Masaryk University Faculty of Arts Department of English and American Studies

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4.2 The Evolution of the Detective

The character introduced in the first novel and described in the subchapter above, however, matures radically as a person, and also as a detective throughout Sayers’s following detective novels. For example, in Murder Must Advertise, considered one of the most noticeable of her works, the reader can clearly observe this evolution, which contributes Lord Peter Wimsey to become one of the most renowned representatives of Great Detectives of all times. Dale comments on this as a development of the “persona of Lord Peter himself, who is portrayed at the beginning of the canon as a caricature of an English gentleman, but who grows into a well-defined human being with a complex inner life and all the ambiguities of a complex personality” (147). The second of the books analysed also presents Lord Peter in a different environment than before; as Wimsey manages to reveal a murder and drug dealing in a prominent advertising agency, disguised as a new employee, and his approach to different personal and professional situations which occur there.

4.2.1 Visual Appearance

First of all, the appearance of Lord Peter is described rather briefly and similarly in Murder Must Advertise; the first remark by a woman working with him is quite short but eloquent: “Tow-coloured, supercilious-looking blighter. I ran into him coming out of Pymmie’s room yesterday. Horn-rims” (Sayers, MMA 2). Nevertheless, the importance of nice clothes is further inspected in this novel and the way he is dressed seems to be the fundamental element of his image, at least this is more frequently discussed than the features of his face and figure. As Lord Peter’s colleagues observe: “his shirts are simply too marvellous. He won’t be able to keep that up on Pym’s salary, bonus or no bonus. Or the silk socks either” (MMA, 28). Being dressed too well can be unusual for a copywriter and might suggest that he did not come to the advertising agency because of the money reasons. But in this case, the long economic crisis, present in England during that time, is of help to Lord Peter: one of the typists thinks of him as “one of the new poor”, who “lost all his money in the slump or something” (Sayers, MMA 28). McGregor and Lewis also observe this fact:

Passing himself off as an educated man willing to work for four pounds a week, he forgets to dress accordingly, showing up in silk socks and a Saville Row suit. The typists attribute this suspicious circumstance to the cruel effects of the slump; obviously Mr. Death Bredon was a wealthy man who had lost all his money. He would be one more among thousands. (157)

Moreover, his knowledge of style, which he possessed since the first book, becomes really useful for him. In Murder Must Advertise, for instance, he finds a person with the ability of identifying the man who made his hat: “There are two hatters in London who could have made this hat, and you have doubtless already observed that the crown is markedly dolichocephalic, while the curve of the brim is also characteristic” (Sayers, MMA 290-291).

4.2.2 Personal Characteristics

More focus is, however, put on the personality of Lord Peter Wimsey, whose behaviour is always very noble and polite. His co-workers in Murder Must Advertise notice that “he’s got beautiful manners” and that “he pays his tea-bill like a little gentleman” (29). By Scaggs, he is also seen as “cultured” and “aristocratic”, but also “slightly distracted”, which remains a common factor from the first novel mentioned (26). When describing himself, he recognizes: “Well, I suppose I’m naturally inquisitive. I always like to know about people” (Sayers, MMA 60), which is an essential attribute of a good detective, and might also justify his inquisitive questions in front of the characters which are not aware of his true identity. Likewise, he is described to have “the curiosity of a baby elephant” (Sayers, MMA 38), so becoming a detective was probably quite natural for him. Another great hobby of his book collecting is not mentioned in Murder Must Advertise, suggesting Wimsey had chosen the path of crime investigation to be his primary interest. He does not talk as much as in the first novel, yet his comments are always relevant, and he usually says more with fewer words. Occasionally, he is careful not to say too much and stay mysterious for most of the book’s characters, in order not to reveal any information about the case, and rather listens to what various people think.

Compared to Whose Body?, he seems more confident and focused when interacting with people around him. Still, he remains a little extravagant in his spontaneity. One of his colleagues describes him as “loopy”, because of “doing acrobatics on dirty pipes in this heat”, when he was, in fact, gathering clues connected to the case (Sayers, MMA 58). On the one hand, he is calmer and more peaceful, compared to the beginning of his presence in the literary world, on the other hand, he also acts more assertively and radically, in order to get what he wants.

It is quite interesting to observe more personalities of Lord Peter in this story. Firstly, he is the elegant aristocrat, who helps the police with the investigation of murder and drug trafficking. Secondly, he is the charismatic new copywriter – Mr. Bredon, who sometimes asks strange questions, but works hard and gets on well with everyone in the company, and starts a very successful advertising campaign at the end. Thirdly, he is masked as the mysterious and adventurous harlequin, who likes to pull stunts and hang out with the dangerous “De Momerie crowd”, joining their wild parties full of drugs, but nobody knows anything more about him. Each of these individuals is fairly different, but all of them seem to express different parts of Wimsey’s personality. He is undoubtedly charismatic and remarkable as a personality and the readers “become so involved with Wimsey as a character that the mystery aspects of plots sometimes become secondary interests” (McManis 328).

The language is here, again, used to recognize the difference of a social status. Characters such as Ginger Joe, or the cleaning lady, representing the lower-class, speak often grammatically incorrectly, and use a lot of slang words: “We ain't supposed to carry them sort of things in our uniform pockets, sir. Mrs. Johnson caught me a-showin' it to the other fellows, sir, and constickated it” (Sayers, MMA 109). On the contrary, people of the higher-classes present themselves in a more sophisticated way. Wimsey, in particular, tries to appear as a refined man, and his use of slang and swear-words decreased significantly since Whose Body?. Even as Bredon, he does not join the many gossipy conversations among the co-workers and tries to stay polite to everybody. To the people in Wimsey’s surroundings, a proper education is also an essential factor of one’s personality. They lead long discussions about who achieved education on which school, thus categorizing these people according to their social positions.

“I am quite aware, Tallboy, that I never was at a public school, but that is no reason why I shouldn't be treated with ordinary, common courtesy. And from those who have been to real public schools, I get it, what's more. You may think a lot of Dumbleton, but it isn't what I call a public school.” (Sayers, MMA 195)

The First World War is mentioned only very briefly in this novel, referring to the changes in society, more specifically in the workplace, since the end of the war; “Before the War there would have been no women in advertising offices, and none of these silly mistakes” (Sayers, MMA 137). Still, the whole time after the First World War formed Wimsey’s personality; increasing his social awareness and giving him a lot of understanding, responsibility and sympathy; he “reflected its experiences and its values, at least as Dorothy L. Sayers understood them” (McGregor and Lewis 202).

4.2.3 The Great Detective

All of the mentioned personality traits of Lord Peter Wimsey are connected to his work as a detective; he projects them into the way he deals with the case. Most importantly, even while investigating, he is a gentleman aware of the proper manners and always manages to solve the mystery using his exquisite techniques of criminal investigation.

In the second of Sayers’s novels examined, Murder Must Advertise, the detective disguises himself repeatedly, and at different levels. At the beginning of the novel, he baffles the reader expressively when his name is not mentioned until the fifth chapter and he poses as a different character to everyone at first, though the reader finds out about his true identity sooner than the rest of the book’s characters. This form of disguise, however, is not enough for him, and to get information from Dian de Momerie, the leader of the ferocious crowd, he dresses up as a harlequin, drawing her attention to his wild stunts; for instance, he “dived off a fountain into a fish-pond” (Sayers, MMA 94). His detective skills depend on his admirable charm a lot and include flirting at times; not only when trying to impress Dian, but also when gathering information about the victim from his sister: “I say, er, how about, er, coming out and honouring me by taking in a spot of lunch with me, what?” (Sayers, MMA 63).

Lord Peter is shown as very adaptive and has the ability to work both by himself, as well as with a partner. Even though the character of Bunter does not figure in the later novel explored, the police inspector Parker is now not only Wimsey’s good friend, but also a brother-in-law; thus making their personal relationship closer than before and strengthening the ability of relying on each other when uncovering the mystery. Besides, Parker’s wife and Wimsey’s sister, Lady Mary, also helps them out with the case occasionally. Moreover, Lord Peter sometimes uses help of complete strangers who provide him with different insights into the mystery, observing it from a different perspective. He is able to make an estimate about who is competent enough to assist him, also among the seemingly inadequate candidates; such as Ginger Joe, depicted as a simple-minded, uneducated young boy, who is, however, showing impressive deducting skills in his own, humble way. When including him in the search for clues, Wimsey proclaims: “You are the kind of man I am proud to do business with” (Sayers, MMA 115).

While being undercover, Lord Peter is willing to deliberately lower his social status and start working on a low position in an advertising firm, pointing out the knowledge of current social issues which he establishes throughout his life. Even though he does not make much money with this job, it gives him the opportunity to blend in with the working class and enables him to investigate more easily. This working experience further gives him a new life perspective and strengthens his social awareness: “Yes; I'm pulling down four solid quid a week. Amazin' sensation. First time I've ever earned a cent. Every week when I get my pay-envelope, I glow with honest pride” (Sayers, MMA 80). It is demonstrated here that he starts to understand and sympathize with the people of the working-class more.

The change of the character of the criminal described in Sayers’s novels is worth noticing as well; Sayers inclined from the higher-class evil genius to a more common criminal, driven to committing the murder by more accidental circumstances. Compared to the evil genius depicted in Whose Body?, the villain of the latter novel, Mr. Tallboy, is an ordinary copywriter who was brought to the disgraceful business of drug dealing incidentally by a stranger, agreeing because of a serious lack of money and fear of not being able to provide for his family. The way Lord Peter handles this criminal is also very noble; he listens to him while he explains all the reasons for his crime and tries to justify his actions. Wimsey shows a lot of sympathy and understanding, although still being very strict with him. He does not force a confession from Tallboy, but rather waits until he starts talking about the whole situation himself:

“Look here,” he said, “you need not tell me a thing, if you don't want to. But if you do, I want you to understand that it won't really make any difference. I mean, if you feel like getting it off your chest, I don't think it will prejudice matters for you at all.” (Sayers, MMA 371-372)

Despite being more focused on being a detective compared to the first novel analysed, Wimsey still refers to his hobby of book collecting by making references to some pieces of literary classics: “Nothing in life became him like the leaving it?” (47), which quotes Shakespeare’s Macbeth (Act I, Scene IV). Also, he mentions “muchness” (57), originally from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Still, criminal investigation is now his primary passion, as he believes he can help with it; “he has gone from the ostensibly independent agent”, through various changes, “to someone working in close contact with the law because he is now landed with enough propriety and responsibility” (Molander 50).

Although dealing with a lot of different elements, both novels discussed “depend finally on the cleverness of Lord Peter” (Dale 34), truly accenting his greatness as a detective and as a person. According to Kenney, this “greatness as a fictional creation is witnessed by his fan’s ability to speak of him as if he were an actual, historical person, with a life that extends beyond the pages of his stories or the limitations of his time and place” (97). It is natural to say that Lord Peter Wimsey turned out to be a really memorable embodiment of the Great Detective and the honourable aristocrat, who captured the imagination of a wide public and who continues to intrigue readers within and outside Britain” (McManis 328). Combining all the elements of his personality and appearance, and concerning the ability to compare his character in the two novels selected, Lord Peter Wimsey serves as a model of the exemplary English gentleman even today.

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