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Old 01-15-2018, 08:42 PM   #16
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Of course to us it is unnecessary and offensive. But it was true for the time in which the book was written and set. For example, the early books by John Buchan each contained one or more antiSemitic and/or racist comments. His later books did not.

I think you might find the article that astrangerhere discovered an interesting one, Jon.
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Old 01-15-2018, 09:09 PM   #17
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Of course to us it is unnecessary and offensive. But it was true for the time in which the book was written and set. For example, the early books by John Buchan each contained one or more antiSemitic and/or racist comments. His later books did not.

I think you might find the article that astrangerhere discovered an interesting one, Jon.
I just read it. It says a lot, but clarifies nothing.
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Old 01-15-2018, 09:22 PM   #18
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Way back when, there was a Masterpiece Theater production of some of some of the Wimsey stories. I thought the Lord Peter character in the show was annoying rather than charming. That impression kept me from reading Sayers, despite her reputation, all these years.

I had the same reaction to the written version of Lord Peter. The revelation that his behavior might be over-compensation for war-time experiences wasn't enough to make him more sympathetic, at least in this book. I still thought him silly and shallow. But maybe there's some hope that he gains more depth in future volumes.

And the murderer spills all ending, sigh, that really ruined what started as a clever but bizarre puzzle.

I think the anti-semitism displayed by Freake served to strengthen his motive, but it wasn't at all necessary to have it amplified by other characters.
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Old 01-15-2018, 09:26 PM   #19
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When I first read some of these "Jewish" comments, I did look to see if Sayers is or is not an anti-semite. I found some that that were unsure. I never did find a definitive answer.

Even if it was the character, it was unnecessary as I pointed out. So why be branded an anti-semite if it's not true when you didn't have to have comments like that in your books?

I won't be reading any more of Sayers books because of this. [...]
I doubt if you will find a definitive answer, because those were different times. Even if the article linked by astrangerhere is correct about Sayers' affair with a Russian Jew, it does not mean that her attitude toward Jews was as unprejudiced as we might think appropriate now.

It seems to me that you are reading some of the comments out of character and context. There is a lot of such phrasing in a great many books that might be classified as unnecessary - even in modern works - but within their context make some sense.

However I do understand that such a reaction would have you wanting to stay clear of more books of the same type. I recently commented about "The Mediterranean Caper" by Clive Cussler - that if I'd read that book first I'd never have read any more (most of his books are sexist, but that one was an unnecessary extreme).
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Old 01-15-2018, 09:44 PM   #20
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However I do understand that such a reaction would have you wanting to stay clear of more books of the same type. I recently commented about "The Mediterranean Caper" by Clive Cussler - that if I'd read that book first I'd never have read any more (most of his books are sexist, but that one was an unnecessary extreme).
The Mediterranean Caper was the second Cussler book I read (after The Oregon Files), I was willing to give Cussler a second chance due to his reputation but I have certainly been completely turned off by those books, especially TMC. It went above and beyond what I would ever expect, even given when they were written. For Whose Body?, although I am only about 1/2 done, it feels right for the period/setting despite, and somewhat because of, the racism and anti-semitic statements. If those were completely missing it wouldn't have the authenticity it has. The casual use of them, not just when it makes a point, is a part of that.
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Old 01-15-2018, 10:24 PM   #21
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It's important to remember that this was written contemporaneosly. These were the attitudes of at least some of the layers of English society. We can bemoan it, but all you have to do is compare with the aforementioned Cussler to see how far we haven't come.

Unlike others, I quite enjoy the upper-class twit character that Lord Peter mimics. He so clearly is not that brainless twit, but does it so delightfully over the top.

Bunter was his batman during the war, and Wimsey was severely shell-shocked, and still has episodes, though they're fewer and shorter.
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Old 01-16-2018, 06:57 AM   #22
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Thing is, would we have thought "Where are the comments about the Jews?" if they weren't there? I would not have thought that if they were not there.

As for Levy, saying the dead body wasn't circumcised and that Levy was Jewish is not an issue. It doesn't have to be written in a derogatory way for us to get he meaning. There are too many derogatory Jewish comments that are unnecessary.
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Old 01-16-2018, 07:25 AM   #23
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No-one has mentioned the flashback to the Great War, which I think was important for several reasons: it explained why Lord Peter was so highly strung, with his rather forced jollity, and it also told us a lot about the close relationship between him and Bunter.
In some ways, I thought the Great War flashback to be most interesting because otherwise the war was like the dog who didn't bark in the night. In the early 20s the country was still in the first throes of recovery from the war, with legions of disabled men, a devastating post-war depression from which the country was only starting to emerge and according to the popular figure, two million "superfluous" women who'd never be able to marry. Virtually no family was untouched by grief and the losses in the upper classes were worse than those of the working classes. And yet in the context of Whose Body? it might not have happened, if not for Peter's bad night.

But I think the book itself is a sign of the times, meant to be escapist literature and it was the flashback that was the anomaly rather than the light-hearted tone otherwise throughout. It wouldn't be until late in the decade that the seminal works of Great War literature would start to appeal; I believe the thinking was that the public wasn't ready for them yet.

Going back to those "superfluous" women, though, it was extremely odd that Peter, a wealthy young aristocrat in his early 30s, hadn't married. His family makes an issue of it, in fact. I think it's strongly implied that Peter might be gay; his characterization bears the hallmarks of the stereotypically gay man of the 20s and quite flamboyantly at times.

I think it's possible to take the references to Jews and, implied, gays as either and both a marker of the times and somewhat subversive. In fact, I think Sayers might just have been striving for the sensational; the whole business was rather over-the-top.
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Old 01-16-2018, 08:20 AM   #24
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I have only read one other Wimsey novel and I do think that Gaudy Night is a considerably better book—though it is perhaps really a Harriet Vane novel.

For an opening attempt at the genre Whose Body is a reasonable effort. It has some humorous moments—particularly the inquest. The relationship between Bunter and Wimsey is seen to have a certain depth deriving from incidents in the Great War. I think the meeting between Wimsey and Sir Julian Freke near the end was competently done. At that stage in the book the drama of the mystery was beginning to wear a bit thin and some type of dramatic confrontation between the two was necessary.

The murder itself was certainly ridiculously complex. I suppose one is meant to suspend logic at such times. After all, consider the famous crop-dusting scene in North by Northwest. Who would really try to kill someone with a crop-duster in a cornfield? Likewise, if Freke is really the brilliant murderer he is, surely he could have used a method that was simpler but equally deadly—such as the poison he attempted to inject into Lord Peter. But I suppose that much of the pleasure of such works lies in the fact that the means of choice are outrageous.

Anyhow, while I suspect from the comments of,others, that Sayers improved as the series developed, I was mildly entertained by the book despite the limitations which others have rightly noted.

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Old 01-16-2018, 08:21 AM   #25
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In some ways, I thought the Great War flashback to be most interesting because otherwise the war was like the dog who didn't bark in the night. [...]

I think it's possible to take the references to Jews and, implied, gays as either and both a marker of the times and somewhat subversive. In fact, I think Sayers might just have been striving for the sensational; the whole business was rather over-the-top.
The "dog who didn't bark in the night" thing might equally well be applied to Christie's earlier novels, the Poirot novels in particular. Given their setting, the war played a very small part in most of the stories and was of little more than incidental background even when it was mentioned. Aside from escapism, I wonder if there was also an element of there being quite enough having been said about the war already, without adding any more than absolutely necessary.

I do think it is possible to read various possible motives behind what Sayers wrote. The anti-semitic views attributed to Freke fit that character and his motives for murder, but the views expressed by the Dowager Duchess (in particular) seemed over-the-top (but were they really?) and stood out as being out of place (but is that a lack of understanding on my part?). It seemed like Sayers was trying to say something, but the choice of character for those views makes it unclear what was intended.

As to it being implied that Lord Peter was gay ... I guess it's possible, but I'm not convinced. There's not really enough in just this one book to work out what Sayers put in place merely for a particular effect, and what was deliberate statement of character or idea. In fact, take away the belated preface and you would be left guessing about a great many things concerning Lord Peter.
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Old 01-16-2018, 10:46 AM   #26
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As to it being implied that Lord Peter was gay ... I guess it's possible, but I'm not convinced. There's not really enough in just this one book to work out what Sayers put in place merely for a particular effect, and what was deliberate statement of character or idea. In fact, take away the belated preface and you would be left guessing about a great many things concerning Lord Peter.
I have two words for you: "peacock bathrobe." Actually it should be three words, "peacock dressing gown," but I went with the American term. There's other textual evidence, too. I'm not saying so much that Sayers deliberately implied that Peter was gay, but that she was suggesting it as a possibility. I think we're even dull to some of the implications that a 20s reader would have been all over in terms of coded references to homosexuality.

Of course Sayers made Lord Peter rampantly hetero in later books and (I know I've said it) I dislike that she felt it necessary to include the belated preface to explain away and retcon aspects of Whose Body? she later regretted, especially at the price of being quite spoilery about subsequent events.
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Old 01-16-2018, 03:02 PM   #27
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I must say I'm pleasantly and gratefully surprised with this (for me) unknown author.
The touch of humour (in almost all over the book) and the descriptions (I particularly enjoyed the inquest) have caught me.
The character seems a rare kind of human (perhaps due to the WWI). And indeed, he may finds out a way to be gay or to get married, but it's only the start of the series, the presentation of a character in progress in a real first book.
Well, Peter is not Sherlock or Hercule.
By Jove! Dorothy is not Agatha, but I think she could be a must in the detective story.
You can say it is the criticism of a detective story through a detective story. But please, remember: the key is the case and not the characters, and the characters speak by themselves. I mean the author lives his/her life and his/her characters live into a few letters. Just imagination. No more, nor less.
P.D.: I recommend her essay The Lost Tools of Learning.
In this essay, she suggests that we teach everything but how to learn, and proposes that we should adopt a kind of the medieval scholastic curriculum for methodological reasons.
Spoiler:
Code:
"What use is it to pile task on task and prolong the days of labor, if at the close the chief object is left unattained? It is not the fault of the teachers—they work only too hard already. The combined folly of a civilization that has forgotten its own roots is forcing them to shore up the tottering weight of an educational structure that is built upon sand. They are doing for their pupils the work which the pupils themselves ought to do. For the sole true end of education is simply this: to teach men how to learn for themselves; and whatever instruction fails to do this is effort spent in vain."

The changing world of last 70 years remains unmoved.

Good luck.
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Old 01-16-2018, 03:04 PM   #28
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As just a detective story, the biggest issue is that there was no way possible to come up with the solution. Yes, it may be difficult in some stories to come up with the answer, but the clues are there. This one the clues where not all there and it's no possible to deduce the solution. So as a mystery, it's a big fail.
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Old 01-16-2018, 05:17 PM   #29
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And here we go...I have some catching up to do...


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I couldn't resist this image, as it's at such odds with the text!
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I saw that cover too and got a good chuckle. I was starting to wonder if there was going to be a cover that showed the key evidence visible in the bathtub.
I had this lovely cover:
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I can't even tell what that is supposed to be. I think the generic "Amazon Public Domain Cover" would be better, at least then I could include it for "text only" in the bingo challenge.

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So, what did we think of Whose Body?

Lord Peter is obviously a mash-up of Sherlock Holmes and Bertie Wooster, with a dash of the Scarlet Pimpernel in his silly-ass-about-town-demeanor to hide his serious side. I'd add Nancy Drew except she came later; but the way Scotland Yard hops to when Lord Peter say "Jump!" reminds me a lot of the way Nancy Drew would order Chief McGuinness around.
It's been too long since I read ND but other than that these are obvious, I do like Lord Peter more than Wooster (although Jeeves and Bunter are both great.)
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A few people already commented on the voting thread that this is not necessarily a good starting place to see the best of Lord Peter. It seemed to be a book of great potential, but never quite make it. Too much happened "off stage", only to be chatted about later by Lord Peter and his friend Mr Parker. And most disappointing of all was the disaster of a wrap-up, with the great long confession over-explaining every detail. A real "first book" mistake of not trusting your readers to have kept up.
Agree on the wrap-up. That whole confession thing was a mess and just a recap of what we should have been able to guess anyway.

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The other attitude-of-its-time I struggled with was a class one. This whole paternalistic aristocracy with servants thing, where Lord Peter is a good egg and always treats "his man" Bunter fairly, is somewhat hard to swallow. The fact that he creates long days with little sleep for Bunter, by the fact of his "hobby" of being a detective is brushed over. And of course we have no idea of Bunter's inner life or even his concerns outside his relationship to Wimsey.
...
Another stray observation - did anyone else stumble over who Parker was? I actually skipped the preface in case of spoilers but in skimming over I caught the fact that Parker was a detective with the Police who was also Wimsey's friend. If I hadn't read that I would have been confused about the detective part. When he first appears Wimsey greets him clearly as a friend and he's hoping he's "full of crime" (i.e. has a case for them to investigate) but it's not clear that Parker's a detective. I kept waiting for this to be made clear. Then I went back and double-checked, but still couldn't find any explicit references. For my reading, from the text alone, Parker is a friend who is another amateur detective. I found it odd.
I have had the same thought about class boundaries and expectations in a lot of books from this time period (and before), it actually wasn't as bad here as in some of the others I have read - at least Bunter is interested in what Lord Peter is doing and wants to take part since he gets to partake of his own hobby as well.

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So, being the dastardly academic that I am, I was curious about this theme, so I went looking for discussions on the topic.

I landed in a particularly interesting article by Amy Schwartz in Moment magazine. The article details what it calls Sayers' "obsession" with her Jewish characters and their place in her world.
Thanks for this, very good read and interesting background.

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One weakness, pointed out earlier here, is that Parker isn't well explained. We know from later books that he's a police inspector.
Spoiler:
and ultimately more, Lord Peter's brother-in-law.
but while the clues are there to explain him, it's not well spelled out.
Both you and latepaul said something along these lines but I didn't have that experience, I wondered a little the first time he showed up but it was fairly quickly explained I thought.

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I gather that the evidence in the bathtub only made it to the initial US edition; it was later purged as too graphic. It does alter the story a bit; it was different if they could say from the very start that the body was not Sir Reuben.
It wasn't explicit but the version I read hinted at that, Peter said he knew it wasn't Levy because of what he saw in the tub; circumcision was the only thing I could think of that would tell Lord Peter he wasn't Mr. Levy right away.

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It is a bit of a relief that Sayers managed to avoid the trope where Sir Julian was caught before he committed suicide.
Did we read different versions?

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Originally Posted by JSWolf View Post
Thing is, would we have thought "Where are the comments about the Jews?" if they weren't there? I would not have thought that if they were not there.
I would not have thought that if they weren't there either, but I suspect that many people who this was originally intended for (i.e., those who were reading it in the 1920's) would have, especially given Mr. Levy's centrality to the story. Things that stand out to us in their outrageousness are often the details that make stories seem plausible to the original audience. To clarify my stance, I wish that the anti-semitic and other prejudiced language hadn't been there but since they are present they make the story feel more authentic.

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Originally Posted by JSWolf View Post
As just a detective story, the biggest issue is that there was no way possible to come up with the solution. Yes, it may be difficult in some stories to come up with the answer, but the clues are there. This one the clues where not all there and it's no possible to deduce the solution. So as a mystery, it's a big fail.
What clues were missing for you? I thought most of the major ones were there (motive, opportunity, etc.)
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Old 01-16-2018, 08:04 PM   #30
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Originally Posted by issybird View Post
I have two words for you: "peacock bathrobe." Actually it should be three words, "peacock dressing gown," but I went with the American term. There's other textual evidence, too. I'm not saying so much that Sayers deliberately implied that Peter was gay, but that she was suggesting it as a possibility. I think we're even dull to some of the implications that a 20s reader would have been all over in terms of coded references to homosexuality.

Of course Sayers made Lord Peter rampantly hetero in later books and (I know I've said it) I dislike that she felt it necessary to include the belated preface to explain away and retcon aspects of Whose Body? she later regretted, especially at the price of being quite spoilery about subsequent events.
Are you suggesting that I should not admit to having a peacock dressing gown, if I don't want to give people the wrong idea about my sexuality, or is that something peculiar to the 1920s?

I do wonder how things might have read in the 1920s. You suggest that "a 20s reader would have been all over in terms of coded references to homosexuality", but might that not be equally true in reverse? (That the things we are interpreting as signals were, in fact, not signals after all.)

It may well be that the "retcon" was made because Sayers found that some people were indeed reading things into her text that she never intended.
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