Wednesday, February 3, 2021

Is Lord Peter Wimsey too perfect?

 Every time I read a Lord Peter Wimsy  story (which happens reasonably often), I find myself thinking what an odd character he is. He’s like Doctor Frankenstein stitched Sherlock Holmes and Bertie Wooster together and threw in James Bond’s pancreas for good measure.

The protagonist, no, the hero, of a good number of mystery novels and stories by Dorothy Sayers, Lord Peter is insanely wealthy, really quite brilliant and a dapper hand at just about any skill he puts his hand at. And anything he can’t do, his manservant Bunter can. (Thus answering the question of what if Bertie was as smart as Jeeves. We’d still get fun stories but they’d be about murder) There’s a lot of Mary Sue elements and wish fulfillment to Lord Peter.

But... the shadow of World War I and the changing world of England in between the wars helps counter those elements. The works aren’t just set in that time period. They were written then too and Dorothy Sayers had a keen eye for what was going on in society. Lord Peter served in the trenches and occasionally has bouts of PTSD. He also has guilt over thre number of folks he’s sent to death row, particularly because he isn’t driven to solve crime by justice but by his curiosity and amusement.

For all of his crazy money and amazing talent and silly last name, Lord Peter is damaged.

My introduction to the series was Gaudy Nights, which was a terrible introduction to Lord Peter Whimsy but an amazing one to Dorothy Sayers. The book is really about Harriet Vane, Lord Peter’s love interest, and the state of feminism and women’s rights in England at the time. (And if the common theory that Harriet is an author insert, then Lord Peter is definitely a work of wish fulfillment)

I haven’t actually read all the books. That’s because every time I try, I start over from the first book. Maybe I’ll try reading them in reverse order this year. But they are good reading.

As I said at the start, Lord Peter is strange. He’s practically perfect in so many ways and many of his stories are downright pulpy when actually looking at the crimes. However, Sayers ability to capture the turbulence of a changing England saves him and his stories from being silly and forgettable.

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