Busman's Honeymoon, p.1Part #11 of Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy L. Sayers
Dorothy L. Sayers
First published in Great Britain in 1937 by Victor Gollancz Ltd
First published in Great Britain in 1968 by New English Library
An imprint of Hodder & Stoughton
An Hachette Livre UK company
Introduction © Susan Elizabeth George 2003
The right of Dorothy L. Sayers to be identified as the Author
of the Work has been asserted in accordance with the
Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced,
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means without the prior written permission of the publisher,
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condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
All characters in this publication are fictitious
and any resemblance to real persons,
living or dead, is purely coincidental.
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is available from the British Library
Epub ISBN 9781848943681
Book ISBN 9780450018008
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TO MURIEL ST. CLARE BYRNE, HELEN SIMPSON AND MARJORIE BARBER
DEAR MURIEL, HELEN AND BAR,
With what extreme of womanly patience you listened to the tale of Busman’s Honeymoon while it was being written, the Lord He knoweth. I do not like to think how many times I tired the sun with talking – and if at any time they had told me you were dead, I should easily have believed that I had talked you into your graves. But you have strangely survived to receive these thanks.
You, Muriel, were in some sort a predestined victim, since you wrote with me the play to which this novel is but the limbs and outward flourishes; my debt and your long-suffering are all the greater. You, Helen and Bar were wantonly sacrificed on the altar of that friendship of which the female sex is said to be incapable; let the lie stick i’ the wall!
To all three I humbly bring, I dedicate with tears, this sentimental comedy.
It has been said, by myself and others, that a love-interest is only an intrusion upon a detective story. But to the characters involved, the detective-interest might well seem an irritating intrusion upon their love-story. This book deals with such a situation. It also provides some sort of answer to many kindly inquiries as to how Lord Peter and his Harriet solved their matrimonial problem. If there is but a ha’porth of detection to an intolerable deal of saccharine, let the occasion be the excuse.
Yours in all gratitude,
DOROTHY L. SAYERS.
I came to the wonderful detective novels of Dorothy L. Sayers in a way that would probably make that distinguished novelist spin in her grave. Years ago, actor Ian Carmichael starred in the film productions of a good chunk of them, which I eventually saw on my public television station in Huntington Beach, California. I recall the host of the show reciting the impressive, salient details of Sayers’ life and career – early female graduate of Oxford, translator of Dante, among other things – and I was much impressed. But I was even more impressed with her delightful sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey, and I soon sought out her novels.
Because I had never been – and still am not today – a great reader of detective fiction, I had not heard of this marvellous character. I quickly became swept up in everything about him: from his foppish use of language to his family relations. In very short order, I found myself thoroughly attached to Wimsey, to his calm and omnipresent manservant Bunter, to the Dowager Duchess of Denver (was ever there a more deliciously alliterative title?), to the stuffy Duke and the unbearable Duchess of Denver, to Viscount St. George, to Charles Parker, to Lady Mary. . . . In Dorothy L. Sayers’ novels, I found the sort of main character I loved when I turned to fiction: someone with a ‘real’ life, someone who wasn’t just a hero who conveniently had no relations to mess up the workings of the novelist’s plot.
Dorothy L. Sayers, as I discovered, had much to teach me both as a reader and as a future novelist. While many detective novelists from the Golden Age of mystery kept their plots pared down to the requisite crime, suspects, clues, and red herrings, Sayers did not limit herself to so limited a canvas in her work. She saw the crime and its ensuing investigation as merely the framework for a much larger story, the skeleton – if you will – upon which she could hang the muscles, organs, blood vessels and physical features of a much larger tale. She wrote what I like to call the tapestry novel, a book in which the setting is realised (from Oxford, to the dramatic coast of Devon, to the flat bleakness of the Fens), in which throughout both the plot and the subplots the characters serve functions surpassing that of mere actors on the stage of the criminal investigation, in which themes are explored, in which life and literary symbols are used, in which allusions to other literature abound. Sayers, in short, did what I call ‘taking no prisoners’ in her approach to the detective novel. She did not write down to her readers; rather, she assumed that her readers would rise to her expectations of them.
I found in her novels a richness that I had not previously seen in detective fiction. I became absorbed in the careful application of detail that characterized her plots: whether she was educating me about bell ringing in The Nine Tailors, about the unusual uses of arsenic in Strong Poison, about the beauties of architectural Oxford in Gaudy Night. She wrote about everything from cryptology to vinology, making unforgettable that madcap period between wars that marked the death of an overt class system and heralded the beginning of an insidious one.
What continues to be remarkable about Sayers’ work, however, is her willingness to explore the human condition. The passions felt by characters created eighty years ago are as real today as they were then. The motives behind people’s behavior are no more complex now than they were in 1923 when Lord Peter Wimsey took his first public bow. Times have changed, rendering Sayers’ England in so many ways unrecognizable to today’s reader. But one of the true pleasures inherent to picking up a Sayers novel now is to see how the times in which we live alter our perceptions of the world around us, while doing nothing at all to alter the core of our humanity.
When I first began my own career as a crime novelist, I told people that I would rest content if my name was ever mentioned positively in the same sentence as that of Dorothy L. Sayers. I’m pleased to say that that occurred with the publication of my first novel. If I ever come close to offering the reader the details and delights that Sayers offered in her Wimsey novels, I shall consider myself a success indeed.
The reissuing of a Sayers novel is an event, to be sure. As successive generations of readers welcome her into their lives, they embark upon an unforgettable journey with an even more unforgettable companion. In time of dire and immediate trouble, one might well call upon a Sherlock Holmes for a quick solution to one’s trials. But for the balm that reassures one about surviving the vicissitudes of life, one could do no better than to anchor onto a Lord Peter Wimsey.
Huntington Beach, California
May 27, 2003
WIMSEY – VANE. On the 8th October, at St. Cross Church, Oxford, Peter Death Bredon Wimsey, second son of the late Gerald Mortimer Bredon Wimsey, 15th Duke of Denver, to Harriet Deborah Vane, only daughter of the late Henry Vane, M.D., of Great Pagford, Herts.
MIRABELLE, COUNTESS OF SEVERN AND THAMES, TO HONORIA LUCASTA, DOWAGER DUCHESS OF DENVER
MY DEAR HONORIA,
So Peter is really married: I have ordered willow-wreaths for half my acquaintance. I understand that it is a deciduous tree: if nothing is available but the bare rods, I shall distribute them all the same, for the better beating of breasts.
Honestly, as one frank old woman to the other, how do you feel about it? A cynic should have cause to be grateful, since to see your amorous sweet devil of a son wedded to an Oxford-Bloomsbury blue-stocking should add considerably to the gaiety of the season. I am not too blind to see through Peter, with all his affectations, and if I had been half a century younger I would have married him myself, for the fun of it. But is this girl flesh and blood? You say she is passionately devoted to him, and I know, of course, that she once had a half-baked affair with a poet – but, Heaven deliver us, what’s a poet? Something that can’t go to bed without making a song about it. Peter wants more than a devoted admirer to hold his hand and recite verses to him; and he has a foolish, pleasant trick of keeping to one woman at a time, which he may find inconvenient in a permanent relationship. Not that many marriages can be called permanent these days, but I can’t see Peter exhibiting himself in the Divorce Courts for his own amusement, though, no doubt, if asked to oblige, he would carry it through with an air. (Which reminds me that my idiot great-nephew, Hughie, has bungled matters as usual. Having undertaken to do the thing like a gentleman, he sneaked off to Brighton with a hired nobody, and the Judge wouldn’t believe either the hotel bills or the chamber-maid – knowing them all too well by sight. So it means starting all over again from the beginning.)
Well, my dear, we shall see what we shall see, and you may be sure I shall do my best for Peter’s wife, if only to spite Helen, who will doubtless make everything as unpleasant as possible for her new sister-in-law. Naturally, I pay no attention to her snobbish nonsense about mis-alliances, which is ridiculous and out-of-date. Compared with the riff-raff we are getting in now from the films and the night-clubs, a country doctor’s daughter, even with a poet in her past, is a miracle of respectability. If the young woman has brains and bowels, she will suit well enough. Do you suppose they intend to have any children? Helen will be furious if they do, as she has always counted on Peter’s money going to Saint-George. Denver, if I know anything about him, will be more concerned to secure the succession in case Saint-George breaks his neck in that car of his. Whatever they do, somebody will be indignant, so I imagine they will please themselves.
I was sorry I could not come to the reception – you seem to have diddled the Press very neatly – but my asthma has been very bad lately. Still, I must be thankful to have retained my faculties and my sense of humour so long. Tell Peter to bring his Harriet to see me as soon as they return from this mysterious honeymoon of theirs, and believe me, dear Honoria, always (in spite of my venomous old tongue) most affectionately yours,
MIRABELLE SEVERN AND THAMES.
MRS CHIPPERLEY JAMES TO HON. MRS TRUMPE-HARTE
. . . Well, dear, prepare for a shock! Peter Wimsey is married – yes, actually married – to that extraordinary young woman who lived with a Bolshevist or a musician or something, and murdered him, or something – I forget exactly, it was all ages ago, and such odd things happen every day, don’t they? It seems a sad waste, with all that money – but it does rather go to show, doesn’t it, that there is something not quite right about the Wimseys – the third cousin, you know, the one that lives shut up in a little villa at Monte, is more than eccentric – and in any case Peter must be forty-five if he’s a day. You know, dear, I always thought you were a little unwise to try to get him for Monica, though of course I didn’t like to say so when you were working so hard to bring it off. . . .
MRS DALILAH SNYPE TO MISS AMARANTH SYLVESTER-QUICKE
. . . Of course, the sensation is the Wimsey–Vane marriage. It must be a sort of sociological experiment. I should think, because, as you know, darling, he is the world’s chilliest prig and I’m definitely sorry for the girl, in spite of the money and the title and everything, because nothing would make up for being tied to a chattering icicle in an eyeglass, my dear, too weary-making. Not that it’s likely to last. . . .
HELEN, DUCHESS OF DENVER, TO LADY GRUMMIDGE
MY DEAR MARJORIE,
Thank you for your kind inquiries. Tuesday was indeed a most exhausting day, though I am feeling rather more rested this evening. But it has been a very trying time for all of us. Peter, of course, was just as tiresome as he could be, and that is saying a good deal. First of all, he insisted on being married in church, though, considering everything, I should have thought the Registrar’s Office would have been more appropriate. However, we resigned ourselves to St George’s, Hanover Square, and I was prepared to do everything in my power to see that the thing was done properly, if it had to be done at all. But my mother-in-law took it all out of my hands, though I am sure we were distinctly given to understand that the wedding would take place on the day I had suggested, that is, next Wednesday. But this, as you will see, was just one of Peter’s monkey tricks. I feel the slight very much, particularly as we had gone out of our way to be civil to the girl, and had asked her to dinner.
Well! Last Monday evening, when we were down at Denver, we got a wire from Peter, which coolly said, ‘If you really want to see me married, try St Cross Church, Oxford, tomorrow at two.’ I was furious – all that distance and my frock not ready, and, to make things worse, Gerald, who had asked sixteen people down for the shooting, laughed like an idiot, and said, ‘Good for Peter!’ He insisted on our both going, just like that, leaving all our guests to look after themselves. I strongly suspect Gerald of having known all about it beforehand, though he swears he didn’t. Anyway, Jerry knew all right, and that’s why he stayed in London. I am always telling Jerry that his uncle means more to him than his own parents; and I needn’t tell you that I consider Peter’s influence most pernicious for a boy of his age. Gerald, manlike, said Peter had a right to get married when and where he liked; he never considers the embarrassment and discomfort these eccentricities cause to other people.
We went to Oxford and found the place – an obscure little church in a side-street, very gloomy and damp-looking. It turned out that the bride (who, mercifully, has no living relations) was being married from a Women’s College, of all places. I was relieved to see Peter in proper morning dress; I really had begun to think he meant to get married in a cap and gown. Jerry was there as best man, and my mother-in-law arrived in great state, beaming away as though they had all done something clever. And they had raked out old Uncle Paul Delagardie, creaking with arthritis, poor old creature, with a gardenia in his buttonhole and trying to look sprightly, which at his age is disgusting. There were all kinds of queer people in the church – practically none of our own friends, but that ridiculous old Climpson woman, and some hangers-on that Peter had picked up in the course of his ‘cases’, and several policemen. Charles and Mary appeared at the last moment, and Charles pointed out to me a man in a Salvation Army uniform, who he said was a retired burglar; but I can scarcely believe this, even of Peter.
The bride came attended by the most incredible assortment of bridesmaids – all female dons! – and an odd, dark woman to give her away, who was supposed to be the Head of the College. I am thankful to say, considering her past history, that Harriet (as I suppose I must now call her) had enough sense of propriety not to get herself up in white satin and orange-blossom; but I could not help thinking that a plain costume would have been more suitable than cloth of gold. I can see that I shall have to speak to her presently about her clothes, but I am afraid she will be difficult. I have never seen anybody look so indecently triumphant – I suppose, in a way, she had a right to; one must admit that she has played her cards very cleverly. Peter was as white as a sheet; I thought he was going to be sick. Probably he was realising what he had let himself in
There was a great deal of promiscuous kissing in the vestry, and then all the oddities were bundled into cars (at Peter’s expense, no doubt) and we started back to Town, closely pursued by the local newspaper men. We went to my mother-in-law’s little house – all of us, including the policemen and the ex-burglar – and after a wedding-breakfast (which I must admit was very good) Uncle Delagardie made a speech, garnished with flowers of French eloquence. There were a lot of presents, some of them very absurd; the ex-burglar’s was a thick book of ranting and vulgar hymns! Presently the bride and bridegroom vanished, and we waited a long time for them, till my mother-in-law came down, all smiles, to announce that they had been gone half an hour, leaving no address. At this moment, I have no idea where they are, nor has anybody.
The whole business has left us in a most painful and ridiculous position. I consider it a disgraceful ending to a most disastrous affair, and it is no consolation to think that I shall have to produce this appalling young woman as my sister-in-law. Mary’s policeman was bad enough, but he is, at any rate, quiet and well behaved; whereas, with Peter’s wife, we may look for notoriety, if not for open scandal, from one day to another. However, we must put as good a face on it as we can; I wouldn’t say as much as I have said to anybody but you.
With all gratitude for your sympathy,
Busman's Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers / Mystery & Detective / Romance & Love have rating 4 out of 5 / Based on32 votes