?

Log in

(no subject)

« previous entry | next entry »
Jan. 20th, 2014 | 11:20 pm

I just finished reading Conundrums for the Long Week-End, a Christmas present from my parents. It's about the Lord Peter Wimsey books and how they reflect the world in which Sayers was writing. Just my sort of thing (which is why I asked for it). However, it was a bit disappointing. Rather than an in-depth exploration of the books, it felt more like a recap of the plots, together with fairly basic contextual information. Sayers discussions on LJ seem to be much more interesting and original in general.

It's not helped by the fact that the authors seem to be mistaken about various points. (They are based at US universities, and presumably are American; I think part of it is a lack of familiarity with British culture.) For instance, we are told that "Wimsey belonged to a family of sportsmen, skilled hunters who had nonetheless never killed a fox". This is something of a misreading. In Whose Body? the narration mentions that "He belonged to a family which had never shot a fox". I'm sure the foxes still ended up dead - I can imagine Peter having an outbreak of soft-heartedness and calling the hounds off, but I cannot imagine for a second his father or Gerald (or Helen) doing so. That line appears when Peter is making his mind up to go and visit Freke in an attempt to play fair; it's about playing the game, rather than the authors' seeming suggestion that the Wimseys are a compassionate lot.

"Though Dorothy L. Sayers worked hard to create a sense of the real in her novels ... she employed several devices to remind readers that they were reading a story, that none of these horrible, murdering people were real. The most obvious of her tricks was the naming of places and characters. No one would conceive that places with names such as Riddlesdale, Little Dorking or Little Doddering could actually exist. ... Vera Findlater, Bertha Gotobed - who would believe that these were the names of real people?"
Um. I think this may well be a US/UK difference, because as an English reader I can readily conceive that places with those names could exist, seeing as there is indeed a Dorking, a Riddlesden, and various other places with similar names. I also have no trouble believing in the names used as examples.

I find these assumptions - that all readers must react in the same way to these authors - rather bizarre. They also leap to conclusions a bit - we are solemnly told that "Harriet Vane's closest friends and supporters in Strong Poison are a lesbian couple". Which they certainly could be - the text isn't explicit either way, and I know many people like to read Sylvia and Eiluned as a couple, which I am completely in favour of. But it's something where there's evidence for both sides - they might be, or they might not, and just flatly stating that they are a couple, with no exploration of the evidence in the text or why you've come to that conclusion, seems to be missing the opportunity for a more interesting discussion.

One for the completist, I think. There are some interesting moments (I have been led to muse on just what the status of Sherlock Holmes is in Lord Peter's world), but it's nothing that you wouldn't get from reading the books and having a basic grasp of 20s and 30s UK history.

Link | Leave a comment | Share

Comments {24}

(no subject)

from: anonymous
date: Jan. 20th, 2014 11:52 pm (UTC)
Link

I haven't read it, but based on what you describe ... OMG I CAN'T. Of course all the names are perfectly plausible! That's a ludicrous, forced point on the part of the authors.

Tl;dr, I totally agree with you.

Reply | Thread

the smoke is briars

(no subject)

from: highfantastical
date: Jan. 21st, 2014 10:17 am (UTC)
Link

That was ME, I have no idea why it came out as anonymous! Sorry about that; how odd.

Reply | Parent | Thread

littlered2

(no subject)

from: littlered2
date: Jan. 21st, 2014 10:20 am (UTC)
Link

I thought it sounded like you. :)

The names are completely plausible! The "ha ha ha, of course everyone would see these names as PATENTLY RIDICULOUS" is just not true at all; it makes me cringe for them.

Reply | Parent | Thread

madamedarque

(no subject)

from: madamedarque
date: Jan. 21st, 2014 03:16 am (UTC)
Link

Oooh, I will check this out! Although the missteps do seem serious--some of the irritatingly rigid statements and presenting interpretation as textual fact seem like fairly commonplace academic sins, but this is just staggeringly awful:

No one would conceive that places with names such as Riddlesdale, Little Dorking or Little Doddering could actually exist. ... Vera Findlater, Bertha Gotobed - who would believe that these were the names of real people?

OMG AMERICANS. I sincerely apologize on behalf of my countrymen. I can't take anyone seriously as an authority on Sayers who would write such a thing--really, this is textbook Shit Americans Do, because pointing out that ~UK place names are so quaint~ is so hackneyed and unoriginal, I can't. (I swear that we are not all like this!)

Reply | Thread

littlered2

(no subject)

from: littlered2
date: Jan. 21st, 2014 09:37 am (UTC)
Link

That's what I found so weird about it, actually - everyone knows that we have "quaint" place names! It is a thing! So why do they find these examples so ridiculous? Honestly, the only one I find even slightly unusual/farcical is Little Doddering, and I could still easily imagine a village of that name existing.

Reply | Parent | Thread

antisoppist

(no subject)

from: antisoppist
date: Jan. 21st, 2014 12:51 pm (UTC)
Link

That sounds like an author who would think Sayers addressed her letters from Witham because she was being witty rather than it being where she lived.

I find Twitterton a bit cardboardly farcical but make the excuse that she started off in a play. It's never occured to me that Findlater = "find later" until two seconds ago.

Reply | Parent | Thread

littlered2

(no subject)

from: littlered2
date: Jan. 21st, 2014 10:42 pm (UTC)
Link

Me neither, until you pointed it out!

I think Twitterton is one of the names that does border on being farcical, but I don't think any of the names she uses are so ridiculous as to make it impossible to believe in real people with them.

Reply | Parent | Thread

pigrescuer

(no subject)

from: pigrescuer
date: Jan. 21st, 2014 02:48 pm (UTC)
Link

Since there's a river in Ireland called the Dodder, I don't see why there couldn't be a Little Doddering!

Reply | Parent | Thread

Wandering Hedgehog

(no subject)

from: oursin
date: Jan. 21st, 2014 08:56 am (UTC)
Link

These people do not realise that it is quite okay for a fox to be torn to pieces by hounds, but never, ever, shot! - there is scene in Stalky and Co involving a Bad Gamekeeper who Shoots Foxes.

I once read a review of (I think) Moorcock's Mother London, which found the characters being in somewhere called Bethlem Hospital profoundly symbolic. No, it's Bedlam, it's been a London mental hospital since ye medievals.

Seem to recall similar 'o teh symbolyk' over a place being called Hailsham in ? Never Let Me Go.

Reply | Thread

littlered2

(no subject)

from: littlered2
date: Jan. 21st, 2014 09:43 am (UTC)
Link

People haven't heard of Bedlam/don't realise its derivation? Oh, dear.

As I grew up near Hailsham, it would honestly never cross my mind to find it symbolic. I suppose exposure to things makes you stop noticing them. This was also the first time I thought about Riddlesdale having anything to do with riddles and mystery rather than just being a perfectly unobjectionable name.

Reply | Parent | Thread

nineveh_uk

(no subject)

from: nineveh_uk
date: Jan. 21st, 2014 10:24 am (UTC)
Link

Me too re. Riddlesdale. I mean, I now think that of course it is also a pun, but it's not a screamingly obvious one despite the fact that it really should be.

Reply | Parent | Thread

(no subject)

from: helenajust
date: Jan. 21st, 2014 09:32 am (UTC)
Link

Thank goodness I read on before rushing to my on-line bookstore the moment I saw that such a book existed. But what a lost opportunity; this could have been wonderful.

I immediately thought of Stalky & Co the moment I read the words "never shot a fox"; oursin is perfectly right. But this is such basic information, especially for that period, and readily available after any research into hunting, that I would feel that I couldn't rely on anything else in the book being correct.

As to the character names; have these esteemed academics not heard of Google? - a moment would have revealed that those names are genuine and not that odd in England. And the failure to check that places actually exist is unforgivable. Have they never read Jane Austen? Don't they realise that many of her characters are named after English place names?

The description of the book as "more like a recap of the plots, together with fairly basic contextual information" reminds me of the disappointment I felt when reading Georgette Heyer's Regency World which I felt was entirely derived from the books themselves and added no new knowledge at all - as a gathering together into logical order the information dispersed through the books it was fine, but it added nothing for those who have already read and loved the books.

Reply | Thread

littlered2

(no subject)

from: littlered2
date: Jan. 21st, 2014 11:49 am (UTC)
Link

It's such a shame when books like that don't turn out to have anything new. As you say, it could be a great opportunity, but it just isn't.

Reply | Parent | Thread

bookwormsarah

(no subject)

from: bookwormsarah
date: Jan. 21st, 2014 09:50 am (UTC)
Link

Ah, books that miss the point... I remember a book about wartime London, supposedly very well researched, which had characters sheltering from the bombs on the Jubilee line. Another, set in Bethnal Green, had characters breaking off a conversation because the church bells were ringing(!), then deciding to pop into a shop (with no queue) because they saw bananas in the window and they hadn't had any for a while. This all took place in 1942. It was a frustrating read.

I find books which are more summary than discussion thoroughly disappointing. I was very excited to get hold of a book about Cynthia Voigt, author of one of my favourite series, but instead of the discussions of imagery, the music and the landscape I had hoped for, it read like a poorly researched dissertation. I've read the books, I know what happens, now I want more.

Reply | Thread

littlered2

(no subject)

from: littlered2
date: Jan. 21st, 2014 10:10 am (UTC)
Link

Presumably they didn't realise the British meaning of "Jubilee", but still, you'd think "did this underground line/station exist at the time I'm writing about" is a relatively easy thing to research. It's so irritating when you have things like that that just pull you out of the book.

"Poorly researched dissertation" sounds about right for this. The tone reminded me of the essays I wrote in my first year at university, which is not a compliment.

Reply | Parent | Thread

pigrescuer

(no subject)

from: pigrescuer
date: Jan. 21st, 2014 02:54 pm (UTC)
Link

Oh dear it does seem a shame about the book! I thought it sounded like an excellent idea when I read your first line!

Reply | Thread

littlered2

(no subject)

from: littlered2
date: Jan. 21st, 2014 10:42 pm (UTC)
Link

It was a shame - there was a lot of potential, but the silly errors lessened the enjoyment a lot.

Reply | Parent | Thread

nineveh_uk

(no subject)

from: nineveh_uk
date: Jan. 21st, 2014 06:26 pm (UTC)
Link

The errors are really annoying (I have read it, and quite enjoyed it in an unchallenging way, because I'm interested in what people say about DLS). I feel there's a useful role for the book, because there are probably plenty of interested people who don't have a grasp of 20s and 30s UK history, and undergraduates who haven't had time to read the lot etc. and I've enjoyed the equivalent in subjects I have no expertise in. But that makes the basic errors worse, because the probable reader lacks the expertise to address them. I agree it comes across as the authors lacking familiarity with British culture.

Reply | Thread

littlered2

(no subject)

from: littlered2
date: Jan. 21st, 2014 10:44 pm (UTC)
Link

Oh yes, it's definitely got its uses. I think I'm just spoiled by people in LJ (like you) making insightful points and discussing Sayers in an interesting way, and was hoping for more of the same. This was a bit too surface-level for my liking. And the errors were infuriating.

Reply | Parent | Thread

nineveh_uk

(no subject)

from: nineveh_uk
date: Jan. 23rd, 2014 01:15 pm (UTC)
Link

The conversation on LJ is definitely more interestingly speculative! And sometimes very educational - I read something the other day that pointed out that in Peter's anecdote to Harriet in GN about death threats he's had, the pills "to cure lassitude and debility" that someone first tries to kill, and then blackmail him with, are not just quack remedies, but specifically quack remedies for VD/impotence (which ends up making it a slightly racy anecdote, and a much funnier mental image of Peter writing to someone with a giant list of dreadful symptoms).

Reply | Parent | Thread

Stevie Carroll

(no subject)

from: stevie_carroll
date: Jan. 22nd, 2014 05:27 pm (UTC)
Link

I'm sure I've met a Gotobed in real life. I was certainly commenting to an American the other day about regional names and the fact that I'd only met one Strongitharm in spite of having lived in Derbyshire for the whole first half of my life.

[ETA:] Gotobed is a real name: proof. And Findlater.

Edited at 2014-01-22 05:33 pm (UTC)

Reply | Thread

littlered2

(no subject)

from: littlered2
date: Jan. 22nd, 2014 07:40 pm (UTC)
Link

Oh yes, they're definitely both real names. I've never met anyone with either, but I was aware Sayers hadn't just made them up. It's surprising the authors didn't seem to realise this.

Reply | Parent | Thread

Stevie Carroll

(no subject)

from: stevie_carroll
date: Jan. 22nd, 2014 09:21 pm (UTC)
Link

It just boggled me that I found that site in under 60 seconds, yet the authors never even considered that real people might have those names and that they should do a few simple checks before stating their theories.

Reply | Parent | Thread

littlered2

(no subject)

from: littlered2
date: Jan. 22nd, 2014 09:33 pm (UTC)
Link

Isn't it odd? I do not understand their research process.

Reply | Parent | Thread