Vane Hopes

Share this

I always wanted to marry Peter Wimsey. Lord Peter Wimsey, that is. Me and Dorothy L. Sayers, both. Perhaps that’s where our love lives (separately) went wrong.

However, I can say that Wimsey has never let me down.

The clue’s in the name. From the family motto – ‘As My Whimsy Takes Me’ – to the long sensitive hands which play music and bowl cricket balls with equal ease, the beaky profile and the straw-coloured hair, the tormenting war history and passion for John Donne, not to mention the aristocratic birth and the fabulous wealth – here is a man made to fit. Did ever woman wailing for her demon lover come up with a more perfect solution than an Oxford Blue with a First in History who has bedded opera singers and countesses and ‘tenait son lit en grand monarque’ (a delicious shiver ran down my girlish spine as, aged 16, I carefully worked out what the French meant)? And his creator Dorothy L. Sayers added in a strong sense of public duty, an unofficial Foreign Office role as peacekeeper in the Europe of the 1930s, and absolutely the best presents, ranging from ivory chessmen to floor-length mink coats.

You can trace Lord Peter Wimsey’s uncanny powers of deduction through fourteen volumes of novels and short stories, most of them still in print and most entertaining enough as puzzles. But it is the four which feature his turbulent love affair with detective novelist Harriet Vane that hold me captive – and have done ever since I realized in my early teens that a) boys were attractive and b) most of them didn’t like clever, combative girls.

Dorothy Leigh Sayers (1893–1957) had much the same realizations, I suspect. The only child of a clergyman, she was brought up in Oxford and Cambridge, went to boarding-school and was one of the first generation of women to be granted actual degrees, when she took a First in modern languages at Somerville College in 1915. There followed stints in publishing and advertising,

Subscribe or sign in to read the full article

The full version of this article is only available to subscribers to Slightly Foxed: The Real Reader’s Quarterly. To continue reading, please sign in or take out a subscription to the quarterly magazine for yourself or as a gift for a fellow booklover. Both gift givers and gift recipients receive access to the full online archive of articles along with many other benefits, such as preferential prices for all books and goods in our online shop and offers from a number of like-minded organizations. Find out more on our subscriptions page.

Subscribe now or

About the contributor

Victoria Neumark has never solved a murder. Thank God. But she does enjoy red wine, painting and poetry, so any aspiring Wimseys can form an orderly queue to the left.

Share this

Comments & Reviews

  1. Helen Mills says:

    Yes, I was thirteen when I first fell in love with Peter Wimsey – would he wait for me until I was older do you think? Probably not but I was always hopeful. Then came my WAAF war service and a real marriage and children. But still the books fascinate and I read them interminably. Jill Paton’s continuations are not as good, how could they be? Still they’re readable. One critic said that ‘The Nine Tailors’ was one of our finest English novels. ‘Old soldiers never die they only fade away’; let’s hope that Peter Wimsey never fades away.

  2. Sharon Tucker says:

    Well! This was fun to read. I don’t doubt that many of us who read the Peter Wimsey mysteries have a tendency to fall for him. Cleverly done!

  3. Chris Wheeler says:

    What a wonderful article by Victoria Neumark! I felt she was writing from inside my head, (the strangest sensation). I re-read ‘the four’ every Christmas and they have become as big a part of my Christmas traditions as the tree and roast turkey. Sadly as I have had some serious health issues this year, I have not been able to but hope to start as soon as I am feeling stronger and consider it only postponed and not cancelled and I do know they will help me feel better. In fact I think the scene in ‘Gaudy Night’ when they are moored in the punt is one of the most erotic chapters in English Literature and virtually nothing happens! I think Dorothy L. Sayers must have been quite a women. Thank you for a super article.

Leave a comment

Customise this page for easy reading

reading mode