Dorothy Sayers' Whose Body?
Dorothy Sayers’ Whose Body? is 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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Transcript: Whose Body?
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.
Sarah Harrison 0:56
Carolyn, I’m excited about our episode today.
Carolyn Daughters 0:59
I am, too. I was taken by surprise by this book.
Sarah Harrison 1:04
We’ve already been chatting about it, folks. This book that we’re talking about is Whose Body? And that is the premise of the book. Before we get too much into Whose Body, Carolyn, who’s our sponsor?
Carolyn Daughters 1:20
We have an amazing sponsor today. She has sponsored our episodes in the past, and we’re very happy to have this sponsorship from the wonderful Sarah Harrison at Grace Sigma. Awesome company. It’s a boutique process engineering consultancy. Grace Sigma works nationally in such industries as finance, telecom, and government Grace Sigma uses lean methods to assist in data dashboarding, storytelling training, process visualization, and project management. Whether you’re a small business looking to scale or a large company whose processes have become tangled, Grace Sigma can help. You can learn more at gracesigma.com.
Sarah Harrison 2:00
You definitely can.
Carolyn Daughters 2:04
I highly recommend you check out the site and, you know, talk to Sarah. See how she might be able to help.
Sarah Harrison 2:12
We have a super sweet listener award today, too, don’t we?
Carolyn Daughters 2:16
We do. Today’s listener award goes to somebody who’s been active on our social media pages on Facebook, and that is Donna McLean. So thank you, Donna, for being a member of the Tea, Tonic & Toxin book club. We really appreciate you.
Sarah Harrison 2:36
Yeah, and we’re upping our sticker game.
Carolyn Daughters 2:38
Oh, yeah. First of all, for everybody who has a sticker you know, we have awesome stickers. But Sarah, tell us what’s happening with the stickers?
Sarah Harrison 2:49
Well, we just made a fancy little mailing package. That’s all.
Carolyn Daughters 2:53
There’s an octopus on it.
Sarah Harrison 2:54
There’s a beautiful wax seal. There’s a social contest. So stick your sticker up, tag us. You can put a little hashtag @teatonicandtoxinsticker, and you’ll be entered to win a future limited edition, book-specific sticker.
Carolyn Daughters 3:16
I love it.
Sarah Harrison 3:17
Yeah, there’s so much cool artwork, at this time period in the publishing of these books, that it’s hard to choose just one to make a sticker out of.
Carolyn Daughters 3:28
So we’re going to make many.
Sarah Harrison 3:31
Yes, most likely.
Carolyn Daughters 3:34
So the sticker is very beautiful. If you’d like to get your own on-air shout out — and why wouldn’t you —
Sarah Harrison 3:41
Carolyn Daughters 3:43
If you’d like one of these awesome stickers, just weigh in on the books for reading. On our website, we have tons of places to weigh in on the site, which is teatonicandtoxin.com. Or you can post a comment on Instagram @teatonicandtoxin and Facebook @teatonicandtoxin.
Sarah Harrison 4:03
Yes, do it.
Carolyn Daughters 4:07
Our book this month is Whose Body? by Dorothy Sayers, and we are introduced to Lord Wimsey. Sarah, tell us a little bit about this book.
Sarah Harrison 4:16
The novel was written in 1923. As Carolyn said, Whose Body? introduces Lord Peter Wimsey, who’s considered the father of the Golden Age amateur gentleman sleuth. That’s cool. It’s like a gentleman former. 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 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 Reuben Levy. Parker wonders if the man in the tub could Levy, but that theory is soon proved false. Parker and Wimsey begin working on their separate cases, and they soon find a connection in Sir Julian Freke.
Freke is a famous specialist in nervous disorders. Freke lives next to the hospital where he works and 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 that 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 love his 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? It’s our fifth book selection of 2023. You can find more information about Whose Body? and all of our 2023 book selections on our website at teatonicandtoxin.com. And you should, because every podcast is full of spoilers. So try to read the books first.
Carolyn Daughters 6:35
But if you just want to listen to us, that’s fine, too.
Sarah Harrison 6:38
I mean, yeah, if you plan to never read Whose Body?
Carolyn Daughters 6:39
Yeah, If reading books is not your thing, but listening to you is.
Sarah Harrison 6:44
Yeah, let’s meet who are you?
Carolyn Daughters 6:48
For context, our last book, Agatha Christie’s The Mysterious Affair at Styles, was published in 1920. We’re now at 1923. Whose Body? is published not long after Styles, and the characters feel similar and familiar in some ways, and completely different in other ways. And I think it’s interesting that only three years separate these two books.
Sarah Harrison 7:26
I think bringing up the time period, depending on the book, turns out to be fairly enlightening. Some of the books I feel like rely heavily on the context in which they’re written. And so I have to dig a little bit deeper to understand what they’re saying. Like, I don’t entirely get the joke. Whereas some things just feel more timeless. Others really have a lot of cultural elements. And what was probably cleverness at the time that has since been lost. Yeah, re-reminding yourself about what was going on in 1923 in London is certainly helpful.
Carolyn Daughters 8:10
Right? And the aristocracy as they’re portrayed in Whose Body?, it’s a little jarring for me at times. It’s really interesting. I had trouble at the start getting into this book. And for quite a few pages I thought, okay, I am going to get through this book. It’s not my first Wimsey. I think, Sarah, you and I and some others had read Gaudy Night.
Sarah Harrison 8:38
That was my first Wimsey book, but Whose Body? is the first Wimsey book.
Carolyn Daughters 8:41
Yeah. And so I thought, this is Dorothy Sayers. First one. She’s figuring it out, and I’m totally not into it. And then a switch flipped somewhere in Whose Body?, and I really started enjoying the book.
Sarah Harrison 9:00
Do you know what the switch was?
Carolyn Daughters 9:04
I do. It was the layering and complexity of Peter Wimsey. When I started seeing that he asks some of the hard questions about utility — what is usefulness and how is he spending his time and is it with intention. And beyond that, the PTSD he’s suffering from, and his awareness of it, and his willingness and willingness to not run from it or elide this experience and Dorothy Sayers’ willingness to address it. The way it’s expressed on the page, felt startlingly real to me, and I started seeing him differently than maybe I did in the introductory pages. You know, I need the Dante folio, and I need to sit around and spend more money that I’ve inherited and I have more money than I know what to do with and I’m just going to throw it around on antique books and artwork. Initially, he seemed very frivolous to me. And he seemed less frivolous to me as Whose Body? went on. By the end of the book, I thought this guy is really interesting.
Sarah Harrison 10:33
Did you like him in Goudy Night? He didn’t play a major role. He came in at the end.
Carolyn Daughters 10:38
Right. Harriet Vane, I think, plays a bigger role and Gaudy Night. I honestly had trouble remembering and then I thought if I had had time before this podcast, I would have reread Gaudy Night. Listeners, we are doing a second. Dorothy Sayers this year, we’re doing The Nine Tailors. It’s our last book of the year. We’ll be reading it in in December. And that’s another Peter Wimsey book.
Sarah Harrison 11:06
Yeah. So that’s exciting.
Carolyn Daughters 11:08
And maybe in between there. I’ll try to get Goudy Night back in because now I have maybe more context about where he started. Do you remember him in Gaudy Night?
Sarah Harrison 11:23
I actually had a hard time with Harriet. Like, okay, lady, you’re a little much. But when she called up Lord Peter to come in, I thought he was cool. I remember liking him. But I didn’t necessarily have the same issue with Whose Body? that you did. I pretty much dove in, flowed with the dialogue. I go through this thing with almost all old books, which is everything feels clunky. The older the book, the clunkier it feels. And then I’ll usually hit a point where my brain drops into the flow, and it’s just flowing along with this particular usage.
Carolyn Daughters 12:08
You’re learning the vernacular of that book.
Sarah Harrison 12:13
Right. I think vernacular is a good way to put it, too, because you could tell that she was trying to write how Lord Peter spoke, which wasn’t necessarily proper all the time. He would use these funny little English-isms.
Carolyn Daughters 12:31
He ends all his sentences with “what?”
Sarah Harrison 12:33
Yeah, jolly ho, what! Which you hear in a movie and stuff, but you don’t necessarily read it in a book written that way. I was like, well, at least it’s not A Clockwork Orange. That’s a tough one to get your head into. But I like vernacular books that play with the language, though they can be a little bit challenging sometimes.
Carolyn Daughters 12:54
I used to teach a class at the University of Virginia that covered Trainspotting.
Sarah Harrison 13:04
Carolyn Daughters 13:04
And Trainspotting is a difficult book in every possible respect. I had a couple students who refused to read the book because what’s on the page is so horrifying. And then other students said they just couldn’t figure it out. And then a subset of students said they couldn’t figure it out until they could. And then they started understanding the vernacular of the book and then they got it. It’s like learning a foreign language in some ways. It’s a pretty awesome book. It’s Irvine Welsh.
Sarah Harrison 13:40
I haven’t read that one. Have you read A Clockwork Orange?
Carolyn Daughters 13:44
Many, many years ago. It’s that same sort of idea of having to embrace the the foreignness of it.
Sarah Harrison 13:53
Luckily, my copy had a glossary. I had to keep referring to the glossary to learn all the book-specific made up words.
Carolyn Daughters 14:01
I don’t think Whose Body? is as complicated as all that. But it’s a dialogue heavy book. This book is told largely in dialogue. They’re sitting in arm chairs. They’re sipping cocktails.
Sarah Harrison 14:16
A really good one, by all accounts. They’re at Lord Peter’s house. I also love the word “buttle.” Bunter is buttling you, it’s an avocation. Oh, buttling that’s it. You don’t get to say that word very often.
Carolyn Daughters 14:32
Did you see ever see the movie Clue?
Sarah Harrison 14:36
I don’t think so.
Carolyn Daughters 14:37
It’s one of my favorite movies ever. It’s silly. And it’s charming, and I’ve always loved this movie. And at one point, the butler is serving dinner and all of these people from the game of Clue are sitting at this table and looking around suspiciously at each other. And one of the characters asks the butler, “Who are you?” And he says, “I’m the butler.” He says, “What do you do?” And he says, “I buttle.”
Sarah Harrison 15:01
Yes. So funny. That’s correct. That’s what they do.
Carolyn Daughters 15:09
As a side note, if you’ve not seen the movie Clue, watch it. If you go in expecting silly, but really well done silly, it’s awesome. So yeah, Whose Body? is not as complicated as, say A Clockwork Orange.
Sarah Harrison 15:27
But there’s a lot you will know. I dove in, I went with it. I flowed with it. And also, I knew certain places in my mind, I’m like, Okay, I don’t think I’m getting all the jokes in Whose Body?, though I can feel a joke is happening. Do you ever have that sense where you’re not fully with it? So you just keep going and wait till your brain locks in. And you still don’t get all the jokes, but you have more clarity around it. And you get more of the jokes.
Carolyn Daughters 15:56
In Trent’s Last Case, too, where Trent was being really funny, and I knew that that was the intent, but I didn’t get it. I didn’t feel he was funny, but I could tell the setup was for him to come across as really light and charming and funny.
Sarah Harrison 16:12
Right. And so that’s an interesting thing in these reads, when I can tell they’re supposed to be being funny. I assume that they are actually funny to the audience that they’re being written to, otherwise this wouldn’t have become a mega-popular book and a mega-popular author. I’m like, Okay, well, you nailed it for your audience. But then it’s interesting, too., you mentioned that Dorothy Sayers hasn’t become as timeless as Agatha Christie. And I don’t know that Agatha Christie is as deep into the culture moment as some of these other authors. I keep thinking, I’m not getting what they’re saying because I’m not in on all the chit-chats.
Carolyn Daughters 16:58
Maybe Agatha Christie’s books are written to be more timeless?
Sarah Harrison 17:01
Yeah. And I don’t know if she did that intentionally. I don’t know if people do that intentionally or not.
Carolyn Daughters 17:07
You can date a TV show, a movie, or a book by making perhaps too many references to what’s happening in the current culture.
Sarah Harrison 17:18
I see that even now, when I read modern books. Like, sometimes it comes across as extremely modern, and I think that’s not gonna make any sense fifteen years from now. They’re not going to know what you’re talking about. And it sometimes it doesn’t.
Carolyn Daughters 17:39
Agatha Christie seems more timeless to me. She is also arguably the best writer of detective stories. Well, she is the best one I’ve read. In many camps, she’s considered the best detective story writer of all time. And she was a master of the form. We read The Mysterious Affair at Styles, and we’re going going to be reading The Murder of Roger Ackroyd and Murder on the Orient Express. We’re going to see that those stories mysteries are told and solved in a way that feels very different than Whose Body? There’s a definite mystery in Whose Body? And it is solved by the end, but it doesn’t have the same sort of shocking reveal of an Agatha Christie, at least to me.
Sarah Harrison 18:40
No, it was not a shocking reveal whatsoever. As I think you mentioned, Lord Peter arrives at the answer long after the reader.
Carolyn Daughters 18:50
Yes, he’s piecing together all of these different ideas. And suddenly, he has this epiphany, which is the same epiphany I had, like, 100 pages earlier.
Sarah Harrison 19:01
Yeah. Likewise. By the same token, though, you can solve the mystery in Whose Body?, readers. It’s not like yes, at the end, they’re going to have to explain to you all the things you didn’t know or couldn’t see or didn’t have insight into. You can solve it, and you will, before the main character does.
Carolyn Daughters 19:24
A lot of the mystery in Whose Body? has to do with how the murder was committed. The potential murderers, that cast is so small. There are two or three other people who are potentially the murderer. Like this guy Crimpleham who had owned the pince-nez that were found on the body. And then John Milligan, this American financier. But we learn so little about them, they’re given so little story on the page. At no point in time did I think oh, it could be this guy. Then we have Julian Freke. I prefer to pronounce it “freak.” And who else could it be? The potential cast of murderers is so small. I think the reader has an easy time of it. But how did this murder happen? What precipitated the murder? That sort of thing.
Sarah Harrison 20:29
It’s still interesting. Just because it’s not a shocking reveal, I think it was still a really interesting book. So you didn’t like Wimsey, you began to feel like he was a developed character. The question you ask here is, is he a typical aristocrat? I have no idea, but I’m guessing probably not given other’s people’s reactions to him in Whose Body? He’s sort of a renegade aristocrat.
Carolyn Daughters 21:07
Labor papers caricatured him as a typical aristocrat, even by his physicality. His narrow chin, his receding forehead, the brushed-back sleekness of his tow-colored hair. I don’t know why these things seem to make him a typical aristocrat, but then I started extrapolating from that. What is the typical aristocrat? Is there such a thing?
Sarah Harrison 21:41
I mean, I’m not one that knows enough aristocrats to say.
Carolyn Daughters 21:45
I know tons.
Sarah Harrison 21:47
Well, you tell us.
Carolyn Daughters 21:48
No, I don’t know aristocrats, really.
Sarah Harrison 21:50
Again, trying to judge by the context of Whose Body? and assuming in good faith that what she’s writing is representative, it certainly seems like no. His brother is embarrassed by his crime-fighting tendencies. His mother pretends to disapprove but secretly loves i and supports it. People are always offput by him interfering. And honestly, I thought he was a pretty nice guy. I really liked when he came to check on deaf Mrs. Thipps. And her son and housekeeper were taken away, and the police just left her. She was a pretty much helpless old lady in a flat where a murder occurred. And so he comes to get her, he talks to the neighbors, and he gives them a pretty funny rant. About like, don’t let your Christian principles get the best of you. Those are very inconvenient sorts of things. Because they just refuse to take any interest in this poor old lady, who was annoying, but he didn’t let that deter him. So he comes, he gathers her up. His mother, the duchess, takes care of her. I just thought that’s really nice. He cares about people, and nobody else was caring about this person. The police were just leaving her for nothing.
Carolyn Daughters 23:18
And Parker, the inspector, seems to be a pretty good friend of Lord Wimsey in Whose Body? I had trouble pinpointing what class Parker is.
Sarah Harrison 23:29
It seemed to me working class, but I don’t know. You said he shows up more, so maybe his character arc will develop in other books. But he certainly wasn’t independently wealthy like Wimsey.
Carolyn Daughters 23:42
Right. No, he’s not of the same class. But he didn’t seem of the same class as Piggott, the student, either.
Sarah Harrison 23:52
I don’t know. I think he was. Piggott certainly seem to think so. He felt like Parker was one of his kind that could move in this world where he felt extremely uncomfortable. And Piggott’s on his way to becoming a doctor, which is certainly upper middle class.
Carolyn Daughters 24:10
Yes. Right. So it’s not as if he’s lower class.
Sarah Harrison 24:14
I feel like they were both the emerging middle class or upper middle class. But Parker certainly seems much more educated than Piggott.
Carolyn Daughters 24:25
I don’t know Piggott it seemed. I understand that on some level, because of even just the books that they’re reading.
Sarah Harrison 24:32
Yeah, that’s what I’m really referring to this.
Carolyn Daughters 24:35
But if you’re becoming a doctor, you’re probably pretty educated.
Sarah Harrison 24:40
Well, you’re educated in medicine. But that’s not the same thing. A specialist versus …
Carolyn Daughters 24:46
A dilettante … somebody who has sort of a wide range of cultural references.
Sarah Harrison 24:52
Parker is reading Origenfor fun. That was the book Parker was reading.
Carolyn Daughters 25:01
Yeah. And the Dante folio. But as you and I were discussing, Wimsey can still talk about love stories and detective stories, and he can also talk about the Dante folio.
Sarah Harrison 25:17
That is one of the things I did like about Wimsey. I’m a person that consider myself I read just about everything. Yeah, I read the super hard, difficult, classical novel. I read this philosophy, whatever, but I also enjoy a good page turner. I like somebody that can read and enjoys reading everything. A good book’s a good book.
Carolyn Daughters 25:42
For sure. Super, super fluid. He could dip into different worlds and have different kinds of conversations.
Sarah Harrison 25:54
But it was a little alien, for sure. Piggott never thought like, Oh, this guy’s just like me. Just the opposite.
Carolyn Daughters 26:03
I think one of the questions you had, Sarah, like, is about how Wimsey is larger than life. He holds himself in a particular way, he carries himself in a particular way. He’s not a tall man. He’s not imposing looking. He’s not the most handsome man you’ve ever seen. None of these things. And yet, he’s intimidating.
Sarah Harrison 26:26
Yeah, the impression that I got was that he felt very comfortable and very confident in who he was and what he was saying. And not in an unwarranted or arrogant way. He was just very smart. He knew what was good., he knew what was not good. As Piggott said, his clothes were a rebuke. He knows exactly the best, right thing to wear for himself and moves through the world in this way. I think that is intimidating. Have you ever met somebody like that? Are you like that? If you’re not, how does meeting someone like that make you feel?
Carolyn Daughters 27:14
I’ve met people like this, people who command a room. They come into a room and the forcefield shifts. There’s a confidence or a way in which they emerge into a space that differentiates them from maybe other people in the room. Differentiates them from me, or the way I feel about myself where I think, wow, that that person must be somebody. But who are they? And what does it mean to be somebody?
Early in my career, I worked for a company where I did PR and contract proposals. We did tons of proposals. And one of them was this big, big it was like, you know, maybe $800 million gigantic thing, and we worked around the clock, a huge team of us. And we were afraid we were going to lose it. It was super competitive. And this guy marches in we’ve never seen before. And I mean dressed to the hilt, the best suit you ever saw on your your life. If you’re thinking I can’t differentiate an average suit from an amazing holy mackerel, that’s an expensive suit, I swear you can because we all could. He walked in and just smiled, lighthearted. He was the fixer. He was going to make sure we won the proposal. Since then, I’ve always called him the $10,000 suit. Later in my career, particularly in the last decade, when I’m thinking about the experience I now bring to bear and the way I work on teams with marketing or branding or contract proposals and things like that, and the leadership I provide, I think about the $10,000 suit and think I am the $10,000 suit. I need to be in the headspace of the $10,000 suit.
Sarah Harrison 29:30
Was he really good.
Carolyn Daughters 29:34
He was not actually. He was he was okay. What he was is extremely confident, and he had an umbrella generalist understanding of what we needed to do and was willing to work with all the different groups to sort of listen in and provide consulting insights. He wasn’t bad at what he did, but he was more of a persona than an actual solution.
Sarah Harrison 30:02
Carolyn Daughters 30:05
The thing that has occurred to me in the last decade, is if you could combine the $10,000 suit with actual expertise and ability to be the solution., that’s a big win.
Sarah Harrison 30:21
Yes. Well, it’s like can your visual persona match your mental abilities? In my work, I often am sent in when disaster is looming. Like, oh, crap, this is the worst problem in the planet right now. Or, oh, no, everyone’s gonna quit. We need to get some support in there. And then I go in and we put a team together. And one of the things I always tell my teams is, just because someone says something confidently does not mean they’re right. I’m not a person with a persona like that whatsoever. All personality tests conclude that is not me. You go in and ask questions, and it doesn’t always correlate. I think we’re meant to feel with Wimsey that it does correlate, but it’s super interesting, I think, getting Piggott’s perspective. I’m just like, what is this madness I fall into? This is a really great drink and a really expensive carpet, and this guy is wacky.
Carolyn Daughters 31:35
And it feels foreign to him. He’s looking around, and everything about it seems strange, and he says something like, you know, he was not a tall man and I guess Piggott was a tall man.
Sarah Harrison 31:48
It made his six foot four frame feel like you shouldn’t be that tall. You should be just like Wimsey.
Carolyn Daughters 31:55
Exactly. As if his own height were a rebuke.
Sarah Harrison 32:00
Yeah, like I’m awkwardly huge.
Carolyn Daughters 32:02
As if whatever Wimsey was, was what was right. Like, that’s what you’re supposed to be. I loved when Piggott sat with them. I loved getting Piggott’s perspective. It’s also really interesting, right? Sarah, tell me if, if I’m right or wrong here, is that the one place in the book where we’re in somebody else’s head?
Sarah Harrison 32:33
I was just thinking about that, as well, because one of the things I liked about Whose Body? is the lens that we’re allowed to see the detective through. I think it might be the only time we’re in someone else’s head. No …
Carolyn Daughters 32:52
I think there might be one or two.
Sarah Harrison 32:53
I think maybe Parker a couple of times, but it’s really brief.
Carolyn Daughters 32:58
Sarah Harrison 33:00
Well, he writes his confession, but we’re not really in his head.
Carolyn Daughters 33:05
But when it shifted to PIggott, I was sort of thrown by it because I wasn’t expecting this exposition from another character.
Sarah Harrison 33:11
There are instances where like it highlights Bunter and Bunter opens up, but I don’t think we get in his head. Just suddenly he’s the main character of this particular chapter. I loved those two. I like that about Whose Body? that it would let you see the detective through these different lenses. Well, of course, it’s written so it’s highly curated. But it didn’t feel as highly curated as a Watson or something like that.
Carolyn Daughters 33:39
There’s the detective team, right? There’s Wimsey and then Inspector Parker is the maybe the Watson to the Holmes.
Sarah Harrison 33:49
No, I was thinking Bunter was. I’m like Wimsey and Bunter are clearly partners. And Parker gives it some officiality. I see Wimsey and Bunter as very close partners in detective-ing.I loved their dynamic.
Carolyn Daughters 34:09
I liked it as well, and then I was bothered at times, especially in the second half of Whose Body? where Bunter in large part disappears. There’ll be this really cool conversation happening, and Bunter is not in the room. Or even at the end when they’re wrapping everything up and having a cocktail, Bunter serves a cocktail but doesn’t drink one. You almost want to break that wall so he can be be part of the team.
Sarah Harrison 34:39
When were they on location? I felt like Bunter was part of the team and he actually argued with Wimsey, and he’s like, No, I need to be down there with my camera. I shouldn’t be doing what you’re telling me to do.
Carolyn Daughters 34:52
Maybe Thipps house, the architect’s house where the body was found in the bath. Bunter is there. At one point, there’s the whole Dante folio that Bunter is going to go to the auction and bid on, and he ends up saving money on these three bids that he makes and wants to channel some of that cash into photographic lenses.
Sarah Harrison 35:18
Yes, I loved that.
Carolyn Daughters 35:21
He’s pretty good at marketing, but also I think true like I can use this for the work that we’re doing.
Sarah Harrison 35:28
Carolyn Daughters 35:29
Yeah, he’s like trying to sell him on why he needs to buy the lens.
Sarah Harrison 35:35
As though Peter wouldn’t get him the lens otherwise.
Carolyn Daughters 35:39
Right. He pays Bunter a couple hundred pounds a year.
Sarah Harrison 35:46
Yeah, 200 pounds a years is Bunter’s income, and this lens is 50 pounds. So Wimsey buys it for him. That’s the thing that Bunter wanted. I loved that. Of all the things he could have, that right there was the insight into how much Bunter loves crimefighting.
Carolyn Daughters 36:03
And contributing he likes. And so when he was absent at the wrap up at the end, or the celebratory wrap up or the final scene, I want Bunter there.
Sarah Harrison 36:20
I guess I didn’t feel that he was left out. Maybe because I didn’t sense that he felt he was left out. I was super-impressed with how much Wimsey trusts him with anything. The folio sale is really important to me. This case is really important to me. Bunter, you handle it. Bunter, I’ll get you whatever lens you want. You can have it for your aspect of the crime fighting. And there’s this whole fingerprint analysis section of the book from Bunter’s work. When Wimsey had to go recover from his PTSD, Bunter is still out there crimefighting. He’s interviewing people, he’s pumping them for information in his funny way, by drinking all Peter’s expensive liquor and smoking his expensive cigars and ribbing him a little bit with that.
Carolyn Daughters 37:22
You’ve got to throw the boss under the bus a little bit to earn the trust of the people. To capture the information that’s key for the case.
Sarah Harrison 37:33
Their partnership and the way they work together and the level that Peter trusted him — I just loved that.
Carolyn Daughters 37:41
I like that as well. And I like that Bunter was part of the team. But he still seemed subservient to me.
Sarah Harrison 37:49
In one scene in Whose Body?, Bunter was trying to make him go to this lunch. And Wimsey tries to run out to the lunch, and Bunter’s like No, sir. Not like that. And Wimsey’s like, oh, curse it, Bunter, how did I let you become this cherished family retainer? Bunter bosses him around. He says, No, I’m gonna work on my fingerprints and No, you need to change clothes and No, I’m not going to buttle you, I have some more important things to do. He certainly puts his foot down when he thinks he should. He does his job in service. He buttles and serves drinks. Because that’s his job, too.
Carolyn Daughters 38:31
And he seems to Piggott very old school.
Sarah Harrison 38:34
What did he call him? That was so funny. Like, terrifying.
Carolyn Daughters 38:41
Yeah. “He had a truly terrible manservant, the sort you read about in books who froze the marrow in your bones with silent criticism.”
Sarah Harrison 38:59
Which does seem like Bunter, like the persona he puts off in his buttling. It is very much like that because he will make little comments. “I can’t believe he smoked the cigar with this alcohol he was so gauche.”
Carolyn Daughters 39:12
Right. Or you know if Wimsey is going out in gray slacks, but he should be going out in tails and a top hot. Like, you can’t wear the gray slacks; you have to put on the block slacks.
Sarah Harrison 39:26
Yeah, he’s very much like buttle police. I’m gonna say this. I’m gonna say bottle as many times as I can in this podcast.
Carolyn Daughters 39:36
I definitely liked Bunter. I think he was your favorite character.
Sarah Harrison 39:43
I loved him. I loved his double persona, the way he would be with Lord Peter, which is like the ultimate servant without being subservient. I was trying to think what would this compare to? You know, like when you go to a restaurant, and you get excellent table service, and there’s certain things you do to provide excellent table service, but in no way does that make that waiter subservient. They just know the things to do to provide excellent table service, and they do them. It’s like Bunter is fulfilling a role. And yet you see him in his other role of crimefighting detecting support, and he’s just as assertive and confident. And then when you see Wimsey’s not there, Bunter really opens up and gets really verbose. It’s very funny, the way he uses that to draw people out and you got to see not just the detective’s personality but also Bunter’s. He ended up being my favorite guy.
Carolyn Daughters 41:01
I liked that. I was bothered by a few things here and there. As a reminder, we’re 1923. So 100 years ago, Whose Body? was published.
Sarah Harrison 41:15
Yeah, it’s an anniversary edition.
Carolyn Daughters 41:18
Yeah. So a lot has happened in the last 100 years, and the fact that Wimsey’s servant plays such a large role in the detecting, I think, is interesting.
Sarah Harrison 41:37
I felt like on some level, they were best friends. When Peter starts having his hallucinations and Bunter snaps into action as the sergeant and takes care of him. I thought that was so sweet. He’s his counterpart in every situation.
Carolyn Daughters 41:54
They were in war time together.
Sarah Harrison 41:56
It seems like it. And maybe in the same unit.
Carolyn Daughters 42:01
There’s a deeper Band of Brothers kind of understanding between them.
Sarah Harrison 42:08
And the way they rib each other in Whose Body?. Even though he’s the servant, it’s like as best friends as you can be with any kind of employee that you have.
Carolyn Daughters 42:18
I’ve never had a servant. Shockingly. But I’ve always wondered, can you be friends with your servant?
Sarah Harrison 42:31
Well, I’ve never had a servant per se.
Carolyn Daughters 42:37
Can your servant be friends with you?
Sarah Harrison 42:38
The word servant is super loaded. Have you had an employee? Yes, you have. I’ve had employees? Maybe nobody has servants now. You don’t call your housekeeper your servant.
Carolyn Daughters 42:51
Can you be friends with your housekeeper. Can your housekeeper be friends with you?
Sarah Harrison 42:56
I think so.
Carolyn Daughters 42:56
If I were a housekeeper would I feel like I could be friends with whoever’s house I was cleaning?
Sarah Harrison 43:01
I think it really depends. I remember very young, I was in a lame management position, nothing important. It was like art store manager, art store assistant manager. And I remember, I felt like I was friends with all the employees. And I had one employee tell me, No, you guys can’t be friends. No, it will never work. And I’m like, Are you sure? It’s seems like it’s working.
Carolyn Daughters 43:34
Because there’s all these underlying things going on, right? I mean, having to do with status and authority. Depending on the job, like, say it’s the housekeeper, they’re cleaning your house for you, if it’s somebody who’s cooking your meals.
Sarah Harrison 43:57
Now, we did have one nanny who started out as a friend first and stayed friend. I was concerned. But she stayed a friend and is still a friend. I don’t think it’s impossible. But I do think both people have to have an awareness to not be weird,. Because you can make it weird.
Carolyn Daughters 44:15
Yes. And you’ve got to know when to turn it on and when to turn it off. When you’re off the clock, you’re still not making meals for them. I don’t know. I think it can probably be managed successfully. I would think it would require some effort on both parties’ parts.
Sarah Harrison 44:37
I think so. One person can’t make it work. Both people have to have an awareness of when we’re being professional and when we’re being something else.
Carolyn Daughters 44:50
You had a bunch of comments that I want to make sure we can cover in this podcast, about the Dante folio, museums, and private collections. What it is to have something that is deemed by somebody to be a major artwork on a wall in a private home versus in a museum versus on a wall on display in a museum versus in the back room as so many pieces are. Can you talk a little bit about that?
Sarah Harrison 45:26
So course we went on this, jag because I really liked some of the background things going on in Whose Body? And one of the things is Lord Peter’s collections. So we open with that when he sends Bunter to the sale to get the Dante folio and a couple other things. And at first, I’m like, I feel a little cloudy on “folio,” so I look up folio, which is a beautifully, extensively illustrated copy of a book. And so I think the particular one he was looking at was in the 1400s. So I’m like, Oh, my goodness. Those are probably original lithograph prints.
Carolyn Daughters 46:06
Sarah Harrison 46:07
Yeah, who was even the artist and at first with Wimsey’s flippancy and his super expensive hobbies in Whose Body? Probably intentionally Sayers threw him in and introduced him like that. It seems like Oh, my goodness, somebody is extravagant with money. Then I literally started thinking of it differently. I thought, well, you know, I love old books. I love beautiful illustrations. At first, my brain started going down the path of, what expensive hobbies do I not think of as expensive, but other people would, and at what level given given your income is your hobby extravagant. But then I started thinking of it even more differently when I realized that this is probably on the level of an artwork-type collectible. Hhe has a private collection, you see, when he brings Parker and Piggott over. They look at his newest piece of his collection, and they’re enjoying that really cool thing. And that’s a debate that still goes on today. When does something belong in a private collection versus a museum. There’s a sentiment you will hear a lot that museums are a public good. You’ll see someone who has this private collection, and they donate it to a museum, because they believe museums are a public good. Everyone should be able to enjoy this, not just the donator’s family. I think that’s a reasonable sentiment. And then you look at what a museum is showing, and that’s 2-5% at any given time of their collection. And so the question is, you know, net people seeing it, are actually more people seeing it? Well, it depends strongly on what you’re donating. If you are donating a Picasso …
Carolyn Daughters 46:14
It’s probably going to be on a wall.
Sarah Harrison 46:50
It’ll be in the permanent collection. But most people aren’t. Your highly valuable personal private collection, compared to what a museum has in stock is typically very small, and it may go straight into a drawer, or cabinet or cupboard in the dark. Who knows how many years it’s going to be before someone sees that, in which case having an intensely enjoyable private collection, the work’s being seen more. So I personally, I’ve always been a fan of private collections. Not that I’m anti-museum. I think museums are great. But if the thought process is all artwork, or all collectibles belong in a museum, you’re suddenly now making them more rare. There’s less stuff to see, because the museum only has so much space. It’s in storage,
Carolyn Daughters 49:03
But also, we have to travel the world in order to see all of these things. It’s one thing if you live in Denver, and you want to go to the Denver Art Museum, but if you want to go to the Louvre, you’ve got to board a plane, so some people will presumably never get on a plane and never see the Louvre. And there’s some amazing artwork in the Louvre. So it makes it more generally accessible as a concept. But it doesn’t mean that I spent the last three years of my life traveling the world to go to the world’s major museums.
Sarah Harrison 49:34
I’m so glad the Louvre and the Vatican all exist here. I can go see the Mona Lisa. Well, I haven’t, but I could, in theory, go see it. But at the same time, if you’re making art more scarce, and you believe art belongs in museums, not private collections, then you can support fewer artists making art because you’ve narrowed the buying field. There’s a lot to think about. So anyway, I definitely went down that rabbit hole with Whose Body?
Carolyn Daughters 50:06
When I was an undergraduate at James Madison University in Virginia, and then in graduate school at the University of Virginia, I had been to the homes of the presidents of the university and a couple other major donors. And in both the homes I’m thinking of right now, one from my undergraduate days and one for my graduate, major artwork on the walls owned privately. And I didn’t grow up in that milieu. It was like it was completely foreign to me. I felt I’m gonna say like Piggott walking into Wimsey’s house.
Sarah Harrison 50:50
Carolyn Daughters 50:51
I’m smart, I’m fairly educated. I’ve been in school, I have no idea what is happening right now, I am blown away by my environment, I feel like there must be a spotlight on me suggesting I don’t belong in this space. Is that really a Renoir on the wall? Am I losing my mind? Like is this real? I think, as an undergraduate, that the question that occurred to me is, I had never thought about the possibility that a person had a Renoir on their wall. It just hadn’t occurred to me that such a thing was possible. That in itself was an education to me.
Sarah Harrison 51:38
Yeah, it’s almost become like we don’t think about it because art belongs in museums. YI’ve had that experience a couple of times, you know, visiting castles. And we’ve read in some books where people walk up to the door, like, hey, we’d like to see your estate. And so the butler shows them in it. They were like modern museums.
Carolyn Daughters 51:59
It happens in Pride and Prejudice.
Sarah Harrison 52:04
You show them in, you see the estate, you look at the beautiful paintings. Because you had the greatest portrait painter of the day. What’s the castle in Asheville? It’s like the biggest castle in America.
Carolyn Daughters 52:16
Oh, I don’t know.
Sarah Harrison 52:20
Go there. Asheville, North Carolina, listeners, you know what I’m talking about. The Biltmore Estate. The Biltmores have family portraits by John Singer Sargent. You don’t necessarily know at the time. It’s almost like taking a bet that your current modern artist is going to age well. That was the other thing. I’m not at this level. But I know people that are at a level where art is now like diversifying your investments. The way you might buy a property, you might buy an artwork or a jewel.
Carolyn Daughters 52:56
I’m not at this stage of my life. I’m not investing in jewels and artwork.
Sarah Harrison 53:07
But it’s an interesting backdrop, I think, to introduce us to Lord Peter. And the works that he collects isn’t just art. It’s these super rare books. And everything indicates he reads them.
Carolyn Daughters 53:20
He values these books in Whose Body? You also get a sense that some pieces of art, using art as an example, could sit on somebody’s wall, and they don’t see it. They don’t notice or care. It’s just part of the family legacy, and they take it for granted because they’re surrounded by evidence of wealth. But Wimsey is purchasing particular texts with intention, and he’s valuing them and perusing them. He has them visible for other people to look at when they come, not to be pretentious and say, Look, I have the Dante folio, but because somebody might want to see the Dante folio.
Sarah Harrison 54:01
I would love to see it. I’m gonna look it up. We should see if we can get some images from that.
Carolyn Daughters 54:13
I think that that’s a good idea.
Sarah Harrison 54:16
All right, listeners, if you’ve seen the 14 something or other Dante’s folio, please send us a picture.
Carolyn Daughters 54:24
Tell us all about it. What was the experience like?
Sarah Harrison 54:29
I mean, I’m always like, what do you collect? When, what are your hobbies? What is your extravagance that people do not understand. It’s fascinating.
Carolyn Daughters 54:41
Sarah Harrison 54:42
All right, Carolyn. Well, this has been a book with a lot of rabbit trails.
Carolyn Daughters 54:47
We have so much to say we’re going to do a second podcast episode on Whose Body? because we have just scratched the surface. We have a lot more to do, a lot more to cover. So in the interim listeners check us out at teatonicandtoxin.com and on Instagram @teatonicandtoxin and Facebook @teatonicandtoxin.
Sarah Harrison 55:25
And stay mysterious.
February 11, 2024
Barbara Nickless is a Wall Street Journal and #1 Amazon Charts bestselling crime novelist who joined Sarah and Carolyn in their makeshift studio for a heartfelt discussion about her writing and research process, her travels, and her latest book, Play of Shadows. Amazing woman, amazing writer. You’ll love her.Listen →
January 29, 2024
Dashiell Hammett’s granddaughter Julie Rivett joins us on a second episode to discuss The Thin Man, Nick and Nora Charles, and all things Dashiell Hammett. Color us honored, which I envision as pleurigloss with a hint of alpha plaid. What a DELIGHTFUL conversation. Folks, you want to hear what Julie has to say. Trust me.Listen →
January 21, 2024
We could have interviewed Julie M. Rivett for days on end. She’s fascinating in her own right, and she shared AMAZING information about her grandfather, Dashiell Hammett. This one’s a must-listen, folks. Well, they’re all must-listens in our biased opinions, but this one belongs at the top of the must-listen list.Listen →