Things have been quiet at Totally Austentatious because I have been following the love affair between Peter and Harriet. One might observe the romance has uncovered a few bodies along the way.
I am not in general a great fan of murder mysteries. However, if I was up a tree surrounded by wolves with beavers working away at the base, and I saw Lord Peter coming over the hill with trusty Bunter…I would cease to worry.
Dorothy Sayers is reputed to have fallen in love with her creation, Lord Peter Whimsey and written herself into the stories as his partner in crime solving. Through I am not convinced this was the case, there are parallels as Dorothy Sayers and Harriet Vane are both writers of murder mysteries, very well educated, and I would venture to say of the same temperament and opinions.
I will let you draw your own conclusions.
Strong Poison by Dorothy Sayers
In the first novel of the Lord Peter and Harriet Vane stories; Harriet has been charged and may be hanged for murdering her ex lover. Peter, who falls in love with Harriet while hearing her cross examination, is convinced that she is innocent and is determined to save her life.
Whimsey handed over his card, writing at the top, ‘in re R.U. Vane’, and added: “But is there a chance he will be back soon?” “Oh, yes sir. Last time he wasn’t away more than a couple of days, and a merciful providence I am sure that was, with poor Mr.Boyes dying in that dreadful manner.” “Yes, indeed,” said Whimsey, delighted to find the subject introducing itself of its on accord. “That must have been a shocking upset to you all.” “Well, there” said the cook. “I don’t hardly like to think of it, even now. A gentleman dying in the house like that, and poisoned too, when one’s had the cooking of his dinner – it do bring it home to one, like.”
Comment: Always enjoy this one, particularly how Peter talks to Harriet laying his heart at her feet and offering to change his hair or do way with his monocle if it displeases her. Delightful conversations between the two characters. A great read!
Movie: Very good, I just love Edward Petherbridge as Peter!
On YouTube: Strong Poison 3 parts
Have His Carcase by Dorothy Sayers
Lord Peter frees Harriet and she leaves London to escape the press and most of all to think about Peter and his proposals. She doesn’t doesn’t trust his motives. She has been stung and is weary. While on a walking tour of the coast she finds a body on the shore. Peter hears about it and comes to help out. He anticipates as Harriet doesn’t, that she will need his assistance to solve the crime and stay on the right side of the media attention.
“His throat was cut , Mrs Weldon” (Brutal Saxon monosyllables.) “Oh!” Mrs Weldon seedmed to shrink into a mere set of eyes and bones. “Yes – they said – they said – I couldn’t hear properly – I didn’t like to ask – and they all seemed so pleased about it.” “I know,” said Harriet. “You, see – these newspaper men – it’s what they live by. They can’t help it. And they couldn’t possibly know that it meant anything to you.”
Comment: Poor Peter, he lays his heart at Harriets feet to be stomped on. He proves himself to be a true gentleman and gives her room to decide on their relationship. His only stipulation; that he may propose on special occasions, but she may disregard it if she wishes. He talks the most delightful piffle, and Harriet responds with wit and charm.
The Movie: Harriet Walter is a wonderful choice for Harriet Vane
On YouTube: Have his Carcase 4 Parts
Gaudy Night by Dorothy Sayers
Harriet retreats to Oxford, her Alma mater, to see old friends and do some research. During her visit she is asked to look into the activities of a Poison pen letter writer who has been tormenting the professors and students. Things escalate to vandalism, violence and almost murder. Harriet writes Peter for assistance, hoping he can recommend someone to help.
“I thought you seemed a little stiff in your manner. Why on earth didn’t you say so before, instead of sitting there like a martyr and inveigling me into misjudging you?” “I don’t seem to do anythng right,” he said plaintively. “How did you do it?” “Fell off a wall in the most inartistic manner. I was in a bit of a hurry; there was a very plain-looking bloke on the other side with a gun. It wasn’t so much the wall, as the wheel-barrow at the bottom. And it isn’t really so much the ribs as the sticking plaster. It’s strapped as tight as hell and itches infernally.”
Comment: This novel is more of a mystery than a murder. Peter finally makes head way with Harriet, and convinces her that he is looking for an equal partner in life, that he values her straight forwardness and striving for truth. He surprises her at every turn. I don’t know it she really deserves him, but they finally figure everything out. Delightful!
Movies: Very good! Sadly none of the other stories were made into movies.
On YouTube: Gaudy Night 3 parts
Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy Sayers
So Harriet and Peter finally find matrimonial bliss, retiring to the country for a romantic honeymoon, and another body shows up!
He retired to the scullery, where Mrs. Ruddle, armed with a hand-bowl, was scooping boiling water from the copper into a large Bath-can. “You had better leave it to me, Mrs. Ruddle, to negotiate the baths round the turn in the stairs. You may follow me with the cans, if you please.” Returning thus processionally through the sitting-room he was relieved to see only Mr. Puffet’s ample base emerging from under the chimney-breast and to hear him utter loud groans and cries of self-encouragment which boomed hollow in the funnel of the brickwork. It was always pleasant to see a fellow creature toiling still harder than one’s self.
Comment: A lovely conclusion to the series, how else would Harriet and Peter honeymoon that with a body? I have to say this is my favourite!
Dorothy Sayers revisited Peter and Harriet one more time. She wrote a short story which included their children.
These stories found in Striding Folly by Dorothy Sayers
These two short stories close round out the developement of the Whimsey family.
The first of their children is born in the story The Haunted Policeman. Truly delightful opening scene!
By the time of the short story Talboys, they have three sons:
Bredon Delagardie Peter Wimsey (born in October 1936), Roger Wimsey (born 1938), and Paul Wimsey (born 1940 or 1941). Peter and the boys solve a mystery.