Friday, 1 January 2016

Ringing in the New Year


This is outright self-plagiarism: I was wondering what blogpost I should do for the New Year, and remembered this, which I did back on 1st Jan 2013. It's my favourite NY scene in any book, and I decided I couldn't do better than just repeat it. You can find other blog NY posts by clicking on the labels below. 


HAPPY NEW YEAR TO ALL BLOG READERS




the book:  The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L Sayers


published 1934   Section 1










The Rector pronounced the Benediction, the organ played the opening bars of a hymn and Hezekiah Lavender exclaimed sonorously: "Now, lads!" The ringers, with much subdued shuffling, extricated themselves from their chairs and wound their way up the belfry stair. Coats were pulled off and hung on nails in the ringing-chamber, and Wimsey, observing on a bench near the door an enormous brown jug and nine pewter tankards, understood, with pleasure, that the landlord of the Red Cow had, indeed, provided "the usual" for the refreshment of the ringers. The eight men advanced to their stations, and Hezekiah consulted his watch.

"Time!" he said.

He spat upon his hands, grasped the sallie of Tailor Paul, and gently swung the great bell over the balance. Toll-toll-toll; and a pause; toll-toll-toll; and a pause; toll-toll-toll; the nine tailors, or teller-strokes, that mark the passing of a man. The year is dead; toll him out with twelve strokes more, one for every passing month. Then silence. Then, from the faint, sweet tubular chimes of the clock overhead, the four quarters and the twelve strokes of midnight. The ringers grasped their ropes.

"Go!"

The bells gave tongue: Gaude, Sabaoth, John, Jericho, Jubilee, Dimity, Batty Thomas and Tailor Paul, rioting and exulting high up in the dark tower, wide mouths rising and falling, brazen tongues clamouring, huge wheels turning to the dance of the leaping ropes.



commentary: The men are literally ringing in the New Year with a long peal, one that will start at midnight and last more than nine hours. Lord Peter Wimsey is there by chance, and – of course – turns out to be an expert at bell-ringing (as he is expert at so many things) and steps in to replace a missing ringer.

The book divides people: detractors say Wimsey is annoying, the endless discursion on bell-ringing is tedious, Sayers is at her most pompous, the book is class-ridden in the most painful way. It has special Golden Age irritations such as a map of the village, a plan of the church, a secret code, and chapter headings from a book on change-ringing. (The excerpt above is from 'the second course'.)

Those of us who like the book cannot deny most of this, but we love it anyway. The picture of the Fens is wonderful, the descriptions of the church, the village and the rector (based, it seems, on Sayers’ father) are unforgettable, the seasons passing in the English countryside come through like a poem. And every New Year, without fail, we remember this:


Out over the flat, white wastes of fen, over the spear-straight, steel-dark dykes and the wind-bent, groaning poplar trees, bursting from the snow-choked louvres of the belfry, whirled away southward and westward in gusty blasts of clamour to the sleeping counties went the music of the bells.

The  picture of bell ringers is by Henry Ryland.

27 comments:

  1. My favourite New Year read too! Set at the right time of year, and I live near the bridge where Lord Peter crashed his car at the start of the novel, so for me it's doubly atmospheric. Have a wonderful 2016.

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    1. Thank you, and happy 2016 to you too. I am not great at either visualizing or remembering the physical settings of books, but this is the huge exception, and the fens to me always are Fenchurch St Paul. Lucky you to see it all the time!

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  2. Happy New Year, Moira! And really, this is an absolutely perfect choice for a New Year's Day post, so why not use it again? It's excellent. You're right about the way this book divides readers, too. Like you, I love the book despite its faults. Among other things, it's such a great picture of life in that village. Oh, and I really like Rector Venables; what a great character!

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    1. Happy New Year Margot - it just is the best New Year book isn't it? I'm glad that's a belief we both share.

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  3. I'll have to read this one. We've been fascinated by bell ringing for a long time. When we were in England in August our landlord told us he was a bell ringer and took us to church with him one Sunday----it was fascinating!!!

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    1. It is very intriguing - I married into a family of keen bellringers, although I have never done it myself. It's a lovely ancient tradition.

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  4. The book has always been my favorite Sayers novel, and I savor the quoted passages here in particular - I find them beautifully written and quite moving. To the critics of the bell-ringing passages, I would quote from Sayers's foreword to the book: "It seems strange that a generatio which tolerates the uproar of the internal combustion engine and the wailing of the jazz band should be so sensitive to the one loud noise that is made to the glory of God."

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    1. I absolutely agree with you Les. As I said above, my in-laws were keen bell-ringers, and I chose a passage from this book as a reading for my father-in-law's funeral, so it always makes me think of him. (He would have certainly been spotting mistakes in Sayers' descriptions, but he would also have appreciated the thought...)

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    2. And just to prove the point, my husband has told me that there is a mistake in the above: you don't start a peal by saying 'Go'.

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  5. I just discovered your blog while searching for something else - what a happy accident! I've perused some of your posts and am thrilled to recognize many of my favorite former reads and your amusing critiques. At my age I no longer remember the plots but a vague recollection is all that's needed to enjoy these posts. Happy New Year!

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    1. Thank you so much, what a nice comment! I'm glad you are enjoying the blog, and hope you will find more old favourites here.

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  6. I must try this book again. I am sure it would be the 3rd time at least. I think I liked everything by Sayers the first time through. Even after I complained about not liking it on the 2nd read, I bought a nice older edition at the book sale two years ago. So I must have had some desire to have another go at it.

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    1. I think if it caught you in the right moment you would like it Tracy, do give it another chance. It is one of my very favourite detective stories.

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  7. Moira, I read this blogpost last year and it convinced me to read the book, which I had avoided for many years. I loved it!! Thank you so much for bringing the last unread (by me, anyway) Lord Wimsey book into my life!

    Wishing you a very happy new year!!

    Elizabeth

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    1. That's so nice, thank you for the kind words and so glad you enjoyed it. Happy New Year to you and yours too....

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  8. Oh...thanks for this. I so love Dorothy L Sayers. And this book which I haven't read in years. Hezekiah Lavender... sigh. Made my day reading this. Now I'm going to go dig out a couple of Sayers' books if I can remember where I've hidden them.

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    1. What a nice thing to say - dig it out and enjoy. A happy new year to you and yours.

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  9. I started listening to the Ian Carmichael audio of TNT again on New Year's Eve. One of my favourite Sayers novels for the armosphere of the Fens & the characters.

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    1. What a great way to celebrated the New Year. Hope 2016 is a good one for you and yours.

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  10. Happy New Year Moira. I think I'll stick with my copy of Gaudy Night!

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    1. You'd probably like this one somewhat better - I really can't see you getting on with Gaudy Night - but you should probably stick with what you've got. Happy New Year Col.

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  11. Moira, a Happy and Glorious New Year to you! I wish you the very best in 2016.

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    1. Happy New Year to you too Prashant, and let's hope for a great 2016 for all of us.

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  12. I read this book way back in the Middle Ages in high school, but I don't remember it. I have seen a movie of it so I know what happens.
    Happy New Year to you and your family. As one unreconstructed leftist to another, I'll wish for world peace and just treatment of all migrants, sans bigotry, an end to hunger, human trafficking, and medical care, education, housing and food for all who need it, an end to "austerity" and the meeting of human needs.
    I have read one Nordi noir after another or Scottish or English. Mina's book "Blood, Salt, Water" is pretty tough, but good. Rowling/Galbraith's third book is OK. Dolan's first two are excellent. Am about to read her third after I finish Grisham's new one.
    Are you doing a 10 best of ... list? I love those.

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    1. Happy New Year to you too Kathy! and to unreconstructed lefties everywhere.
      Nice to hear about your reading, some good tips for me there and not much I have read.
      I will do a best of the year list, but it won't be for another week or so - the blog birthday is in January, and saving it till then gives me a bit more time over the New Year to decide!

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  13. I love this one too—I was a vicar's daughter and the belfry was a peaceful place to read, in Canada where churches usually only have one bell. But I don't re-read it often, because the tower death is so grim. Happy New Year, Moira, and thanks for your posts.

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    1. What a lovely memory. Yes, the book is a strange mixture of a realistic picture of the countryside, and some rather nasty bits. Still one of my favourites.
      Happy New Year to you too, and thanks for blog support and keeping on writing.

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