03:26

LordCopper, I love that quote about approving not being a question too.

SconeRhymesWithGone Sun 02-Jun-13 20:04:08

I read the entire Sayers canon years ago and especially loved "Gaudy Night." I have not read any of Jill Paton Walsh, and likely won't, just as I won't read any of the Jane Austen fan fiction.

I don't feel qualified to comment further yet because it has been so long ago, but this thread has just caused me to download it to my Kindle; I am going on a mini-holiday on my own for a few days; it will be perfect for that.

I also remember seeing the BBC adaptation years ago with Harriet Walter as Harriet Vane. I remember thinking she was perfect for the role.

scallopsrgreat Sun 02-Jun-13 20:05:19

Strong Poison it is then. Good a place as any to start at the beginning!

UptoapointLordCopper Sun 02-Jun-13 20:05:56

Talking about Jane Austen fan fiction, I really didn't like Death Comes to Pemberley. << End of slight diversion. >>

LRDtheFeministDragon Sun 02-Jun-13 20:06:53

I've read Gaudy Night, Have His Carcase, Busman's Holiday and A Presumption of Death (which is JPW). Wrong order I know, but I was picking them up in charity shops.

I might order Whose Body on amazon though, sounds good.

scallopsrgreat Sun 02-Jun-13 20:07:19

Oh sorry Doctrine I missed your post. I'll get Whose Body too. I'm off on holiday soon so hopefully will have some time to read!

LRDtheFeministDragon Sun 02-Jun-13 20:08:37

Ooh, yes ... Harriet Walter would be perfect.

That is another thing I like - Harriet isn't gorgeous or even especially attractive, but she a) doesn't seem to mind and b) does still enjoy dressing nicely.

That combination is really rare - women who're not conventionally attractive are usually required to be suddenly beautiful at necessary moments, and/or not to give a fuck about what they wear, that being something only pretty women do.

Abra1d Sun 02-Jun-13 20:09:17

I love, love, love GAUDY NIGHT. STRONG POISON is an interesting read: Harriet's mixed feelings: relief, gratitude, trauma, guilt and resentment for being 'saved' by Peter. This runs through into HAVE HIS CARCASE, too.

LRDtheFeministDragon Sun 02-Jun-13 20:10:48

Yes, I do like that - I find that nicely realistic how she feels. Again it's one of the things I liked from a feministy perspective.

SconeRhymesWithGone Sun 02-Jun-13 20:12:26

Strong Poison is the first Harriet Vane book; Whose Body? is the first in the series.

Oh, no, can't do Death Comes to Pemberley, and I am the biggest P.D. James fan on earth, I am sure. I have read her canon (with that exception) several times.

NorthernLurker Sun 02-Jun-13 20:24:02

You have to read Murder Must Advertise and the Nine Tailors too - both EXCELLENT!

LRDtheFeministDragon Sun 02-Jun-13 20:27:00

I will!

Now, why is it women writing crime isn't so unusual, even maybe the norm? It's odd, isn't it, given the way that we're socialized.

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