Wednesday, 14 September 2011

Lord Peter Wimsey

A general feeling of being under the weather evolved into a nasty cold last week. Combine that with me trying to finish an 18th century ball gown until October 22 and you have the reason for the no posting. I’ll try to do better, butI may post a little more sporadically until the gown is done. I hate deadlines and try not to have them, but I have only myself to blame.

I hope you don’t mind if I fall back into a book post today. I’m currently re-reading the books about my favourite sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey. Dorothy L. Sayers wrote a number of novels and short stories about him between 1923-1940 and if you want witty and smart crime novels in an Art Deco setting, then you should read this.

The books follow each other chronologically, but most can be read out of order, if one likes that. The exception is Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night, Busman’s Honeymoon and Striding Folly. Those stories also contain Lord Peter’s big love, Harriet Vane and you would spoil their story if you read them out of order. I enjoy reading all the books, but my favourites are Nine Tailors or Murder Must Advertise. My absolute favourite, however- actually one that is on my list for the best 10 books I have ever read, is Gaudy Night. In Gaudy Night most of the action take place with Lord Peter safely out of the country while Harriet Vane gets involved with a poison pen mystery in Oxford. The book is really about a woman’s proper place, and if you can have it all, both work and family, or if you have to forsake one of them. Just about every discussion in the book, as well as the mystery, is about that, with different viewpoints and arguments. The book was written in 1935, but a lot of it feels very modern even today. It’s also a very funny book as well as a very romantic one.

Lord Peter is described as rather Bertie Wooster like and usually plays the town dandy to conceal his intelligence. He also has, like Wooster, a perfect man servant called Bunter. There is also Lord Peter’s family, a number of friends that re-appear in several books and his best friend, a policeman called Parker. And of course, mystery writer Harriet Vane. The characters range from two-dimensional, especially in the first book, to evolve into something quite complex and interesting. Lord Peter himself suffers from shell shock from the World War I, something that reappears when he is stressed. Harriet Vane, who Lord Peter first meet when she is accused of murder, battle with her inferiority complex and the circumstances that makes it difficult for her to accept that Lord Peter really loves her. She is also passionately honest and objective, which often makes things difficult for her.

If you don’t feel up to read, then there are a few movie and TV adoptions. Please avoid Haunted Honeymoon from 1940 with Robert Montgomery. It’s a truly bad adaption and Sayers’ refused to allow it to be called Busman’s Honeymoon as it basically only have the names and bare bones of the plot in common with the book.

In the early 1970’s Ian Carmichael starred in Five Red Herrings, None Tailors, Clouds of Witness, The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club and Murder Must Advertise. They are not bad, though Carmichael and most of the cast are too old for their characters and the 70’s is very evident in costume and make-up.

In the late 80’s Edward Petherbridge and Harriet Walter starred in Strong Poison, Have His Carcase and Gaudy Night. The cast is excellent and the costumes beautiful, though the women’s hair are generally much fluffier than the it really was in the 1930’s- but the 80’s were all about big hair. The first two are also very good adoptions of the book, but Gaudy Night has been stripped of everything but the basic plot and suffers from it.

(Personally I have always visualised the young Peter O'Toole as Lord Peter)

The books in chronological order

Whose Body? (1923)
Clouds of Witness (1926)
Unnatural Death (1927)
Lord Peter Views the Body (1928) Short stories
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1928)
Strong Poison (1931)
Five Red Herrings (1931)
Have His Carcase (1932)
Murder Must Advertise (1933)
Hangman's Holiday (1933) Short stories
The Nine Tailors (1934)
Gaudy Night (1935)
Busman's Honeymoon (1937)
In the Teeth of the Evidence (1939) Short stories
Striding Folly (1972) Short stories


Nuranar said...

I LOVE Lord Peter. Murder Must Advertise and The Nine Tailors are my favorites, too!

Have you read the Albert Campion books? At first I thought they were similar, but they're actually very different, even moreso as they go on. And the TV series with Peter Davies is excellent.

Kate said...

I haven't heard of those books before. I love mysteries and I love that time period so I will definitely see if I can get my hands on a copy! :)

Isis said...

Nuranar: No, i haven't. Thank you for the tip- I love finding new books!

Kate: Please do! And I hope you will like them as much as I do!

Keturah Y. said...

Lord Peter Wimsey is wonderful, probably my dream man in many ways. I love Ian Carmichael, but honestly, Edward Petherbridge will always be Peter to me. Carmichael played the dandy well, but wasn't grounded enough and was too asexual to be Peter. Edward, while not quite jolly enough, seems most like Peter to me.

Off to find out who Albert Campion is!

P.S. Just found your blog, so I'm sorry this is a later comment.

Isis said...

Keturah: Welcome! I love comments and it is very nice to get them on old postst too. :)

I agree, Lord Peter is a bit of a dream man!

Anonymous said...

Here's another endorsement for Margery Allingham's Campion mysteries! Albert Campion was originally conceived as a parody of Lord Peter, but quickly developed a life and character of his own. I actually kind of prefer him to Lord Peter, although both Sayers and Allingham are among my very favourite writers. Gaudy Night is my favourite, too.

Isis said...

pimpinett: I really have to check them out! :) I just re-read Gaudy Night and have now started on Busman's Honeymoon, which I think has some of the funniest scenes in all her books.

girlCary said...

my favorite is Busmans Honeymoon, which I read on a regular basis. Not such a fan of Ian as Lord Peter but love Edward Petheridge. I'm so glad to find some others who are fans!

Isis said...

girlCary: I'm reading Busman's Honeymoon right now. :)

Anonymous said...

Yup, Busman's Honeymoon has some comic gems - I love that little series of letters with reactions to the engagement and wedding at the beginning - but the ending is really tragic, I think. In a good way, and a realistic way, but still.

Isis said...

pimpinett: That's true, there is a great deal of tragedy too. The ending for sure, though it also is a great depiction of finally letting one defenses go. But I also feel very sorry for Miss Twitterton who I feel is a very tragic figure, her comic scholl.marmish ways aside.

The beginning with the letters and diaries are great fun though and I love the visit at Denver.

Celia Pleete said...

Oh man - Peter O'Toole is waaay too intimidating to be Lord Peter! I picture him as being more like Leslie Howard: affable, intelligent, a genteel sweetness to him, but still intense and brooding, like he's hiding a tragedy. The physical description fits him well, too. That Howard also suffered shellshock in WW1, would also have brought some realness to Lord Peter. (Petherbridge was so wonderful.)

Isis said...

Celia Pleete: I think that is all in the matter of one's perception. I don't find O'Toole especially intimidating and I don't find Lord Peter unintimidiating, so it works for me. :) But I agree, Leslie Howard would have done a wonderful Lord Peter! Petherbridge was very good, though a bit too old.

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