Monday, March 01, 2010


My life is an open book

Before beginning to read the Pepys Diary, I was, I vaguely recall, busy swooning over Lord Peter Wimsey. So coming full circle, I recently returned to reading Dorothy L. Sayers, and found myself wondering yet again how I can love someone who isn't even real. I mean, he's a fictional character, a flawed ideal, so very upper-crusty and bookish. Oh, wait, perhaps that explains it. I came across these words of Wimsey's, in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club:

"'Books... are like lobster-shells. We surround ourselves with 'em, and then we grow out of 'em and leave 'em behind, as evidence of our earlier stages of development.'"

I read that and thought, Oh, how lovely and how true - I have a house full of earlier stages of development, as well as stages yet to be evolved into - and made a note of the passage, and said to myself I must put that on my blog. Then with a sad pang I realized that I already have (see archive, May, 2006). Great, I'm repeating myself. Which is a worry of mine, now that I seem to have written in depth about every possible item of interest issuing forth from Planet Sarah. If anyone would like to know anything, for god's sake please ask. News here is thin on the ground. I may have to start turning to fiction myself.

But back to Sayers. Wimsey is a rare book collector and I must mention two stories in her collection Lord Peter (Harper 1972), because their plots hinge upon rare books: The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention features a Nuremberg Chronicle as a plot device, and The Learned Adventure of the Dragon's Head features an antiquarian bookseller named Mr. Ffolliott (ooh, three double consonants in one name!). The former also contains a great description of a fine library ruined by wilful neglect (p.118). And the latter has Wimsey blithely explaining to his young nephew "...that book-collecting could be a perfectly manly pursuit. Girls, he said, practically never took it up, because it meant so much learning about dates and type-faces and other technicalities which called for a masculine brain." (p.170)

This from one of the first women to receive a degree from Oxford - how she must have enjoyed writing this bit of satire. One of the great pleasures in her writing is how her characters develop from the sketchiest of caricatures in her early novels to full-fledged studies in her later ones. I could wish for more Lord Peter stories, but who am I to begrudge her abandonment of pot-boilers so she could translate The Divine Comedy instead. Rock on, sister.

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