Monday, December 31, 2012

Dorothy Sayers and the Downton Abbey milieu

Daedalus Books will host a Downton Abbey extravaganza on its web pages during the next few months in honor of its third season and its immense popularity on both sides of the Atlantic. (Apparently, series creator Julian Fellowes—who also wrote the "upstairs/downstairs" film Gosford Park—is working on another historical drama, set in monied New York). Our myriad Downton pages will include themed collections of pertinent books and DVDs, quizzes, dialogues with authors, and much more. These pages will inaugurate the "Daedalus Books Forum," which will provide new groupings every few months and a chance for our discerning readers to chat with us and with various writers. It will be going up any day now, so stay tuned!
In a piece on 2012's best mysteries, NPR's Maureen Corrigan had this to say about the superb novels of Dorothy Sayers: "The Downton Abbey craze may have had something to do with HarperCollins' decision to help launch its new paperback mystery imprint, Bourbon Street Books, with reprints of four classic Dorothy Sayers novels featuring Lord Peter Wimsey and his sleuthing inamorata, Harriet Vane. The four titles are, in order of publication, Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night and Busman's Honeymoon. Though the Wimsey-Vane mysteries are set in the Great Britain of the 1930s, their arch dialogue and refined atmosphere link them to the older world of the Crawleys and their servants. All of Sayers' Golden Age tales featuring Wimsey and Vane are standouts, marked as they are by a distinctive atmosphere of restrained erotic yearning. But the masterpiece of this quartet — and of Sayers' career — is Gaudy Night. That story focuses primarily on Harriet (a fallen woman, gasp!), who returns to her class reunion at Oxford's 'Shrewsbury College,' which is based on Sayers' own alma mater of Somerville College. Almost as soon as she steps onto the Gothic grounds of the campus, Harriet becomes enmeshed in a case involving vicious pranks aimed at the faculty and students of the all-women's institution. I once met a woman who had read Gaudy Night upward of 50 times; I well understand that obsession. Beyond its haunting atmosphere and utopian fantasies about the academic life, Gaudy Night delves deep into the mystery of women's place in society, a puzzle that bedevils many readers to this day."
And in a feature on the personalities of Oxford, the BBC profiled Sayers as follows: "The image of Dorothy L. Sayers, the creator of Lord Peter Wimsey, the great fictional detective of the 1920s and 30s, is of a moonfaced, heavily built, bespectacled elderly woman in mannish clothes. Yet she first caused a stir as a tall thin girl, nicknamed Swanny on account of her long and slender neck. The slightly gawky, enthusiastic young woman had a passion for language. She also had a zest for friendship, laughter and men. She would in later life become famous for her advertising slogans ('My Goodness, my Guinness'), for her theatre and radio plays, her religious writings, her translation of Dante's Divine Comedy, and her letters. Her friend C.S. Lewis, author of the Narnia series of books, maintained that she was one of the great letter-writers of the 20th century.... She wore dramatic clothes and eye-catching earrings, and was to be seen striding down the High, smoking a cigar, with her cloak flowing out behind her."

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