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Florence in Words

Dorothy Sayers, Part Two

So here I am weeks later wondering why I decided to write a blog about Dorothy Sayers in the first place. I think it was the revelation in the biography I happened to find on my bookshelf among the eleven novels: that Sayers had had a child out of wedlock whom she gave to her cousin to rear, without telling her about its parentage. Indeed, the son died without knowing his father. Anyone who has read my memoir will understand my interest, no, my fascination with anyone who could bear a child and then bear to deny motherhood for the child and for herself. As it happened, the young man—we hear from in the volume—seems to have grown into a sensible person, able to understand Sayers’ dilemmas and forgive her.

But there is more in Sayers that attracts me. And I plan to search second-hand shops for other, newer biographies. There are seven beyond the early one by James Brabazon (1981) which I have. The others stretch from 1992 to 2006, and among them there is one by Carolyn Heilbrun. So I am in good company. And perhaps I’ll write again about Sayers later on.

For the moment, I offer only a few sentences about Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, who wait five years to marry, and whom we never see again beyond Busman’s Honeymoon, the novel that moves only a few weeks past their marriage. While I found Peter Wimsey delightfully wacky in the first several novels, he was also often generous and kind, and perhaps most appealingly able to turn his humor on himself, often in relation to his man Bunter. And there are also indications—especially with at least a couple of beautiful women characters—that he held enlightened views about women’s intellect, as though he were Sayers herself in male clothing. And his falling in love with Harriet Vane rests seemingly only on her “strong” face, not really beautiful in the conventional sense. Certainly she is clever enough to write successful mysteries and to get herself into and out of a relationship with a man not worthy of her. Still, she needs Wimsey, not only to get her out of jail, but to help her recover and learn to love again.

In the 1960s, when I was friendly with Denise Levertov and her husband Mitchell Goodman, Mitch and I used to play a literary game called Find the Perfect Marriage in Fiction. No matter how long we argued, the only couple we could agree about came from Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse—the Ramseys. We never mentioned Busman’s Holiday—I never read detective fiction until the 1990s. Should we have?
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