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review 2020-05-16 20:07
Love All, aka Cat's Cradle: Sayers Does Drawing Room Comedy
Love All and Busman's Honeymoon: Two Plays by Dorothy L. Sayers - Dorothy L. Sayers,Alzina Stone Dale

When I bought this joint edition of Busman’s Honeymoon and Love All, the obvious pièce de résistance, for me, and the reason why I spent some time hunting down an affordable copy at all, was the stage version of Busman’s Honeymoon – the final full-length outing of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane (later transformed into a novel of the same name) and just about the last published bit from Dorothy L. Sayers’s own pen still lacking in my collection, at least as far as Lord Peter and Harriet are concerned. Love All, in comparison, looked like an also-ran – interesting, certainly, but surely no dice on the star turn of Sayers’s recently-married supersleuths?

 

Oh, ye of little faith.

 

Ostensibly, Love All (which Sayers co-wrote with her Somerville College friend Marjorie Barber, and which in an unpublished manuscript version bears the alternative title Cat’s Cradle) is a drawing room comedy, set first in Venice and later in London – but Sayers wouldn’t be Sayers if a drawing room comedy was all she had given us here. In fact, this is the theatrical expression of the thoughts also expressed in the two addresses jointly reproduced under the title Are Women Human? – that it is women’s given right as human beings to live a fully realized life, which most definitely includes the right to choose their own professional path, and the freedom not to have to place a man’s needs and demands over their own (as, however, so many of her female contemporaries had to do).

 

The play was never published in printing during Sayers’s lifetime and only had a limited stage exposure outside of London (and none at all in London itself); possibly as a result of clashing – as Sayers herself put it – on its opening night “with Mr. Hitler’s gala performance in Norway and Denmark” (i.e., the Nazis’ 1940 invasion of Norway). Another reason may have been the strictures imposed by Sayers’s son Anthony Fleming, who – jealously protective of his mother’s standing as a writer – even in this 1980s’ “resurrection” prohibited any editorial reference to Sayers’s private life or to himself, even though the play features a young boy brought up by relatives in the country while his mother is pursuing a literary career in London. And according to the play itself, he definitely had a point; the boy's mother, a successful dramatist, is observed rebutting a journalist (on the phone): “Oh, no, Mr. Mackenzie – Not the personal angle, please. No, really, what has one’s private life to do with one’s work? Well, I daresay that is the question, but I don’t want to discuss it.”

 

Whatever the reasons for the play’s having been allowed to slip into oblivion, it is a pity that this should have happened, as Love All compares favorably with other plays in a similar vein that actually have survived until today. – As the alternative title suggests, to even try and sum up the plot would be giving away major plot points, so I’m just going to end with a few of my favorite quotes: 

   “LYDIA: I thought it would be nice to marry Godfrey […] his books were so thrilling. They made me go all soppy, only he isn’t really a bit like his books.

   JANET: Authors never are. They write themselves out into their books, and the real person is just the odds-and-ends left over.”

 

   “LYDIA: And after dinner he’d read me what he’d done.

   JANET: Just so. And ask for your opinion and advice.

   […]

   LYDIA: Sometimes I tried disagreeing with something for a change.

   JANET: How did that work?

   LYDIA: Then he explained why he was right. I found that took rather too long.

   JANET: It does, rather. Has he done much scrapping and rewriting?

   LYDIA: He’s always scrapping and rewriting bits. Except the bits I disagreed with. He always kept those.”

 

   “LYDIA: Every great man has had a woman behind him.

   JANET: And every great woman has had some man or other in front of her, tripping her up.”

 

   “LYDIA: Is the next book going to be about a devoted woman who sacrificed her career for her lover?

   JANET: No, darling; that was the one he wrote just before he met you.”

 

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review 2020-05-16 20:06
Busman's Honeymoon: A Lethal Play, or, Sayers's Last Word on Peter and Harriet
Love All and Busman's Honeymoon: Two Plays by Dorothy L. Sayers - Dorothy L. Sayers,Alzina Stone Dale

   “PETER (frowns): You know, Harriet, this is one of those exasperatingly simple cases. I mean, it’s not like those ones where the great financier is stabbed in the library –

   HARRIET: I know! And thousands of people stampede in and out of the French window all night, armed with motives and sharp instruments –

   PETER: And the corpse turns out to be his own twin bother returned from the Fiji Islands and disguised as himself. That sort of thing is comparatively easy. But here’s a dead man in a locked house and a perfectly plain suspect, with means, motive, and opportunity, and all the evidence pat – with the trifling exception of the proof.”

Lord Peter Wimsey’s final full-length murder investigation first saw the light of day as a play – like the subsequent novel, titled Busman’s Honeymoon – co-written with Dorothy L. Sayers’s friend from her Somerville College, Muriel St. Clare Byrne. Although it enjoyed a successful run after its November 1936 Birmingham and December London 1936 premieres, the play’s success was transferred entirely onto the novel of the same name published the following year, and the playscript was never reprinted after its initial 1937 Gollancz first edition. It took another half century, the acquisition of the original manuscript and a wealth of associated papers by the Marion E. Wade Collection at Kent State University’s Wheaton College, and the express (and narrowly limited) consent by Sayers’s son Anthony Fleming for the play to be republished, along with the drawing room comedy Love All (in manuscript, alternatively titled Cat’s Cradle), which Sayers wrote together with another Somerville College friend, Marjorie Barber.

 

In the novel Busman’s Honeymoon, Sayers elaborates on the plot and the themes addressed in the play, but she remains faithful to the stage version in every respect, entire lines of dialogue are taken from there, and the play of course distills down the basic structure of the action, merging the demands of dramatic sequencing and those of a detective story scrupulously based on the fair play rule according to which, in the authors’ words, “every clue must be shown at the same time to the public and to the detective”. The detective is not to have any secret knowledge or other advantage over the audience (nor vice versa), and comparing their play’s structure to that of “a Three-part Fugue, moving contrapuntually to an ordered resolution”, the playwrights continue to explain in the authors’ note:

“It was necessary to invent a technique to express this formula, since the novelist’s approach by argument and explanation is clearly unsuited to the stage. For the First Act, in which most of the major clues are introduced, the method chosen is that of visual presentation. The clues as to Means are displayed, silently but conspicuously, down-stage, while at the same time the animated discussion of trivialities up-stage holds the ear and divides the attention of the audience. The producer’s task is thus to play, as it were, two independent tunes concurrently, concentrating upon inessentials in order to disguise, without concealing, the essentials of the plot-structure.

 

In the Second Act, the method, while still contrapuntal, is slightly varied. While the inquiry is ostensibly directed to Motive, the information actually conveyed to the audience chiefly concerns Opportunity, or the lack of it. Here, Superintendent Kirk’s unwavering canto fermo is contrasted with the freely moving descant played by Peter, who hovers continually above the action, sometimes in concord and sometimes in passing discord with the set theme. The producer may note the visual symbolism, whereby Kirk remains throughout firmly planted in his chair, while Peter wanders about the stage, darting in upon the problem from all angles.

 

In Act III, Scene 1, which for the purposes of the plot establishes Motive, the attention is held by yet another theme. This, introduced in the First Act and kept moving by occasional passages in Act II, here emerges into prominence. The human and emotional aspects of the situation, as it affects the private lives of the characters concerned, become the main source of interest. An effort is here made to do for the detective play what has already been achieved for the detective novel – that is, to combine it with the comedy of manners, and so bring it back into the main line of English dramatic tradition. In this scene, the masks are dropped all round: [along farcical-comedy and tragi-comedy lines by others and] along romantic-comedy lines by Peter and Harriet, the complete sincerity of whose emotion is the touchstone by which all the rest of the action must be tested.

 

In the final scene, both the disguised and the ostensible clues extracted from the previous scenes are presented and a fresh in a visual reconstruction to solve the problem on purely theatrical lines; and at the same time the emotional elements are brought into harmony.”

In a lengthy introduction, the book’s editor, Alzina Stone Dale, elaborates on the genesis and various birthing stages of the play, and the book’s no less than four appendices reproduce significant additional materials; including the authors’ stern warning to producers as to the truly lethal risks of the murder method employed here, coupled with several-pages-long minute instructions how Peter’s reconstruction of the crime at the end of the play should be faked, so as to avoid actually endangering anyone on stage (first and foremost the actor playing the murderer, who ends up caught in and unmasked by his own trap in the reconstruction).

 

Another appendix reproduces Sayers’s handwritten notes on the major characters:

“PETER will be 45 next birthday; & though his small bones, whippy figure & fair colouring give him a deceptive appearance of youth, his face, in its rare moments of repose is beginning to show the marks set there by time & experience. At first sight one would say that the lines of brow & chin ran back rather alarmingly; but this, too, is largely an illusion, due to the dominance of the high, beaked nose which is, one feels, a tradition handed down from the Norman Conquest or thereabouts & somewhat exaggerated in the transmission. The steadiness of the grey eyes & long, humorous mouth is reassuring, & there is certainly no lack of physical health or vitality; yet the acuteness of the facial angle, the silvery pallor of hair & skin, the slight droop of the eyelids, the sensitive and restless hands, & above all a certain nervous tautness of gesture & carriage – these signs perhaps convey a warning that the family blood will not stand very much more this kind of thing, & that in marrying a commoner he has shown no more than a proper consideration for posterity. His social poise is inborn; but his emotional balance appears to be rather a matter of discipline applied partly from within & partly by training and circumstance; his outbursts of inconsequent gaiety are the compensation for the exercise of a rigid control in other directions. A natural sweetness of disposition, allied to a freakish sense of humour & assisted by a highly-civilized upbringing, makes him easy enough to get on with, but to get within his guard is difficult. The light, high, over-bred voice is his own; but the drawl, like the monocle, is part of the comedian’s make-up which he can & does put off when he is in earnest. […] Nor does he hold any surprises for Bunter, who has known him from his teeth to his toe-nails for twenty years. How far Bunter has it in him to surprise Peter is a matter for infinite conjecture.

 

[…]

 

HARRIET is 30 years old, tall, strongly-made & vigorous in speech, movement & colouring. She has dark hair & eyes & a skin like honey; her face has more character than beauty, but the older she grows the handsomer she will become. […] Past unhappiness has matured but not tamed her; she has not learnt, & never will learn, self-discipline as Peter has learnt it. What she has got & what he loves her for, is an immense intellectual sincerity. She will commit endless errors of judgment & hold to them in the face of any emotional attack; but if her reason can be persuaded, she will admit the error freely & without rancor. It is evident that she will never be happy unless her passions & her reason can march side by side; & she is lucky to have found a man honest and unselfish enough to refrain from using her heart as a weapon against her conscience. Indeed, in this respect he is the more vulnerable, & it is her honesty that will prevent him from turning the same weapon against himself. The fact that they both have the same educational background is probably a considerable factor in the establishment of a common understanding; & though you might think that they are the last people who should ever have married one another, Oxford will in the end be justified of her children.”

 The 1980s' version of Harriet and Peter: Harriet Walter and Edward Petherbridge -- in the small screen adaptation of Gaudy Night

   HARRIET: Oh, my dear: What is happening to us? What has become of our peace?

   PETER: Broken! That’s what violence does. Once it starts, it catches us all – sooner or later.

   HARRIET: Is there no escape?

   PETER: Only by running away … (Pause) … Perhaps it might be better for us to run. If I finish this job, someone is going to hang. I have no right to drag you into this mess … Oh, my dear, don’t upset yourself so. (He goes up to her.) If you say the word, we will go right away. We’ll leave the whole damnable business ... and never meddle again.

   HARRIET: Do you really mean that?

   PETER: Of course I mean it. I have said so. (His tone is that of a beaten man. He crosses and sits on arm of chair by table L.)

   HARRIET: Peter, you are mad. Never dare to suggest such a thing. Whatever marriage is, it isn’t that.

   PETER: Isn’t what, Harriet?

   HARRIET: Letting your affection corrupt your judgment. What kind of life could we have if I knew that you had become less than yourself by marrying me?

   PETER: My dear girl, most women would consider it a triumph.

   HARRIET: I know. (Gets up and comes down-stage.) I’ve heard them. ‘My husband would do anything for me.’ … It’s degrading. No human being ought to have such power over another.

   PETER: It’s a very real power, Harriet.

   HARRIET (decidedly): Then we won’t use it. If we disagree, we’ll fight it out like gentlemen. But we won’t stand for matrimonial blackmail.”

Busman’s Honeymoon, Act III, Scene 1

I just love that dialogue (which is contained both in the play and in the novel). It’s what epitomizes Peter and Harriet to me – and it just might explain, too, why Sayers didn’t finish a single further novel featuring them but, rather, only gave us glimpses at their married life in a couple of short stories. Because really, what else is there left to be said after this?

 

 

Dennis Arundell and Veronica Turleigh, who played Peter and Harriet in the 1936-1937 theatrical run of Busman’s Honeymoon (images from IMDb)

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review 2020-05-03 16:43
Dickon
The Daughter of Time - Josephine Tey,Derek Jacobi
The Daughter Of Time - Josephine Tey
Dickon - Gordon Daviot,Josephine Tey Dickon - Gordon Daviot,Josephine Tey

This weekend's "let's-forget-the-pandemic" buddy read wasn't the first time I read Josephine Tey's setting-the-record-straight-about-Richard III novel, The Daughter of Time, but it was the first time that I did so by reading it together with her play on the same subject (written under the name Gordon Daviot), Dickon, and that combined reading changed my perspective on the novel yet again: not significantly, but in what I see as Tey's impetus in writing it.

 

To begin with, maybe I should call Dickon "her other play" on the subject, as I think Sorry kids, no feet nailed it when she said in a comment on one of Tannat's status updates that The Daughter of Time "read(s) like a play without actually being a play".  It actually is a play, with only one stage setting -- Grant's hotel room --, deliberately confining him (who becomes the audience's voice and brain) to that setting, depriving him of any and all other, and perhaps more conventional forms of entertainment right in the first chapter -- not without a few wry sidelines on the state of the literary art and industry of the day --, and thus neatly focusing his, and hence the reader's, attention on that one single thing remaining and apt enough to tease his brain: an investigation into an unsolved mystery of the past.  And of course, that hoary old chestnut, the fate of "the Princes in the Tower", will never do -- the investigation soon takes a completely different direction when Grant decides (very much like Ms. Tey herself, obviously) that Richard III's face and his reputation simply don't synch, and just how his name ended up on the list of history's greatest villains must thus urgently be looked into (and set right).

 

Dubious, overrated, and dated starting point ("face reading") aside, the real importance of Tey's book lies, of course, in the profound shattering of the reputation that Richard III had had until then, ever since he lost his life at Bosworth and the Tudors had the control of what history would eventually make of the reign of the last York Plantagenet king.  There had been previous attempts to set the record straight both in the 18th and the 19th century, but it arguably took Tey's deliberate choice of presenting the issue in the guise of a (well-researched) mass-marketed novel, in tandem with a stage play, to bring so much public attention to the matter that even well-known historic scholars could no longer ignore it -- and the debate has been alive and well ever since.  (Even the presentation at the Bosworth visitor center is now painstakingly neutral in its overall approach, though some of the exhibit's texts still clearly betray an anti-Ricardian bias.)

 

In The Daughter of Time, Tey presents the Tudors' campaign of blackening Richard III's name as only one, though a particularly grivous example of what she calls Tonypandy, for the town that was the focal point of the 1910-11 Welsh Miners' strike, and which has since become a subject of a similarly furious historic dispute: to Tey, "Tonypandy" is a summary term signifying any and all instances of falsified historic and political propaganda.  Yet, as her play Dickon shows, it's ultimately not "Tonypandy" at large that she is interested in but very much Richard III himself, in whom (and in whose features) she takes an enormous interest, reflected in Grant's comments and thoughts on his portrait in The Daughter of Time, as much as in her own passionate advocacy, both in the play and in the novel.

 

In fact, the play neatly distills the "Dickon" content of the novel down to its essentials and presents the events in question in their own, proper historical setting; refuting -- scene by scene -- Shakespeare's portrayal of the same events in his Richard III (or Tudor propaganda Exhibit A, as Tey saw it). And in one, perhaps the most endearing scene of the play, she has her Richard III do exactly what she expected of historians, and what Grant's American "woolly lamb" research assistant does in the novel: Tease out the minutiae of daily life from the records left behind; obtain your information straight from the source, instead of relying on hearsay accounts written only after the fact.  "All the stuff of Middleham is here.  All that I have missed", Richard tells his wife Anne when she wonders how he can possibly be so fascinated with their Yorkshire home's account books, even though she faithfully reports on everything that is going on while he is in London with his brother, the King.  "But you don't tell me that Betsy has been shod, that there is a new lock on the little east gate, that the dairy window was broken, that Kemp has had a boil on his neck," he answers.  "That is Middleham.  If I cannot live it, I can at least look at the picture." 

 

Some of the things that Tey considered Tudor propaganda have since been proven true; e.g., the discovery of Richard III's skeleton in that infamous Leicester parking lot has revealed that he really did have a spinal deformity and would thus have presented as a hunchback -- so the Tudors didn't need to lie about everything; they could also exploit features that their contemporaries would have been familiar with.  And other things, we will probably never know -- personally I doubt whether, even if the remains of the "Princes in the Tower" were now found, too (against all odds), centuries after their disappearance, that discovery would do much to clarify who engineered their disappearance and apparent murder (unless other instances would throw additional light on the issue at the same time).  But ultimately this is about more than the fates of Edward IV's sons; it's about truth in the historical record, about unbiased research, and about the value of primary (= direct) vs. secondary (= indirect) evidence / hearsay.

 

And whereas a reader interested in the period now may come to her (play-disguised-as-a-)novel (and her (other) play) with quite a different perspective on Richard III, his victorious rival Henry VII, and the period as such, the splash that her writing made upon its first publication can still be heard to this day.  For that in and of itself, her decision to take the issue out of the academic debate and into the realm of popular fiction can't be applauded loudly enough.

 


Bosworth: the battlefield today.

 


The Leicester parking lot where Richard III's remains were found.

 


Commemorative / explanatory plaque on a wall near the parking lot gates ...

 


... and an out-take of the above image: Richard III's skeleton



The parking lot is down a narrow alley from Leiceseter Cathedral

 


The Tomb in Leicester Cathedral



The gold-decorated chancel of Leicester Cathedral right behind the altar, where Richard's tomb is located

 


The coffin in which Richard's bones were carried into the cathedral for reburial (the cloth is hand-embroidered)

 

Tower of London: The round building center/left is the Bloody Tower, where King Edward IV's sons, today known simply as "the Princes in the Tower," are believed to have been held.

 

  
Bloody Tower: Exhibition on the disappearance of "the Princes in the Tower."

(All photos mine.)

 

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text 2020-03-03 08:26
Free Plays - Harry's Truth and End of the Rope

 

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video 2020-02-20 08:51

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