Whose Body? - The First Lord Peter Wimsey Novel
Dorothy Sayers’ Whose Body? is the first Lord Peter Wimsey novel and the first of 16 detective novels published by Sayers, one of the queens of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction.
This 1923 novel introduces Lord Peter Wimsey, considered the father of the amateur “gentleman sleuth” who will appear in many British novels for decades to come.
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Podcast Transcript: Dorothy Sayers' Whose Body? (First Lord Peter Wimsey Novel)
Sarah Harrison 0:24
Welcome to Tea Tonic & Toxin, a book club and podcast for anyone who wants to explore the best mysteries and thrillers ever written. I’m your host, Sarah Harrison.
Carolyn Daughters 0:35
And I’m your host Carolyn Daughters. Pour yourself a cup of tea, a gin and tonic, …
Sarah Harrison 0:40
… but not a toxin …
Carolyn Daughters 0:44
And join us on a journey through 19th and 20th century mysteries and thrillers, every one of them a game changer.
Carolyn Daughters 0:50
Sarah, we have an amazing book we’ve been reading.
Sarah Harrison 0:59
I know. We’ve gone on so many tangents already.
Carolyn Daughters 1:03
We have all of them fascinating. I mean, we’re biased.
Sarah Harrison 1:09
Carolyn Daughters 1:11
You’re right. They are fascinating. This is our second conversation about Dorothy Sayers’ Whose Body, which is the first Lord Peter Wimsey book. We have so much to cover. But before we do that, I think we have a sponsor and a listener award.
Sarah Harrison 1:31
We have an amazing sponsor. It’s Carolyn Daughters. Carolyn runs game changing corporate brand therapy workshops, teaches an online marketing bootcamp, courses, and leads daylong, Persuasive Writing Engine workshops. Carolyn empowers startups, small businesses, enterprise organizations, and government agencies to win hearts minds, deals, and dollars. You can learn more at carolyndaughters.com. Do it. Learn some more.
Carolyn Daughters 2:09
There’s a lot of good stuff on that website.
Sarah Harrison 2:12
And we have a super special listener award. It’s Sarah Allen, from Dayton, Nevada. That’s Sarah with an H, my very favorite way to spell it.
Carolyn Daughters 2:31
Sarah Harrison 2:32
Thank you, Sarah, for being part of our book club. We are gonna reach out and try and send you a beautiful sticker and a brand new sticker package. Complete with super mysterious wax seal.
Carolyn Daughters 2:47
With an octopus on it.
Sarah Harrison 2:48
I was trying to choose a seal. What should it be? Should it be a teacup, should it be a skull and crossbones? I kept coming back to octopus.
Carolyn Daughters 3:02
I like it. So all the tentacles, right? All the directions in which our conversation goes.
Sarah Harrison 3:07
That’s good. That’s exactly why. It felt emblematic.
Carolyn Daughters 3:13
That’s exactly why, she said in retrospect. To get your own sticker, listener, it’s super easy. All you have to do is comment on our website, which is teatonicandtoxin.com. Or comment or like posts on our Facebook @teatonicandtoxin and Instagram @teatonicandtoxin.
Sarah Harrison 3:37
And if you do have a sticker or you get a sticker in the future, take a picture of where you stuck it. And then tag us. Put a hashtag on it #teatonicandtoxin, and you may win a future special edition sticker.
Carolyn Daughters 3:56
If you do that, you’ll probably get one.
Sarah Harrison 3:58
Yeah. I mean, if 1,000 people do it, I’ll just choose a winner to get. Do it Get another sticker. We want to make some limited edition ones with all of this amazing book art.
Carolyn Daughters 4:16
It’s a beautiful sticker. The one we have now is already beautiful. We’ll eventually have some other very cool ones.
Sarah Harrison 4:26
We’ll make sticker packs for a year of reading. So many sticker plans.
Carolyn Daughters 4:33
Your cooler will never look the same.
Sarah Harrison 4:35
That’s where I’ve got mine. Or your water bottle, or wherever you like to put your stickers.
Carolyn Daughters 4:42
I’m going to tell us a little bit about this book, Whose Body? Dorothy Sayers’ 1923 novel is the first Lord Peter Wimsey book. Wimsey is considered the father of the Golden Age amateur gentleman sleuth. The novel is set in London, where Lord Peter Wimsey learns that a body has been found in a man’s bathtub Wimsey goes to see the corpse, and he finds a dead man wearing only a pair of expensive glasses. Meanwhile, police inspector Parker investigates the disappearance of a well-known business magnate named Ruben Levy. Parker wonders if the man in the tub could be Levy, but that theory is soon proved false.
Parker and Wimsey begin working on their separate cases and soon find a connection in Sir Julian Freke, a famous specialist in nervous disorders. Freke lives next to the hospital where he works, which is near the home where the body in the bath was found. As part of his research Freke autopsies the bodies of vagrants brought to the hospital. Wimsey and Parker learn that Levy was seen near Freke’s home the night he went missing, and Freke was also once romantically involved with Levy’s wife. Wimsey meets with some suspects, but he can’t put together the pieces of the puzzle. Then it dawns on him that Julian Freke must have killed Reuben Levy, deposited the corpse of a vagrant in a random bathtub, and then moved Levy’s body into the hospital.
In the end, the police arrest Freke, and Wimsey reads Freke’s confession outlining how he committed the murder. Today, we’re excited to talk about Dorothy Sayers’ Whose Body?, which is the first Lord Peter Wimsey book. It’s also our fifth book selection of 2023. You can find more information about Whose Body and all of our 2023 book selections on our website, teatonicandtoxin.com.
Sarah Harrison 6:32
And you should.
Carolyn Daughters 6:35
We have a lot of stuff on our website.
Sarah Harrison 6:38
Including comment-ability. If you go into a particular book and you have some thoughts, I would love for you to share your thoughts on the book, and we could share them on the podcast.
Carolyn Daughters 6:53
Surely you have ideas about the books that you want to share, and we want to hear them.
Sarah Harrison 6:59
Definitely. I liked what you’re saying earlier about why you were thinking of about Freke and Wimsey as plays on their names and their characters. Because this is the first Lord Peter Wimsey book, we don’t yet know whether Sayers does this intentionally in all her books.
Carolyn Daughters 7:13
Wimsey is a cool name. And Freke (“freak”) tells you a little bit about this guy, because he’s a little odd.
Sarah Harrison 7:25
Well, he’s murderer, for one.
Carolyn Daughters 7:28
Yes, and he also seems to have very little conscience.
Sarah Harrison 7:31
He doesn’t believe in conscience. He refers to all of these things. And this was an interesting way that Sayers brought this in. I probably should think about it a little bit more. But Bunter apparently selects reading for Wimsey, whether it’s the newspaper or this latest journal article, Bunter curates things he thinks Wimsey needs to be reading. And Bunter has left this work by Freke out a number of times, and Wimsey hasn’t been reading it. But once he does … like, Freke is discussing how things like conscience or religious feeling or all of that are really things maybe manufactured by the brain. They aren’t real. You can just remove them with surgery or something. And so it starts to give you insight, and it gives Wimsey insight into his character. Like, oh, this guy, this is the guy who mentions he can’t take professional criticism at all. Even somebody that’s touchy can usually take professional criticism, but not Freke.
Carolyn Daughters 9:02
I would argue the reader knows pretty quickly. Not long after Freke is introduced, the reader knows this guy’s probably the killer. There’s a small pool of suspects, and we barely learn anything about them. I think on some level, Wimsey has to wrap his brain around the fact that Freke is the murdered, and then he has to figure out his next steps. How do can he prove it? Why and how did Freke do it? I felt readers would be a little ahead of Wimsey on this one. It’s the first Lord Peter Wimsey book, so maybe he gets quicker as the books progress.
Sarah Harrison 9:49
Freke is like a medical rock star at the time, as they mentioned in the inquest. And he lives near where the body was found. So the police go right out and get him to look things over. And they ask him in all good faith, “Are you missing any bodies at the hospital?” And then he testifies. And the testimony is a little bit different from the other doctor, in terms of how long the body has been dead. And I think Wimsey astutely points out, look, the only way this little nobody doctor is going to disagree with the rockstar Freke is if he’s super duper sure. And the nobody doctor deferentially presents his point of view, and it’s like, oh, actually, I think he was dead longer than that.
Carolyn Daughters 10:43
It’s like when you’re good in your field, but you are not the foremost expert. If the foremost expert says something inexplicable, I think many people would hesitate to correct the expert. I would probably hesitate.
Sarah Harrison 10:59
For sure. I definitely, as a matter of principle, believe in questioning,
Carolyn Daughters 11:04
They must know something I don’t know because what they’re saying makes no logical sense. Their understanding has to be deeper and broader and way beyond what I know. It’s not possible that they’re talking crazy and that I’m recognizing their crazy talk. The deferential thing is, I think, what happens in the courtroom.
Sarah Harrison 11:31
We don’t get that as readers. We’re not like, Oh, he’s a rock star, Oh, he’s a friend of the family. Those are the biases Wimsey’s dealing with. There’s nothing preventing readers from realizing that this is the guy.
Carolyn Daughters 11:46
Sarah Harrison 11:47
Readers don’t know all about it, but we can see it seems like that guy,
Carolyn Daughters 11:52
We learn about this doctor in pieces throughout the story. We learn from Wimsey’s mother, the duchess. We see him firsthand as Wimsey has a conversation with him. We get flashback stories of his romance with the future Mrs. Levy. We hear the testimony and thoughts of other characters about how this guy is famous. I mean, if his name is in the newspaper, people recognize it, which is not always the case with scientists, right? He’s not a famous stage actor or something. But his name is known. Now, let’s talk for a minute about the duchess. You and I have differing opinions about her.
Sarah Harrison 12:54
I can definitely see how her “prattling style” annoys you. We go through this transition, you mentioned with Peter, where he starts out that way. And then you see his character arc. I think it is fair to say that the duchess doesn’t maybe have such an obvious character arc in the book. But I thought about everything. The duchess is the glue that holds this book together. The duchess is everywhere, doing everything. And it’s basically Freke blames her for Peter being able to solve the mystery. If your mother hadn’t told you about the connection, you never would have been able to solve the crime.
Carolyn Daughters 13:41
In this first Lord Peter Wimsey book, the story starts when Wimsey returns home because he’s forgotten something on the way to an auction to buy a Dante Folio. His mother calls him to tell him about a murder that was committed at an architect’s house. She’s the conduit through which he learns about the crime. And then he changes his day plans. He sends his servant, Bunter, to the auction in his stead and rearranges his day to be involved in this case.
Sarah Harrison 14:17
He alludes to the fact that his mother is how he gets a lot of cases. She pretends to disapprove while simultaneously feeding him cases she thinks that he would be good at.
Carolyn Daughters 14:28
She’s a good mother in that way. She knows that he has a passion for this work and that he’s good at it. She’s enabling it or fostering and promoting it in various ways.
Sarah Harrison 14:39
And you see her later with this American guy Milligan. Peter pumped Milligan earlier because he’s Levy’s major business rival. And even Milligan says, “Well, if this were America, I’d probably be the prime suspect.” Again, you hear the same thing in Trent’s Last Case, like, if this were America, they would have killed them. Like, wow, America had a rough reputation back then.
Carolyn Daughters 15:25
A lot of these books delineate what they are by what they aren’t. They say, “This isn’t a Sherlock Holmes story, which is very pat and easy to solve.” Or, “This isn’t an American detective story.”
Sarah Harrison 15:49
I think we as people often do such. It’s not a great habit, but sometimes it’s easy to fall into. Wimsey pumps Milligan for information and appeals to his vanity like, “Oh, my mother wants you to come speak at this totally made up event.” Milligan meets the duchess and starts alluding to it, and she is instantly on it. Now, this is the first Lord Peter Wimsey book, and we’re meeting the duchess for the first time. We learn that she’s quick on her feet. She’s immediately sees that Peter must have said something. She starts doing her own detective thing, trying to make the right move and not make a mistake or put her foot in her mouth. She tries to understand what Peter has promised on her behalf. I thought that was cute.
Carolyn Daughters 16:40
She doesn’t skip a beat. At no point does she screw up whatever groundwork he has laid.
Sarah Harrison 16:49
And Peter is all concerned when he’s hollering at Bunter. He’s like, I’ve got to get there. You have no idea what mistakes my mother’s making with Milligan.
Carolyn Daughters 16:58
He has very little trust in his mother. Because she had it down.
Sarah Harrison 17:01
She made no mistakes. I don’t know if that’s just like his characteristic. Giving people a hard time. There’s definitely always, this is the personality I play in society, and this is my real personality. Most of the characters seem to have that dualism. I wonder if this theme carries through the entire series after this first Lord Peter Wimsey book.
Carolyn Daughters 17:22
Prattling is what I had been labeling it. It annoyed me greatly. It reminded me a little bit of Mrs. Bennet in Pride and Prejudice, the airy nothingness of the language. It almost made the duchess seem daft. I wanted her to just shut up for a minute. I don’t need to know every single thought in her head. Maybe it’s related to her class, I don’t know. She’s part of the aristocracy, where she may be accustomed to sharing any thought in her head. Or maybe she was a little daffy.
Sarah Harrison 18:09
Since it was almost stylistic, since I found it so similar to Peter. When I think class, I think they must have had this style of talking, this sort of sort of seeming superficial and minutia. But then there’s nothing about her behavior that I thought she was not smart. She seemed very, very clever, savvy, and very kind. She’s the one that took in the annoying, crazy, deaf Mrs. Thipps, who had no one to help her. I love that about her. And then she’s the one who put all the pieces together for Peter. Even though it was maybe a silly monologue, it basically sets the stage for the plot of the book. Like, oh, that’s why Freke murdered Levy. That makes total sense.
Carolyn Daughters 18:09
I didn’t like at the end when the duchess is with Mrs. Levy, who now knows her husband’s dead. Mrs. Levy is crying, and the duchess says to her, “Hush, you mustn’t cry, come away. You mustn’t distress the doctors and people.”
Sarah Harrison 19:19
That was rough. I really thought about that a lot. The phrase that came to mind is sort of like internalized misogyny. Like, we mustn’t bother the men with our feelings. And it took me back to what I got annoyed with in Marian Halcombe in The Woman in White. When she would criticize women for being emotional. As if crying was a weakness. It’s rough. Why is the woman with her husband murdered considering the feelings of the doctors?
Carolyn Daughters 20:07
I also wonder though if this had to do with class. Like Jackie Kennedy is not meant to cry at the funeral of her husband kind of thing. Like, we’re of the upper class, we’re stoic. You won’t know what we’re feeling. We express our emotions behind closed doors. I wonder if readers get a chance to see the duchess in other books after this first Lord Peter Wimsey book.
Sarah Harrison 20:32
That’s interesting. I guess I would say I didn’t even know that was a feature of a class. I just going on face value as to what she said. Like it would bother the nice men and upset them while they’re doing stuff.
Carolyn Daughters 20:47
I hadn’t thought of it that way. But I think it could go either way. In my mind, it didn’t reflect very well on the duchess, at least in that moment. She had shown kind heartedness in other respects throughout the story, including to including old, deaf, Mrs. Thipps.
Including being there with Mrs. Levy. Nobody else was with Mrs. Levy. Mrs. Levy chose the duchess to go with her. I suppose I am taking stuff a little at face value. Is this a particularly cruel trait in the duchess versus something that seems to reflect something about society to me. Because this Mrs. Levy’s not horrified at it. She’s yes, okay. If you said that to me, I would be like what? Totally different expectations right now.
Wimsey evolves as a character in the story. Because this is the first Lord Peter Wimsey book, I imagine he evolves throughout the series of books. And I really responded well to his evolution. There’s this sort of Sherlock Holmes-ian idea of the game being afoot. That is so interesting to me. Parker asks Wimsey at one point about his about Wimsey is conceit in his own power of estimating character and of solving this crime and so forth. And Parker has a really interesting way of being able to be very blunt with Wimsey, and Wimsey doesn’t take it poorly. Wimsey listens to him. Parker says, “Look here, Peter, suppose you get this playing fields of Eton complex out of your system once and for all. If Sir Reuben has been murdered, is it a game, and is it fair to treat it as a game?” And Wimsey says, “That’s what I’m ashamed of, really. It is a game to me to begin with, and I go on cheerfully. And then I suddenly see that somebody is going to be hurt, and I want to get out of it.” And then Parker continues, “You want to hunt down a murderer for the sport of the thing and then shake hands with him and say, well played, hard luck. You shall have your revenge tomorrow. Well, you can’t do it like that. Life’s not a football match. You want to be a sportsman. You can’t be a sportsman. You’re a responsible person.”
I loved the way Parker felt fearless in the face of Wimsey. They do seem to different classes to me, and Parker has this ability to be extremely blunt with Wimsey, and Wimsey, he has this ability to hear what is being said, process it, and actually respond in an honest, truthful way. I thought this exchange was really interesting because for me, the stereotype of the aristocrat, is the dilettante. I play the piano, I read books, I like to travel, I hunt. However you spend your time, these are the stereotypes are in my head. Maybe they’re not yours, but I’ve read a lot of books from the 18th, 19th, and early 20th century. If you’re of this class, how do you fill your time because you don’t have a job, you don’t have things you need to do each day. Well, I spend 90 minutes each morning just getting dressed so I can then drop my card off at somebody’s house and be shown in for tea. For Parker to really address this dilettante-ish game element of what Wimsey is doing, and for Wimsey to acknowledge it for what it is.
Sarah Harrison 24:52
There’s a lot of things that that brings up, and I think the trifecta of Bunter, Wimsey, and Parker together, the way at times they’ll be deferential to one another and at times they will not. They’ll stand up to each other and their friendship. I do like that. I hope that Bunter, Wimsey, and Parker are in the books that follow this first Lord Peter Wimsey novel. I don’t know that I have exactly the same stereotype of an aristocrat. Mine’s dualistic, right? When I think back to, say, an Austen novel, and you see it in a lot of these novels, there’s two kinds. There’s the aristocrats that inherit their wealth, and they inherit the responsibility that comes along with it. And so they’re out there, building mills, and visiting the poor, and taking meals, and making sure there’s a doctor and, and that’s the responsibility that comes with it. You have to care for people in society and those depending on you. And then I think there arises also the class that doesn’t. Well, I have all this money, because God wanted me to have it, because I’m the best. And so it is actually that class that ultimately ends that class, so to speak, because people won’t have it. And they shouldn’t have it.
Carolyn Daughters 26:13
But also, you keep dividing land up, or you have primogeniture, where it’s going to one person, or maybe the land is divided up two ways, 10 ways, 30 ways. And eventually, there’s only so much wealth to go around, generationally. Eventually it starts dissipating. It’s not sustainable, where one person ages ago did something to earn all this money. And hundreds of years later, this entire growing family is still living off of that money.
Sarah Harrison 26:47
Yeah, the entire family doesn’t shave off. It just follows the primary line. But you make me think, too, about Wimsey’s collection. He collects intensely great books, great literarily and artistically great. And he reads them. I think it’s hard to immerse yourself in great books and have no capacity for self-reflection.
Carolyn Daughters 27:18
I agree with that. If you’re reading constantly, and you’re actually learning something from what you’re reading or asking questions along the way, you have to be introspective to some degree.
Sarah Harrison 27:35
And he is. He’s real. I really liked that he’s not a Sherlock. I feel like a Sherlock Holmes is so much at the intellectual problem solving level, it’s all the puzzling the puzzle to figure out, and there aren’t enough, puzzling crimes out there. They just don’t stretch him mentally. The only other one we hear about with Wimsey peripherally is that he found some emeralds. So I don’t know … would this be his first murder? Because murder is a lot different than theft, right when it comes down to catching the perpetrator. There are more consequences. This is the first Lord Peter Wimsey novel, but maybe the emerald theft story is told in a later book?
Carolyn Daughters 28:23
That emerald story might be written later as a flashback story or something. I don’t know. I was wondering the same thing.
Yeah, he mentions it when he talks to Sugg. So if murder is new for him, and the consequences are weighing more heavily and the perpetrator is not exactly a member of his class, but a friend of the family, definitely upper middle class, well-known personality. It’s right. It’s not a faceless stranger. Like, Oh, whoops, I saw this guy had dinner the other day. It does seem like his sympathies are on the wrong side a little bit. He doesn’t want to ruin Freke’s life. Forget about the fact that poor Mrs. Levy’s now a widow and her children are fatherless.
You get a little bit of this from Sherlock Holmes, too. The game is afoot kind of thing, where it’s not as critically important to bring the person to justice.
Sarah Harrison 29:30
He just wants to solve the puzzle.
Carolyn Daughters 29:35
Whereas, with Agatha Christie’s Poirot, I think we see somebody who wants to bring the criminal to justice, for example.
Sarah Harrison 29:51
And of course, Father Brown is in his own class. He wants to bring the criminal to repentance, right? Father Brown doesn’t care at all about justice.
Carolyn Daughters 29:59
He doesn’t care if criminals end up in jail or if the police come and cuff them. He’s more about saving that person’s soul. The individual motivations of these detectives are really interesting.
Sarah Harrison 30:13
I like this part with Wimsey as well.
Carolyn Daughters 30:19
And then he does this whole thing with associations that is interesting. There’s this student Piggott, who comes to Wimsey’s house. Piggott basically says it’s always so fake in books the way everybody who describes what happened before, during, and after a crime recalls every single detail. He says, It’s the thing I object to in detective stories, as if people remember every detail of their lives over the last six months. That’s not how things work. Wimsey acknowledges that’s not how things work, and Wimsey then shows us how it actually works.
Sarah Harrison 31:06
I thought he did a nice job. I want to back up a little bit because you have a perfect quote here, where Wimsey is talking at this dinner party with other aristocrats about associating ideas. And one of the women Mrs. Tommy Frayle, says, “Dear me, what a blessing it is none of my friends have any ideas at all.” I think that sets the stage where this sort of dual personality of Wimsey and his mother. You wouldn’t necessarily know by the tone of their banter that they are any different. But then they are. They’re not saying foolish little yippish things. I know this is the first Lord Peter Wimsey novel, but I wonder if Wimsey and his mother are developed in this insider/outsider way in future books.
Carolyn Daughters 31:52
She was completely daft, Mrs. Tommy Frayle.
Sarah Harrison 31:59
Then the part with Piggott where Wimsey leads him through remembering exactly what happened. I thought that was cute and clever. I actually tried it the other day with my children.
Carolyn Daughters 32:12
What did you do?
Sarah Harrison 32:13
It didn’t work. My daughter is two. She’s always carrying her special bunny. She likes to sleep with him. She’s always hiding it places or taking her shoes and hiding them in the weirdest places, like under the bathroom sink. When it’s time to go to bed, that’s when she calls her bunny. Okay, where’s your bunny? So I tried the association game. Can you remember when you had the bunny last?
Carolyn Daughters 32:53
She might be a little young for it.
Sarah Harrison 32:54
But I thought it was nicely done in the book. And, honestly, when you’re trying to remember something, you’re like, where was I? What was I looking at? What was I thinking when I misplaced this thing? I wonder if this is a skill Wimsey uses in the books that follow this first Lord Peter Wimsey novel.
Carolyn Daughters 33:12
When I was in fifth grade or so my stepmother had lost her engagement ring. She often took it off when she was washing dishes so we thought it had gone down the sink or brushed onto the floor and gone down a grate. And so fifth grade me started interviewing her. Okay, so when do you remember last having it on? Okay, now tell me what you’ve done this morning. We walked through all the things she had been doing that day. One of the things she had been doing is putting groceries away in the pantry, and she had stood on a stool to do it. And so I climbed on the same stepstool she had been on and found the ring on a high shelf in the pantry.
Sarah Harrison 33:16
Oh my goodness, detective Carolyn. CarMich Detective Agency solves their first mystery.
Carolyn Daughters 33:47
It’s possibly my only successful case.
Sarah Harrison 34:43
It’s a pretty good one.
Carolyn Daughters 34:45
I mean, it was a diamond ring.
Sarah Harrison 34:48
That’s Wimsey-level stuff.
Carolyn Daughters 34:50
That was the beginning and end of my career as a detective.
Sarah Harrison 35:10
I thought it was a cute way that Wimsey approached interviewing Piggott as like a game rather than, “So what’s Freke been up to?”
Carolyn Daughters 35:22
And I liked how Piggott seemed to start figuring out along the way how he knew much more than he thought he did.
Sarah Harrison 35:31
He was impressed with his memory and wondering why he couldn’t do this on medical exams.
Carolyn Daughters 35:37
Exactly. Piggott worked through how it had to be this day at this time because he remembered this guy making a joke. And that guy is only in the lab on this particular day. It was very Law and Order-ish, which we’re accustomed to today. But I think in 1923, when the book was published, this concept probably would not have been as common. What we’re used to in Law and Order now might have felt new when Dorothy Sayers was writing. And, yes, I wouldn’t be surprised if Wimsey’s ability to make associations is explored further in other books, not just this first Lord Peter Wimsey novel.
Sarah Harrison 36:10
Yeah, for sure.
Carolyn Daughters 36:14
I do want to talk about PTSD.
Sarah Harrison 36:18
Yeah, we should. It seemed like a new phenomenon at the time.
Carolyn Daughters 36:23
In 1923 Dorothy Sayers was writing about panic attacks and PTSD. This first Lord Peter Wimsey novel sort of blew my mind.
Sarah Harrison 36:34
People were coming home from World War I. I don’t know when the last war was before World War I that England would have been involved in, but that’s when wars kind of upleveled.
Carolyn Daughters 36:50
World War I ushered in a new modern era. I was fascinated by it. I did not expect it. You asked what shifted for me with this book, and I think this is really what did it. This is what solidified my love of this book — when I saw how deep Dorothy Sayers was going into this subject matter. She was not glossing over it, she wasn’t giving a hasty, vague idea of what a panic attack is, or what PTSD is. Instead, she was allowing this character to experience it, get control of it, feel it subside, re-experience it, feel it subside again. Wimsey actually has panic attacks. We’re seeing what it’s like to be in this foggy shaded world, where stuff is happening around you. You see hazy shapes of people, you hear voices. You’re in a room with other people, but you’re not fully present. What did you think about these scenes?
Sarah Harrison 38:19
I thought they were really interesting. You mentioned how real did it feel? I don’t know. I feel like PTSD, I hesitate to say, but it might possibly be an overused term, like everybody today has PTSD. So Nate and I were commenting the other day, like we feel like we have nanny PTSD. But what we mean when we say that is this feeling of being a little triggered, or having these emotions and expecting a negative outcome, or any number of things. Or past relationships can come back to haunt you, or maybe they are abusive ones to some extent. As far is moving into total, like flashback, potentially hallucination mode, which is what Wimsey seems to go into. I mean, I have no idea how realistic the depiction was, but I imagine it’s a very early depiction in this first Lord Peter Wimsey novel.
Carolyn Daughters 39:26
It feels early to me. I would love if anybody wants to update us or help us understand. Is this truly an early depiction? I think it is. Since I was in my twenties, I’ve had anxiety attacks. And Whose Body? felt real to me.
Sarah Harrison 39:52
Oh, that’s really interesting.
Carolyn Daughters 39:53
So now PTSD is maybe different than a panic attack. A panic attack is the way you evince an experience or a trigger that you’re having. PTSD is somebody who’s been on a battlefield comes back and they’re in a grocery store parking lot and the car backfires, and they are immediately mentally, physically, and emotionally transported back to that battlefield. But the response to that then can be the anxiety attack, where the world starts feeling foggy and hazy and strange and people around you are blurry and nothing feels real. And the way Wimsey is describing that as if apparitions are floating around him. And he’s not fully present at the gravesite or in the hospital. I felt it was real. And I did not expect it. So good job, Dorothy Sayers, in your first Lord Peter Wimsey novel. She took me by surprise if something like that is in a contemporary book and done in a way that doesn’t seem uninformed or pretentious. It’s 1923. This is 100 years ago. That’s what threw me.
Sarah Harrison 41:29
There are a lot of interesting elements. It’s not necessarily a driver of the story. But she’s just building this character. And it does allude to his character the same way when he’s at Denver. he alludes to a romance that didn’t work out. Yeah, we don’t know anything other than that. He alludes to a case about emeralds, we see that he was in a war, and he’s trying to do something useful with himself. There are all of these beginnings to threads in his character that we get here. And I wonder how fully fleshed out he was in her mind. Does Sayers knows she’s going to build on these later, or is she just trying to make an interesting character in the here and now,
Carolyn Daughters 42:21
It certainly complicates him in a way that I think makes him interesting, and, also because of the war, contemporary. Both Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers are acknowledging the elephant in the room. Okay, we’ve just gone through the Great War, so if you truly want to make a story, timeless, you don’t even reference World War I. But I think some events are monumental enough that you can reference them with a degree of safety. It seems like the war is is one of those things. And then after an anxiety or panic episode, that sort of calming down where you’re sleepy. It’s as exhausting as if you’ve gone for a very long run at the fastest pace you can. And Wimsey takes care of himself. He goes back to the Denver property.
Sarah Harrison 43:29
His mom came and got him. I loved that, too. Parker arrives, and he finds the duchess “in possession.” In her way, where she’s sort of saying silly-sounding things to us, she’s nonetheless there handling the situation. And she does.
Carolyn Daughters 43:51
And then Peter’s brother, who’s duke, tells Peter to do something useful. I found that fascinating because I thought it’s quite possible Peter Wimsey is being way more useful than his brother. But at this point we don’t know much about the brother because it’s the first Lord Peter Wimsey book.
Sarah Harrison 44:14
I don’t know. The brother’s painted as taking after the dad. And Peter’s painted as taking after his mom. I don’t know that the Lord of Denver is unuseful. For all I know, he’s got a thriving town there, and he’s doing wonderful things with his people, and he’s providing lots of jobs. I have no idea. But it certainly seems that Peter is doing something useful, but not in his brother’s perspective of utility.
Carolyn Daughters 44:48
I think we see the brother in future stories beyond this first Lord Peter Wimsey novel. If we decide to read more of these stories, I think we’re gonna see more of Bunter, we’re gonna see more Parker for sure, we’re gonna see more of Peter’s brother.
Sarah Harrison 45:06
Have you read other Wimsey stories?
Carolyn Daughters 45:10
I’ve only read Gaudy Night.
Sarah Harrison 45:13
I hope we do see more of the brother. You noted a thing here that he said that I think’s very insightful. “I do wish you’d keep out of the police court,” grumbled the duke. “It makes it so dashed awkward for me having a brother makin’ himself conspicuous.” That’s a kind of vernacular language. Maybe the duke sees him as showboating. You’re not being useful, you’re just out there getting attention and getting in the papers and getting involved in crime. Like, what in the world dude?
Carolyn Daughters 45:44
I felt it was in the same range of experiences or emotions as Mrs. Levy crying when she realizes her husband’s dead. There’s a range of acceptable behavior for someone of their class. You don’t go out solving crimes and getting involved with the police. You don’t cry publicly. There are all these rules that you don’t violate. The brother says, “Why don’t you marry and settle down and live quietly, doing something useful?” The key word I think is “quietly.” Please just be aristocratic in the background, go buy your Dante Folio and read it and get married, have some children, and live quietly.
Sarah Harrison 46:44
Well, there are quiet useful things to do, and there are public useful things to do. The brother certainly prefers the quiet ones. And it is interesting that it’s very much wrapped up in marrying and settling down. “That was a washout, as you perfectly well know,” said Peter. He makes some jab about the brother’s first deserted wife.
Carolyn Daughters 47:15
I think he might have a former wife. I wonder if the first Lord Peter Wimsey novel is setting up these plot points to be addressed in future books.
Sarah Harrison 47:16
“If your first deserted wife turns up unexpectedly from the West Indies …” Is he just ribbing his character to make him shut up and stop complaining.
Carolyn Daughters 47:30
I kept wondering if Dorothy Sayers was putting little nuggets that could become future stories.
Sarah Harrison 47:36
Yeah, there are all these references in this book alluding to this and that.
Carolyn Daughters 47:40
It’s so cryptic, and it’s so briefly addressed, that I’m wondering why include it? Maybe it’s a reference to a future story about the blackmail? Or about the emeralds?
Sarah Harrison 47:55
I don’t know. I would like to read some more. But I feel that way about every book. I’m gonna read one of these three other Father Brown books one day. I gotta get those.
Carolyn Daughters 48:06
I know. That’s the thing, right? We could spend a year just reading the Father Brown mysteries, or just Agatha Christie, or just Dorothy Sayers. We’re trying to chronologically cover all these books and hit highlights. We read the first Agatha Christie, the first Father Brown, and the first Lord Peter Wimsey novel. But as we hit highlights, there are going to be a lot of misses, too. There will be a lot of great books that we did not read as part of this podcast.
Sarah Harrison 48:34
Yeah. This is a literary survey. Hopefully, you run off on some of those tangents and tell us about them.
Carolyn Daughters 48:43
You’re inspired to read more of the Dorothy Sayers Wimsey books, for example. And watch the characters evolve from story to story.We’re reading The Nine Tailors as our last book this year.
Sarah Harrison 48:59
Go ahead and get it if you like this one. In fact, get all of them and read them between this one and The Nine Tailors. Get the full story arc.
Carolyn Daughters 49:07
I’m gonna to try to read Gaudy Night again between now and December when we read The Nine Tailors. To get a little more Wimsey.
Sarah Harrison 49:18
Gaudy Night certainly connects with his love interest.
Carolyn Daughters 49:26
Sarah Harrison 49:26
Again, there’s a name. Harriet Vane. Is the last name indicative of anything? Freke, Wimsey, Vane, and Parker. He’s a pragmatic, slow-moving guy.
Carolyn Daughters 49:40
What does that say about him?
Sarah Harrison 49:42
Parker. He parks.
Carolyn Daughters 49:48
Okay, I didn’t think about that.
Sarah Harrison 49:51
I don’t know. Now you got me thinking about what weird associations can I make with all these names? Should I? Is this first Lord Peter Wimsey novel indicative of how Sayers names characters?
Carolyn Daughters 49:58
I don’t think Wimsey is an accidental name.
Sarah Harrison 50:08
He’s kind of whimsical.
Carolyn Daughters 50:09
I also don’t think the name Freke [“freak”] is an accident either.
Sarah Harrison 50:16
Well, they’re spelled a little bit differently. So that’s what I’m wondering. It’s kind of associated, kind of not.
Carolyn Daughters 50:26
We’re going to wrap up in just a moment, but first … at the end, why doesn’t Julian Freke just give this poison to Levy, this magical poison that he almost injected Wimsey with?
Sarah Harrison 50:46
Wasn’t he tried to mimic the way the guy in the workhouse actually died? I thought that’s what he was doing. Because he died. I think something fell on the back of his neck when he died in the workhouse.
Carolyn Daughters 50:56
Why even bring the workhouse guy into it? Why not just poison Levy?
Sarah Harrison 51:03
Well, isn’t that the way he was making the body vanish?
Carolyn Daughters 51:08
Why did the body have to vanish?
Sarah Harrison 51:10
What are you gonna do with the body? His disposal method is to dissect the body.
Carolyn Daughters 51:17
The disposal method was so convoluted and crazy.
Sarah Harrison 51:20
It was complex, that’s for sure.
Carolyn Daughters 51:22
I’m gonna drag this body from house to house and then find an open window and deposit it. Then I’ll go back to the house and drag the other body …
Sarah Harrison 51:33
He was trying to make Levy disappear.
Carolyn Daughters 51:35
It was the most convoluted story.
Sarah Harrison 51:39
And make the workhouse guy disappear. So you’re left with a leftover body.
Carolyn Daughters 51:44
I thought he must be bored because of the complexity of this arrangement.
Sarah Harrison 51:50
I think that’s fair. I think he was beginning his criminal experiments, and he himself refers to Trent’s Last Case, which was interesting. He says, I remember that well thought out work by Bentley. Freke complements it in this confession. “So I remembered to check for dentures,” or something like that.
Carolyn Daughters 52:17
Sarah, and I have big ambition and limited time, but I would love to draw a map of all the references from this first Lord Peter Wimsey novel. And from all the books we’ve read.
Sarah Harrison 52:24
Yes, I’ve been trying to do that, and I have not been keeping up.
Carolyn Daughters 52:29
It’s incredible how many references are made to the books we’ve read. Each book we read references Poe and Sherlock Holmes.
Sarah Harrison 52:41
In this first Lord Peter Wimsey novel, Sherlock Holmes was referenced like 25 times.
Carolyn Daughters 52:45
He’s referenced pretty regularly in almost every book we’ve read. It’s incredible. So, Sarah, any final thoughts before we wrap up?
Sarah Harrison 53:02
Another one of these background things that just was highly interesting, was what was going on in London at the time. There were several instances, I especially remember the inquest, where they were opening the window because influenza was about, and when they opened it, it let in a bunch of rolling pollution. Everyone’s coughing and has it all over their clothes. That was industrial revolution England there. That sort of background of contagion, of pollution, of industry millionaires and billionaires being made, of social classes being upset.
Carolyn Daughters 53:46
Very Bleak House-ish.
Sarah Harrison 53:48
Lethargic encephalitis (encephalitic lethargica). They mentioned that in the book. I didn’t really think much about it, but then I saw a reference that said this book was happening during a worldwide outbreak of it. And that later gave rise to the events that Oliver Sacks recorded in Awakenings. So that was happening right now. There’s so much just being alluded to. It’s just an environment of intense change. It’s hard to appreciate. I thought that was super interesting.
Carolyn Daughters 54:24
And then there is a Bleak House reference to Skimpole.
Sarah Harrison 54:28
Sayers makes several other Dickens references. I was trying to pull them together, but I couldn’t find them all. I have this beautiful vintage copy of this first Lord Peter Wimsey novel, and the first 60 pages broke out of their bindings. The pages just fell out of my vintage copy of Whose Body? I was super fragile, I was just very delicate with it. As I was reading it, not my usual brutalisation that I do. And it got me thinking about like, Dante Folio and reading old books. The dangers involved in reading old books.
Carolyn Daughters 55:03
There are a lot of old manuscripts that are in a museum, under glass, and every year they turn the page or something like that. It’s that fragile. You can’t thumb through it. You certainly can’t touch it. Even turning the page potentially causes damage, as evidenced by your 60 pages of Whose Body?
Sarah Harrison 55:26
It’s a tough call. It’s a tough thing to collect.
Carolyn Daughters 55:31
It’s hard. Well, next month we’ll be reading and discussing The Murder of Roger Ackroyd.
Sarah Harrison 55:40
It’s gonna be awesome.
Carolyn Daughters 55:42
Yes, it is going to be awesome. Tell us about it.
Sarah Harrison 55:45
It has become known as one of Agatha Christie’s most controversial novels due to an unexpected stunner of a twist at the end. I was stunned. For sure. Christie, consider the 1926 novel her masterpiece. In 2013, the British Crime Writers Association voted it the best crime novel ever written. It’s really good. Learn more about The Murder of Roger Ackroyd on our website at teatonicandtoxin.com. And share your thoughts on our website and on our Facebook @teatonicandtoxin and Instagram @teatonicandtoxin pages. And subscribe to our podcast so you never miss any of our fabulous content!
Carolyn Daughters 56:25
You can find the podcast on pretty much any podcast platform.
Sarah Harrison 56:31
It’s on all the platforms. While you’re at it, give us five stars.
Carolyn Daughters 56:36
We would like that. I think that’d be cool.
Sarah Harrison 56:39
Until then, listeners, stay mysterious.
September 11, 2023
Sarah, Carolyn, and Mike Nugent keep the Maltese Falcon conversation flowing with LOADS more thoughts about Sam Spade, Effie Perine, Casper Gutman, Joel Cairo, and, of course, the ever-elusive Brigid O'Shaughnessy. Folks, we have a lot of ground to cover. Join us, won’t you?Listen →
August 4, 2023
Author Mike Nugent joins Sarah and Carolyn to talk about noir, crime fiction, and all things Sam Spade (who’s described as resembling a blond satan). The Maltese Falcon changed the way crime fiction was written. You’ll want to read it in one sitting and then give our podcast a listen.Listen →
July 30, 2023
Hey, Continental Op, what’s your deal? Are you a hero? Anti-hero? Something else altogether? Hear our thoughts about the Op, Dinah Brand, Whisper, and all the gang – and let us know your tally of how many people wind up dead in the book. It’s hard to keep track.Listen →