Thursday, 22 December 2016

Xmas in a Country House, with Party Games

Every year I do a series of Xmas entries on the blog, helped and encouraged by suggestions and recommendations from my lovely readers. You can see some of last year’s pictures in this entry, and find (endless!) more Xmas books via the tags at the bottom of the page



The Necklace of Pearls by Dorothy L Sayers

from the short story collection Hangman’s Holiday

published 1933


 
 


 
 
Sir Septimus Shale was accustomed to assert his authority once in the year and once only. He allowed his young and fashionable wife to fill his house with diagrammatic furniture made of steel; to collect advanced artists and anti-grammatical poets; to believe in cocktails andrelativity and to dress as extravagantly as she pleased; but he did insist on an old-fashioned Christmas.

He was a simple-hearted man, who really liked plum-pudding and cracker mottoes, and he could not get it out of his head that other people, "at bottom," enjoyed these things also. At Christmas, therefore, he firmly retired to his country house in Essex, called in the servants to hang holly and mistletoe upon the cubist electric fittings; loaded the steel sideboard with delicacies from Fortnum & Mason; hung up stockings at the heads of the polished walnut bedsteads; and even, on this occasion only, had the electric radiators removed from the modernist grates and installed wood fires and a Yule log.

He then gathered his family and friends about him, filled them with as much Dickensian good fare as he could persuade them to swallow, and, after their Christmas dinner, set them down to play "Charades" and "Clumps" and "Animal, Vegetable and Mineral" in the drawing-room, concluding these diversions by "Hide-and-Seek" in the dark all over the house. Because Sir Septimus was a very rich man, his guests fell in with this invariable programme, and if they were bored, they did not tell him so.

commentary: This sounds more like Agatha Christie than DLS – I wonder if it was written to order for the Xmas edition of a magazine. It’s a harmless if rather silly story – Sir Septimus gives his daughter Margharita a new pearl every year on Christmas Eve to add to a growing necklace. The assembled houseparty play those traditional games on Christmas Day, and the necklace disappears after she takes it off to dress up for Dumb Crambo. Luckily, Lord Peter Wimsey is one of the guests and he solves the crime without much difficulty. Most readers will be able to guess where the item is hidden (it’s given away on the cover of one edition of this book) though not who did it – the other guests are pretty much indistinguishable, so when the Wimsey accusation is made, it’s hard to get too excited by the revelation.  You will have forgotten the name of the guilty party within ten minutes, and can safely read the story again next Christmas.


Picture by Stanislav Zhukovsky from the athenaeum site.

8 comments:

  1. It's a lovely bit of description and scene-setting though - splendid incongruity. Definitely sounds more like Agatha though.

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    1. Yes, I like the way she resisted the temptation to make it a traditional panelled and ancient interior.

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  2. This is definitely one of those stories you read when you want a break from stress, I think, Moira. It's a fun story, it doesn't, as you say, tax the brain too hard, and the Christmas scene is set nicely I think.

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    1. Yes, I think Christmas stories get judged by different standards from crime the rest of the year...

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  3. I read this one last year in the short story collection Silent Nights edited by Martin Edwards and wasn't that impressed with it. There was one by Allingham that I did not like much either. I was surprised at the time that those two authors could disappoint me.

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    1. I'm doing an Allingham story next week, I wonder if it's the same one you read?

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  4. You were spot on about it being written to order. It was for the Xmas edition of the RADIO TIMES in 1931. It's weird to think that BBC radio was only about a decade old, whilst the magazine was only about 8 years old (and Sayers was only in her 30s). The fact that she was considered a big enough name to help sell the edition says an awful lot about her stature by that point. Some of Sayers short stories can be quite gruesome, so I expect that the order for the story came with certain conditions ('You can't have Santa carrying around someone's head in a sack' perhaps...) It's a shame that the RADIO TIMES doesn't still do stuff like this, although I expect that a story by someone like Val McDermid might not quite fit with the general atmosphere of Xmas cheer!

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    1. Oh that IS interesting: yes what a pity they don't do that now... but indeed, presumably this is why it is quite bloodless by Sayers standards.

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