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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 2020-03-15 13:06
Whose Body? - Notes on a Re-read
Whose Body? (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, #1) - Dorothy L. Sayers

LoL. This book was so much better on the re-read. Whose Body? was still a far cry from the quality of the rest of the series, but knowing the characters better from the other books gives this story so much more life and depth. 

 

I may have laughed out loud when Peter argued with his brother about Peter's hobby of sleuthing:

‘I do wish you’d keep out of the police courts,’ grumbled the Duke. ‘It makes it so dashed awkward for me, havin’ a brother makin’ himself conspicuous.’

‘Sorry, Gerald,’ said the other, ‘I know I’m a beastly blot on the ’scutcheon.’

‘Why can’t you marry and settle down and live quietly, doin’ something useful?’ said the Duke, unappeased.

‘Because that was a wash-out, as you perfectly well know,’ said Peter. ‘Besides,’ he added cheerfully, ‘I’m bein’ no end useful. You may come to want me your-self; you never know. When anybody comes blackmailin’ you, Gerald, or your first deserted wife turns up unexpectedly from the West Indies, you’ll realise the pull of havin’ a private detective in the family. “Delicate private business arranged with tact and discretion. Investigations undertaken. Divorce evidence a speciality. Every guarantee!” Come, now.’

‘Ass!’ said Lord Denver, throwing the newspaper violently into his armchair.

Hehe. Those of you know, will know. But this made a lot more sense on re-reading. 

I also enjoyed Peter's relationships with all of the other main characters much more because of knowing how these will develop.

 

It is such a strange first novel for a series, tho. There is a lot more of the feel of a Stevenson story to this than there is of Conan Doyle. This is changed in the later books, of course, but on the re-read I was reminded of a particular Stevenson short story (to name it would be a spoiler). 

 

Still, I really liked re-reading this, and would rate the book much higher if the onslaught of Wimsey (which is toned down in the books that follow) weren't such a distraction from the mystery and hadn't, after my first encounter with this book, made me put off reading the second for so long. 

 

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text 2020-03-14 20:16
Comfort Reading
Whose Body? (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, #1) - Dorothy L. Sayers

This is a re-read.

I did not enjoy this first Wimsey novel when I first read it. However, I loved every book that followed. Well, almost: Five Red Herrings was rubbish. 

Still, I love the Wimsey novels, and I long wanted to re-read the first one. 

 

I think now is the time to do it. 

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text 2019-11-30 14:57
24 Festive Tasks: Door 10 - Russian Mothers’ Day: Task 2
A Scandal in Bohemia (Penguin Readers (Graded Readers)) - Arthur C Conan Doyle
The Adventure of the Illustrious Client (annotated) - Arthur Conan Doyle
Wyrd Sisters - Terry Pratchett
The Lord of the Rings - J.R.R. Tolkien
The Prince and the Pauper - Mark Twain,Everett Emerson
The Horse and His Boy - C.S. Lewis,Alex Jennings
Kill the Queen - Jennifer Estep
As You Like It - William Shakespeare
Have His Carcase (Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries, #7) - Dorothy L. Sayers
The Man in the Iron Mask - David Coward,Alexandre Dumas

I frankly think most of the better-known real life stories about such "moonlightings" are unproven myths, so I'm going to keep it straight to fiction:

 

1. Arthur Conan Doyle: A Scandal in Bohemia and The Illustrious Client

Representatives of the British government and nobility ordinarily don't have a problem showing up in Holmes's rooms in their own person, but when it comes to royalty, things are different: The King of Bohemia initially shows up pretending to be a certain Count Von Kramm (OK, still nobility, but from a hereditary king's perspective, almost as lowly as a commoner); and while we never actually learn the identity of the "illustrious client" sending an emissary to Holmes in the other story, Watson implies at the end that the client in question was none other than King Edward VII.

 

2. Terry Pratchett: Wyrd Sisters

A switcheroo turning a prince into an actor and, eventually, the Duke's fool into the new ruler.  Also one of the funniest books in the entire Discworld series (and a brilliant spoof on Shakespeare's Macbeth and Hamlet).

 

3. J.R.R. Tolkien: The Lord of the Rings

Aragorn, rightful heir to the throne of Gondor, bides his time as a ranger for the better part of the trilogy.

 

4. Mark Twain: The Prince and the Pauper

Henry VIII's son, Prince Edward VI, and a young boy named Tom Canty switch places for a while, and the experience of being exposed to Tom's miserable life and the brutality of his alcoholic father has (as Twain would have it) a salutary effect on Edward's understanding of class issues and sense of justice, once he is crowned king.

 

5. C.S. Lewis: The Horse and His Boy

The titular "Boy" is Shasta, who has grown up as a fisherman's son, but after escaping from his ruffian adoptive father and numerous subsequent adventures is eventually revealed as the son and heir to the king of one of Narnia's neighboring countries.

 

6. Jennifer Estep: Kill the Queen

Evil princess massacres her mother (the queen) and her entire court; thus her "poor cousin" (who is actually next in line for the throne) hides with a band of gladiators, learns to fight, and eventually faces down the evil princess to take her throne for herself.

 

7. William Shakespeare: As You Like It, Pericles, The Winter's Tale, and Cymbeline

In As You Like It, Rosalind, the exiled daughter of the regining duke (Duke Senior) masquerades as a page for the better part of the play.

In Pericles, the titular Prince of Tyre's daughter Marina is kidnapped and sold to the owners of a brothel (where she manages to keep her virginity by lecturing the customers on their sinful ways ... sigh.  Really, Will?)

In The Winter's Tale, the Sicilian royal couple's daughter Perdita is raised by a shepherd who has found her bundled up as a baby after she had been abducted from the palace.

In Cymbeline, the eponymous king's daughter Imogen also disguises as a page at one point.

 

Honorary mentions:

1. Dorothy L. Sayers: Have His Carcase

A commoner is bamboozled into falsely believing himself a member of the House of Romanov.

2. Alexandre Dumas: The Man in the Iron Mask; and Anthony Hope: The Prisoner of Zenda

The rightful heir to the throne is kidnapped and replaced by a doppelgänger (but the kidnapped royal is not passed off as a commoner).

3. Roman Holiday (movie)

I'm not much into romance, but Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck are such a treat they just have to make an appearance on this list.

 

(Task: Towards the end of the 17th century, there was a Russian apprentice carpenter and shipwright going by the name Peter Mikhailov in the Dutch town of Zaandam (and later in Amsterdam), who eventually turned out to be none other than Tsar Peter the Great, whose great interest in the craft would become pivotal to his programs for the build-up of the Russian navy and naval commerce.

So: Tell us about a favorite book, either nonfiction history (demonstrably true facts, please, no conspiracy theories or unproven conjecture) or fictionall genres, not limited to historical fiction –, dealing with a member of royalty “moonlighting” as a commoner.)

 

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text 2019-10-13 22:50
Reading progress update: I've read 398 out of 398 pages.
Busman's Honeymoon (Lord Peter Wimsey, #13) - Dorothy L. Sayers

What can I say?

I loved the book.

And I loved finishing this year's Halloween Bingo reads on such a high note. 

 

 

And now I shall go wallow in the inevitable book & series hangover...

 

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