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Authors: Dorothy L. Sayers

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Striding Folly

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Striding Folly

 

 

Dorothy L. Sayers

 

 

 

 

www.hodder.co.uk

First published in Great Britain in 1973 by Hodder and Stoughton

An Hachette Livre UK Company

 

Copyright © Anthony Fleming 1972

Introduction © Susan Elizabeth George 2003

 

The right of Dorothy L. Sayers and of Janet Hitchman to

be identified as the Authors of different parts of the

Work has been asserted in accordance with the

Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.

 

All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,

stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any

means without the prior written permission of the publisher,

nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other

than that in which it is published and without a similar

condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

 

All characters in this publication are fictitious

and any resemblance to real persons,

living or dead, is purely coincidental.

 

A CIP catalogue record for this title

is available from the British Library

 

Epub ISBN 9781848943803

Book ISBN 9780450033407

 

Hodder and Stoughton

A division of Hodder Headline

338 Euston Road

London NW1 3BH

 

www.hodder.co.uk

CONTENTS

 

Introduction

 

Lord Peter Wimsey and His Creator

 

Striding Folly

 

The Haunted Policeman

 

Talboys

 

Lord Peter Wimsey Title

 

Lord Peter Wimsey Biography

 

Note

 

Two of the three final Lord Peter Wimsey stories,
Striding Folly
and
The Haunted Policeman
were previously published in
Detection Medley
, edited by John Rhode (Hutchinson & Co. Ltd.), in 1939.
Talboys
, written in 1942, has not been published before.

INTRODUCTION

 

I came to the wonderful detective novels of Dorothy L. Sayers in a way that would probably make that distinguished novelist spin in her grave. Years ago, actor Ian Carmichael starred in the film productions of a good chunk of them, which I eventually saw on my public television station in Huntington Beach, California. I recall the host of the show reciting the impressive, salient details of Sayers’ life and career – early female graduate of Oxford, translator of Dante, among other things – and I was much impressed. But I was even more impressed with her delightful sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey, and I soon sought out her novels.

    Because I had never been – and still am not today – a great reader of detective fiction, I had not heard of this marvellous character. I quickly became swept up in everything about him: from his foppish use of language to his family relations. In very short order, I found myself thoroughly attached to Wimsey, to his calm and omnipresent manservant Bunter, to the Dowager Duchess of Denver (was ever there a more deliciously alliterative title?), to the stuffy Duke and the unbearable Duchess of Denver, to Viscount St. George, to Charles Parker, to Lady Mary. . . . In Dorothy L. Sayers’ novels, I found the sort of main character I loved when I turned to fiction: someone with a ‘real’ life, someone who wasn’t just a hero who conveniently had no relations to mess up the workings of the novelist’s plot.

    Dorothy L. Sayers, as I discovered, had much to teach me both as a reader and as a future novelist. While many detective novelists from the Golden Age of mystery kept their plots pared down to the requisite crime, suspects, clues, and red herrings, Sayers did not limit herself to so limited a canvas in her work. She saw the crime and its ensuing investigation as merely the framework for a much larger story, the skeleton – if you will – upon which she could hang the muscles, organs, blood vessels and physical features of a much larger tale. She wrote what I like to call the tapestry novel, a book in which the setting is realised (from Oxford, to the dramatic coast of Devon, to the flat bleakness of the Fens), in which throughout both the plot and the subplots the characters serve functions surpassing that of mere actors on the stage of the criminal investigation, in which themes are explored, in which life and literary symbols are used, in which allusions to other literature abound. Sayers, in short, did what I call ‘taking no prisoners’ in her approach to the detective novel. She did not write down to her readers; rather, she assumed that her readers would rise to her expectations of them.

    I found in her novels a richness that I had not previously seen in detective fiction. I became absorbed in the careful application of detail that characterized her plots: whether she was educating me about bell ringing in
The Nine Tailors
, about the unusual uses of arsenic in
Strong Poison
, about the beauties of architectural Oxford in
Gaudy Night
. She wrote about everything from cryptology to vinology, making unforgettable that madcap period between wars that marked the death of an overt class system and heralded the beginning of an insidious one.

    What continues to be remarkable about Sayers’ work, however, is her willingness to explore the human condition. The passions felt by characters created eighty years ago are as real today as they were then. The motives behind people’s behavior are no more complex now than they were in 1923 when Lord Peter Wimsey took his first public bow. Times have changed, rendering Sayers’ England in so many ways unrecognizable to today’s reader. But one of the true pleasures inherent to picking up a Sayers novel now is to see how the times in which we live alter our perceptions of the world around us, while doing nothing at all to alter the core of our humanity.

    When I first began my own career as a crime novelist, I told people that I would rest content if my name was ever mentioned positively in the same sentence as that of Dorothy L. Sayers. I’m pleased to say that that occurred with the publication of my first novel. If I ever come close to offering the reader the details and delights that Sayers offered in her Wimsey novels, I shall consider myself a success indeed.

    The reissuing of a Sayers novel is an event, to be sure. As successive generations of readers welcome her into their lives, they embark upon an unforgettable journey with an even more unforgettable companion. In time of dire and immediate trouble, one might well call upon a Sherlock Holmes for a quick solution to one’s trials. But for the balm that reassures one about surviving the vicissitudes of life, one could do no better than to anchor onto a Lord Peter Wimsey.

 

Elizabeth George

Huntington Beach, California

May 27, 2003

Lord Peter Wimsey and His Creator

 

BY JANET HITCHMAN

 

A man might say it is strange that the best detective books of this century should have been written by women. In these ‘women’s lib’ days when there is supposed to be no difference between the sexes no woman dare say it. And, in fact, there is nothing strange about it at all. Given education, and inborn ability, the mind of a woman – and here I risk being tarred and feathered as a traitor to my sex – is more convoluted than a man’s, less side-tracked and better able to accept the impossible. I should qualify this by saying that women were only able to use their minds fully when they became generally accepted, early in this century, as worthy of education and as writers doing ‘their own thing’. Less than a hundred years before the birth of Dorothy L. Sayers the Brontës and Mary Ann Evans had to publish their works under male sounding names (Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell, and George Eliot), in order to gain acceptance as serious writers. It was all right for women to write homely religious tales,
belles-lettres
and pretty poetry, but to acknowledge the authorship of anything which smacked of real life, of deep passions or sex, was considered extremely bad form. Society was horrified when it discovered that the author of
Frankenstein
was a woman, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, wife of the poet. Society had to be considered since it was the only section of the community which could read and therefore buy books. After the universal Education Act of 1870 however, reading was within reach of all, and by 1900 most of the population was literate. And they were not asking for pious homilies, but for books which held their interest: adventure, romance, and for the kind of book pioneered by Wilkie Collins and Conan Doyle – detection. So one may say that the world was waiting for Dorothy L. Sayers, Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh.

    Dorothy Leigh Sayers was born in 1893. Her father was a clergyman and a classical scholar. From him she inherited her love of literature, the classics, and her knowledge of high Anglican procedure. One of her father’s parishes had been at Wisbech and it was there she came to love the fens, with their loneliness, beauty and latent terror, which made such a marvellous setting for
The Nine Tailors
. She was a Gilchrist scholar of Somerville College, Oxford, that nursery of learned ladies, from 1912 to 1915, where she gained Honours in Modern Languages. At that time, although women were able to study for the courses and pass them with honours, the University of Oxford refused to confer degrees on the so-called ‘weaker sex’, so she had to wait until 1920 before receiving her M.A. She was not rich, and going to Oxford even with scholarships had cost money, so it was imperative that she should earn her own living. Like so many educated women of her time, she found very little open to her. Science or medicine would have taken further years of study and, anyway, her gifts did not seem to lie in these directions. The law always fascinated her, but here again, the cost and lack of influence blocked any road to the King’s Bench. The obvious career was school teaching which she tried for a year at Hull Grammar School but she found teaching not only soulless but extremely ill-paid. Like so many women of high intelligence she never found it easy to cope with the less mentally well-endowed, into which category all children fall. She has been called a snob, and it is evident that intellectually she was, although it is possible she was quite unaware of it. She returned to Oxford for a time and tried publishing but, as her employer said ‘she was merry, talkative and argumentative, clearly not designed by nature for the routine work of a publisher’s office’. This same publisher brought out her first two works, slim volumes of verse entitled
OP I
and
Catholic Tales
. There are glimpses of her at Oxford at this time. She always had strange fancies as to dress – as do the female characters in her books – and a fellow writer, Doreen Wallace, remembers drawing for her a large Tudor rose in red material for Miss Sayers to applique to her home-made black dress. Miss Wallace also recollects an embarrassing walk with her down the High, which Miss Sayers took in great loping strides rendering, meanwhile, Bach in loud and not particularly melodious voice to the astonishment of the townsmen.

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