When Dorothy Sayers wrote her last detective novel, she commented in an interview that her sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey, was still very much in her head. She was aware what his thoughts and comments would be in any given situation. Indeed, recent scholarship has shown that she spent a great deal of time on her character -- filling in the details of his family history and writing fragments of dialogue...details that never made it into any of her books.
Yes, there is some creepy speculation that Sayers fascination with her heroic detective was truly obsessive. But when I consider Sayers in her other spheres: theologian, playwright, Dante translator, essayist...she was someone who did not do anything "by halves." I think we shy from looking passion in the face and instead want to label it obsession. That is, I think the problem is with us. Not Sayers.
Her detective presents a similar "problem." Lord Peter is a prolific character from the golden age of English murder mysteries and one who incurs one of two reactions from readers: you love him or you hate him. That fact alone convinces me that Sayers accomplished something incredible.
The issue of Peter's endless amount of money often brings a sneer from readers, but consider the following:
"I deliberately gave [Lord Peter] a large income...after all it cost me nothing and at the time I was particularly hard up and it gave me pleasure to spend his fortune for him. When I was dissatisfied with my single unfurnished room I took a luxurious flat for him in Piccadilly. When my cheap rug got a hole in it, I ordered him an Aubusson carpet...I can heartily recommend this inexpensive way of furnishing to all who are discontented with their incomes. It relieves the mind and does no harm to anybody."
Sayers wrote her first Wimsey novel when she was completely broke, deciding that a quick way to support herself was to write sensational fiction, i.e. the murder mystery. Let her have her bit of escapism, I say. Why on earth do you think I like to read the Wimsey mysteries?
But the real reason I read them is for Sayer's (i.e. Peter's) commentary on the human condition....and to read Peter's struggles with his own sins. He's brilliant and uses his brains for solving crimes, all the while dealing with his own smaller -- but no less serious -- crimes as a fallen human being. He is the only detective who grows up, as C. S. Lewis noted. From a twenty-something, spoiled, impetuous and radically irresponsible son to a shell-shocked, hard working World War I survivor and finally a wise, gentle husband....who doesn't want to read about that?
Only the best screen adaption ever of the novels -- EVER. I highly recommend
them: BBC 2002 with Edward Petherbridge and Harriet Walter.
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