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 advertisin
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