” I think he found it early this morning, but, of course, he didn’t think of telling the Throgmortons just at first. She came up to me just before lunch so tiresome, I had to ask her to stay. Fortunately, I was alone. I don’t mind being bored myself, but I hate having my guests bored .” (Sayers, 12).
Sayers, Dorothy L. Whose Body? Harper and Brothers, 1923
I found this entire opening conversation to be somewhat odd and intriguing. His questions and interest in the case almost make the reader suspicious of him. I think Sayers’s form in this novel is interesting, as she slowly introduces the main conflict with a conversation between two people who are not entirely close to the victim.
“A telephone-bell rang in darkness. When it had rung three times bed-springs creaked, fingers fumbled on wood, something small and hard thudded on a carpeted floor, the springs creaked again, and a man’s voice said…” (11).
Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon. Vintage Books, 1992, pg. 11.
Hammett’s style of writing has formulated quite the page-turner. There is constantly new information being revealed and retracted, and the storyline is anything but linear. Most notably, though, it reads as if it were written to be made into a film. The quoted passage reads like stage directions in a play, and it is easy for the reader to step into the detective’s shoes to become invested in this saga.
“here’s a man wears expensive gold-rimmed pince-nez and has had them long enough to be mended twice. Yet his teeth are not merely discoloured, but badly decayed […] carefully got-up gentleman, with manicured, though masticated, finger-nails, has filthy black toe-nails which look as if they hadn’t been cut for years” (Sayers 39-41).
I think this quote definitely mirrors the juxtaposition of class, in the sense of representing a man who is both put together and most likely wealthy, while his unkempt appearance could also be interpreted as lower-class. At the same time, this interpretation of the man could be viewed as someone middle class – a lower class person attempting to appear wealthy. This blend of classes, and their relation to cleanliness, definitely open the door for how the body of the man could be interpreted later in the novel.
“Bunter, if I sacked you here and now, would you tell me what you think of me?”
“No, my lord.”
“You’d have a perfect right to, my Bunter, and if I sacked you on top of drinking the kind of coffee you make, I’d deserve everything you could say of me. You’re a demon for coffee, Bunter–I don’t want to know how you do it, because I believe it to be witchcraft, and I don’t want to burn eternally. You can buy your cross-eyed lens.”
“Thank you, my lord.”
Sayers, Dorothy L. Whose Body. Available from: Yuzu, Simon & Schuster, 2015.
(my text is online and for some reason doesn’t have page numbers, but this occurs at the beginning of chapter II)
I chose this passage because I believe it highlights to conflict between different social classes, Peter as a Lord and Bunter as a manservant/butler. Bunter really kisses his ass in this part, basically saying that if he was unjustly fired, he would leave peacefully without saying what he truly thinks of Peter. This is completely separate from the murder mystery, showing the social contradiction of different social classes.
“Stop fiddling about in there, and get yourself the proper things to drink and join the merry throng.”
Sayers, Dorothy L. Whose Body? Dover Publications, 2009 (pg. 17)
It’s interesting to me that the characters early on loosely play their social parts, but I think it’s the most interesting with Bunter and Wimsey.
“I used to know her quite well, you know, dear, down in Hampshire, when she was a girl. Christine Ford, she was then ,and I remember so well the dreadful trouble there was about her marrying a Jew . That was before he made his money, of course, in that oil business out in America. The family wanted her to marry Julian Freke, who did so well afterwards and was connected with the family, but she fell in love with this Mr. Levy and eloped with him . He was very handsome, then, you know , dear, in a foreign–looking way, but he hadn‘t any means, and the Fords didn‘t like his religion. Of course we‘re all Jews nowadays, and they wouldn‘t have minded so much if he‘d pretended to be something else.”
Sayers, Dorothy L. Whose Body? Harper and Brothers, 1923 (pg. 56)
I picked this passage because throughout the story it is mentioned and related multiple times that the deadman and Levy are both of Jewish heritage and now this is passage shows social contradiction by having Lord Peters mother show clear anti semitic thoughts. The author is making it clear that the reason of the murder was being Jewish and not pretending to be someone else which is what the duchess wanted Levy to do creating a huge social contradiction for the 1920’s timeframe.
“‘You policemen are all alike – only one idea in your skulls. Blest if I can make out why you’re ever appointed…Here, sit down, man, and don’t be an ass, stumpin’ around the room like that. Worse things happen in war. This is only a blinkin’ old shillin’ shocker.'”
Sayers, Dorothy. Whose Body? (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 2009), 20.
Detective stories frequently portray the established governmental order (police authority) as unqualified to solve real mysteries (to uphold social order), pointing to a larger distrust of formal institutions. Instead, the job requires an outsider (or an insider, an aristocrat?) like Lord Peter, who operates outside of the law and relies, to some extent, on his own personal wealth and connections – both upholding socioeconomic forms of authority that suggest the natural superiority of the aristocrat while also challenging institutional norms.
“He was very handsome, then, you know, dear, in a foreign-looking way, but he hadn’t any means, and the Fords didn’t like his religion. Of course we’re all Jews nowadays, and they wouldn’t have minded so much if he’d pretended to be something else…”
Sayers, Dorothy L. Whose Body? Dover Publications, 2009 (pg. 27)
This passage is being told by the Duchess, Lord Peter’s mother. At this point, the topic of Levy’s being Jewish and the dead man in the bathtub being Hebrew is brought up many times, and most often with some ethnic and religious prejudice attached to it. This is evident here, when the Duchess talks about the Ford family being unaccepting of Levy because of the conflict of his religion and ethnicity not matching theirs, and would have preferred it if he had just pretended to be something else entirely. This will likely also be a factor in who the dead man is and why he was killed. By doing this, Sayers talks about a larger social contradiction in the time period of the 1920s and crafts it into the story of a murder mystery.
“By dealing with the unsleeping sentinels who guard the outposts of society, it tends to remind us that we live in an armed camp, making war with a chaotic world, and that the criminals, the children of chaos, are nothing but the traitors within our gates” (Chesterton 122).
G.K. Chesterton refers to criminals as “outposts of society,” parallel to outliers, and police as “unsleeping sentinels;” they are soldiers who do not sleep but only guard. He says this serves as a reminder that we reside in a world of turmoil and violence. He refers to criminals as “children of chaos” and “traitors” since they choose violence and betray society by causing disruption. They are, within themselves, contradictions to society and oppositions to limitations and laws. I thought the phrase “traitors within our gates” was interesting because I thought of the gates as a utopia, in a sense.
“Christine Ford, she was then, and I remember so well the dreadful trouble there was about her marrying a Jew. That was before he made his money, of course, in that oil business out in America” (Sayers 27).
Sayers, Dorothy L. Whose Body? Dover Publications, 2009.
There is a lot of attention to being Jewish, as evidenced through this quote, and also the term “Semite” was used before. Here, the Duchess highlights the discrimination and negative attitude towards Sir Reuben just because he is Jewish. Even the Duchess shows some pre-conceptions and prejudice, indicating a broader social issue of anti-Semitism in the 1920s. I wonder if Sir Reuben’s religion played a role in the motive of the person responsible for his disappearance.
” Christine Ford, she was then, and I remember so well the dreadful trouble there was about her marrying a Jew…He was very handsome, then, you know, dear, in a foreign-looking way, but he hadn’t any means, and the Fords didn’t like his religion.” (Sayers 56)
Dorothy L. Sayers, Whose Body?, Harper & Brothers, 1923, 56.
Sayers’s description of the start of Christine and Rueben Levy’s relationship goes beyond the murder mystery and points to the larger social contradiction of inter-ethnic conflict. The Duchess clearly indicates that the Fords did not like Rueben because of his ethnicity, economic status, and religion. However, Christine’s decision creates a social contradiction as it does not follow societal expectations of marrying someone from one’s own culture. Thus, Sayers creates a picture of the conflict between two cultures within a murder mystery.
“The trouble in this matter is that many people do not realize that there is such a thing as a good detective story; it is to them like speaking of a good devil.”
Chesterton, G. K. (Gilbert Keith), 1874-1936. New York : Dodd, Mead ; 1902, 118
Chesterton is making the defense that detective stories are just as poetic and can be good literature, just like any Shakespearean play. This is because of the social stigma around mystery and detective stories around the time this was written. While these stories may shine a light on the darkest, most immoral aspects of society, they still can be great works of art and, in doing so, can accomplish more than some historically great literature.
“And I just wish your precious Lafe had come for it himself thats what I wish. I don’t know I’d have a little respect for him then. And you can go back and tell him I said so if he ain’t halfway to Texas by now which I don’t doubt.” (Faulkner 179)
This is a prime example of how women in this novel and during this time period have very little control over their own lives if they aren’t married or spoken for by a man. Even when Dewey Dell takes matters into her own hands to get an abortion she is still denied because at the end of the day society believed she shouldn’t be able to make that decision. It also shows how women will never be able to escape the consequences of pregnancy but men easily can and the hypocrisy of an abortion being a mans decision.
“‘Send her to the courthouse,’ I says. ‘Tell her all the doctors have gone to Memphis to a Barbers’ Convention.'”
William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying. Vintage International. New York. (1990) 242.
Nearing the end of the novel, Dewey Dell is looking for an abortion treatment, yet the men such as MacGowan tries to prevent her from getting a doctor as she is a ‘country woman.’
“‘A thousand dollars wouldn’t be enough in my store and ten cents wouldn’t be enough’, I said. ‘You take my advice and go home and tell your pa or your brothers if you have any or the first man you come to in the road.'” (Faulkner, 202).
It’s clear that Dewey is facing inequality as she is not allowed to go to a pharmacy and get a drug that will terminate her pregnancy. This inequality that Dewey is facing could change the future of her life, and it should be up to her whether or not she wants to keep this baby, not Moseley.
“Jewel always doing something that made him some money or got him talked about, and that near-naked girl always standing over Addie with a fan so that every time a body tried to talk to her and cheer her up, would answer for her right quick, like she was trying to keep anybody from coming near her at all.” (Faulkner, PDF version, pg. 16)
Throughout Faulkner’s novel, we see the gender inequality relationship between men and women. Specifically, on the roles, women play in society of being a mother or being wed. In this passage alone, we see that the women serve as “eye candy” for the men surrounding them. But we also see a bit of feminism because, during this time (the 1930s), women were staying single and actively advocating for women’s rights.
“I gave Anse the children. I did not ask for them. I did not even ask him for what he could have given me: not-Anse. That was my duty to him to not ask that, and that duty I fulfilled.”
William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying (174)
As a woman Addie did not have a choice to marry. She had children because that’s what was expected of her as a wife and according to old traditions her children belonged to her husband.
“It’s just a loan. God knows, I hate for my blooden children to reproach me. But I give them what was mine without stint. Cheerful I give them, without stint. And now they deny me. Addie. It was lucky for you you died, Addie.” “Pa. Pa.” “God knows it is.” He took the money and went out.
Faulkner, William. As I Lay Dying: The Corrected Text. Reissue, Vintage, 1991. 256-257
Anse, being the patriarch of the Bundren family, feels entitled to Dewey Dell’s ten dollars. Him being deaf to the pleas and needs of his family, whilst still hammering his own needs and wants on them, offers the reader a hole to look through when trying to understand this family that is riddled with issues. Society back then normally surrendered domestic power to the patriarch in a family even when that person was unfit for the role.
“How bad do you want to do something,” I says. She looks at me. “Of course. A doctor learns all sorts of things folks don’t think he knows, ” (Faulkner 246).
As I Lay Dying, William Faulkner.
MacGowan, who is pretending to be a doctor, is taking advantage of Dewey Dell’s dire need for the medication. Because she is a pretty woman he is preying on her, which he most likely would not do if she was a man.
“My aloneness had been violated and then made whole again by the violation: time, Anse, love, what you will, outside the circle.”
William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying. Vintage International. New York. (1990)(172)
Addie has given up her agency once she began a family with Anse, and unlike Anse, she suffers internally from the isolation she feels and the role that society tells her to fill as a mother. Addie could not be left to herself on her own terms, but through her marriage and motherhood had found a forced sense of isolation; for she married because at the time that was a women’s home to live well.