Thursday, 21 March 2013

Have His Carcase by Dorothy L Sayers

published 1931 chapter 2





Harriet walked sturdily onwards, the light pack upon her shoulders interfering little with her progress. She was twenty-eight years old, dark, slight, with a skin naturally a little sallow, but now tanned to an agreeable biscuit colour by sun and wind. Persons of this fortunate complexion are not troubled by midges and sunburn, and Harriet, though not too old to care for her personal appearance, was old enough to prefer convenience to outward display. Consequently, her luggage was not burdened by skin-creams, insect lotion, silk frocks, portable electric irons, or other impedimenta beloved of the ‘Hikers’ Column’. She was dressed sensibly in a short skirt and thin sweater, and carried, in addition to a change of linen and an extra provision of footwear, little else beyond a pocket edition of Tristram Shandy, a vest-pocket camera, a small first-aid outfit, and a sandwich lunch.



observations: That’s all very well, but she’s about to discover a corpse on her travels, and although the tiny camera will prove useful, what is she going to wear when she has to go a-sleuthing, and vamp suspects? Sayers has no problem with self-contradiction, and blandly moves on to Harriet going on two shopping expeditions – if only she had brought a silk frock and an iron!

Amongst Wimsey/Sayers fans Carcase might win a vote for the least-popular of the series, but we have a soft spot for it, despite the almost-deliberate longueurs while interviewing suspects and following up alibis, and the quite bizarrely unlikely plot. The chapter in which Harriet and Peter solve a cipher is jaw-droppingly dull, and makes one doubt the claim that some calculations have been omitted ‘for brevity’s sake’, but really you can skip the whole chapter (due warning: chapter 28) for brevity’s sake. Even Sayers seems unsure about the book – in the later Gaudy Night (another blog favourite) Harriet asks Peter, referring to the incidents in this book:
‘Do you remember that horrible time at Wilvercombe when we could find nothing to throw at one another but cheap wit and spiteful remarks? At least, I was spiteful: you never were.’
‘It was the watering-place atmosphere,’ said Wimsey. ‘One is always vulgar at watering-places…’

But in fact the wit and spite improve the book, and the atmosphere of a 1930s walking tour, and then the resort and the smart hotel, are beautifully done.

The book has featured before, and also gave us the very first entry for Clothes in Books. Another book (very different) featuring an extended hike. Gladys Mitchell’s teachers wore similar outfits.

The picture is by William Orpen, a great favourite whose pictures have appeared for other entries.

10 comments:

  1. Moira - I'll confess this one's not my favourite Sayers, mostly for the reasons you mention (although I didn't find the cipher chapter as slow going as you did), but I agree that the wit does much for the novel. And I do like the setting very much. And I can see why you like Orpen's work; that's a lovely 'photo!

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  2. I suppose Sayers on a bad day is still better than most other people! And nothing gives a whiff of the era like her books, she is very good at transporting you to the time. Am I right in thinking you have a linguistics background? - perhaps that's why word codes appeal...

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  3. Moira - Right you are about my linguistics background. And perhaps that is indeed why the code section has appeal for me. And you're so right about Sayers. Even her weakest is much better than a lot of others' best...

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  4. I don't mind this book too much Moira. I agree the cipher bit is dull (and way over my head) but I quite like the setting.

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  5. Coming here awfully late but I have to put my oar in: I loved the cypher part. But I am not a very critical reader of Sayers. I love all her books. It's the language. Opening a Wimsey is like jumping into a beloved, familiar swimming pool knowing there are good times ahead.

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    1. I do agree with you about that - but just that one section was too much for me. And I actually like codes and ciphers (in their place)- just found that bit dull. But will not argue with you, as we so obviously agree about DLS's greatness!

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  6. Oh I do like that Orpen. And it looks very Harriet to me. So forthright.

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    1. I love his portraits, I have to hold back from using them too much on the blog! And thank you - I was very proud of this find for Harriet, and now she always looks like this in my head.

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  7. Very good likeness for Harriet. I, too, would rate Have His Carcase slightly lower than other favourites - but still so very readable. I particularly like the sections where Harriet interviews the dancers in the hotel - marvellous thumbnail sketches of them by DLS. And as this is a 'Clothes in Books' theme, I also liked the part where Harriet realises she is following Wimsey's advice to buy a 'wine-coloured' evening frock.

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    1. Oh yes, wine-coloured... and isn't there some discussion of whether it should be claret or burgundy? No Sayers book falls below a certain standard. But oh the Playfair code chapters...

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