Sunday, 11 January 2015

Dress Down Sunday: Miss Pym Disposes by Josephine Tey

published 1946


LOOKING AT WHAT GOES ON UNDER THE CLOTHES







Lucy lay in the warm soft water and thought happily of her breakfast. How pleasant not to have to make conversation among all those chattering voices. How imaginative and kind of that charming girl to carry a tray to her. Perhaps after all it would be nice spend a day or two among these young –

She nearly leaped from her bath as a bell began its maniacal yelling not a dozen yards from where she lay. … there was a wild rush in the corridor, the two doors to her left were flung open, and as the water cascaded into the baths a high, familiar voice was heard shrieking: “Oh, darling, I’m going to be so late for breakfast… Donnie darling I’ve left my soap behind. Do throw me over yours!”

“You’ll have to wait till I’ve soaped myself.”

“Well, my angel, do be quick…”

“Soap coming up.”

“Oh, thank you, darling. You’ve saved my life. What a nice smell, my dear. Very expensive.”



observations: This is Miss Lucy Pym being introduced to the Senior students at Leys training college, by sharing a bathroom with them.

She will become very friendly with them over a short period of time, and so times will be very hard when a student dies, and she suspects the worst about one of their number.

I recently re-read this book for the books of 1946 meme over at Rich Westwood’s Past Offences, and find myself with still more to say about it. I also picked it as one of my favourite crime reads of the year this week.

I love books set in educational establishments, and this is a particularly good example – the students and staff are very individual, fully-rounded characters. (In marked contrast to Josephine Bell’s Death at Half-Term, which I complained about recently). Nothing very criminal happens till very late on in the book – first-time readers might be somewhat mystified by the first two-thirds, which is just a (riveting, to my mind, though others may not agree) description of what happens at the college. Everybody gets very worked up about a job at ‘the best girls’ school in England’ and it is a tribute to Tey that she makes this seem as an end-of-the-world issue.

Various Tey themes appear – the importance of faces and reading them, comparing people with famous portraits – this turns up again in Daughter of Time. She even tells us, in passing, that Richard III has been sadly libelled, which is the whole point of Daughter of Time, written a few years later. She also has various characters tell us that theatre is boring and dull and no longer of any relevance – interesting when Tey herself was a highly successful playwright.

I recently blogged a top 10 list of crime novels: limiting myself to only one by any author, I chose Brat Farrar for Tey – now I’m thinking maybe this should replace it. And as I have said before, it’s surprising no-one has made a film or TV adaptation of the book.

The Japanese bath-house above doesn’t really resemble the situation Miss Pym finds herself in above, but it’s a similar idea and a great picture.

18 comments:

  1. Moira - That is a great scene! And as you know, I love an academic mystery. So I love the setting and context for this one too. And it's interesting how Tey uses portraits here. I wonder if she'd already planned Daughter of Time when she was writing this, or if this writing process inspired her for the other. Or if neither actually happened...

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    1. It's an interesting question isn't it? And I don't think there's very much known about her thinking is there - although some of her life was very public, her inner thoughts are not out there, as far as I know.

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  2. I do so agree. Definitely my favourite Tey novel and one of my favourite crime novels. Enjoyable in all sorts of ways.

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    1. Such a winner, and such proof that it's not the setting or the type of crime that is the most important thing (this one might be a hard sell) but the writer's ability and great characters and a strange but very compelling crime.

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  3. I must admit the bathhouse scene has me more thinking of the film Spirited Away than an English girls' college. I must be having some sort of epiphany (or mid-life crisis) as it does seem an interesting read........have you slipped something in my coffee?

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    1. Over-exposure the Mitfords I think - it could have immunized you further, but actually has made you open to exciting new book prospects.... You did a brave thing the first day you looked at my blog.

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  4. I would have to challenge myself to a fight about Brat Farrar vs. this one. I love this one for all the reasons you list, and, in a sense, Brat Farrar isn't as original perhaps, and ties up the ends too neatly, while this one lingers with a sort of horrified fascination about what might happen next... Hmmm.

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    1. That is so exactly how I feel Vicki - when I read or think hard about each one I think 'yes, this is the best one'. It is very difficult.

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  5. Moira, I agree with Ms. Kinberg. I like the quoted passage and the way it matches with the image you chose. Creative writing has no boundaries.

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    1. Tey had a great imagination and there are some remarkable scenes in her books - some in quite ordinary, everyday situations.

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  6. I keep being troubled by the nickname "Nut Tart" - it manages to trigger at least three "ist"s in seven letters. which is very impressive. But yes, an incredible book.

    As chance would have it I found a brand new Mystery in White by pure chance at a charity shop yesterday and am currently reading it! I get the sense someone didn't appreciate their Christmas gifts... also got The Santa Klaus Murder in similarly virginal and pristine state, both for £3. Bargain!

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    1. You are so right about 'Nut Tart'. This is my attempt at a picture of her in early blog days http://clothesinbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/nut-tart-miss-pym-disposes.html
      I think just after Xmas is a good time to pick up charity shop bargains. Sometimes the inscriptions in recent but obviously discarded gifts are a bit wince-making in the circs....

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  7. You've reminded me of Edward Gorey's wonderful little book, The Unstrung Harp; or, Mr Earbrass Writes a Novel. Mr Earbrass finds one of his own books in a second-hand bookshop: 'he discovers it is presentation copy. "For Angus - will you ever forget the bloaters?" Bloaters? Angus?'
    I think you'd love this book, if you don't already know it. I think I might blog about it.

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    1. Completely new one on me, would love to hear more about it! I bought a 2nd hand book recently which the author had inscribed to a friend, saying that the dedicatee was the inspiration for one of the main characters. And here it was, for sale 2nd hand....

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    2. When I and my flatmate moved into our current rental, I found a discarded gift tag which had written on it:

      "To R--- and B---. With love from Jif, Bean, and the man with a skull on a stick."

      One day I am SO going to work this up into a proper book/story - there's something terrifying yet magical yet marvellous about the idea of this mysterious man-with-a-skull-on-a-stick.

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    3. Intriguing. Someone must have done something with these...? They do demand to have a backstory imagined....

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  8. I may re-read some Tey this year. Or not, since there are so many books to read. I like all of her mysteries and don't even know which I prefer.

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    1. I keep thinking I'd like to do more re-reading, then thinking about all the unread books - I don't know which way to jump....

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