Reading Dorothy Sayers’ story collection Lord Peter Views the Body got me wondering about just how much her Lord Peter Wimsey series might be influenced by her Catholicism. Not in the sense of them being inspirational fiction, or in any way preachy, but in the way her religious beliefs infuse the worldview of the series. In the earlier post I had noticed that this was rather bleak, due mostly to the characters ranging from unlikeable to outright evil.
Compared to that, there seems to be a shift in Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club – although I cannot tell whether this is due to Dorothy Sayers changing her views, or to the greater length of the novel allowing more space for subtlety and nuance. The world described is still mostly a valley of tears, but the creatures that inhabit it are for the most part not so much evil as frail. It is like the world kept pushing and pushing and pushing at every individual, until those that are too weak or brittle eventually break, cave in or shatter, with only the strongest having a chance to withstand the constant pressure. And there is no exception to that, even Lord Peter is missing his usual joyful hedonism in this novel and appears unusually listless throughout. It should be kept in mind, though, that the main reason the world appears as harsh as it is, are the after-effects of the First World War that extend even to those who took no part in the fighting – which of course implies that it is man who causes the suffering after all.
The best part of Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, however, is its beginning which is utterly brilliant both as opening puzzle for a whodunnit and as a striking emblem of the state of the British Empire at the time. It is wonderfully done, a scene nobody who has read it is likely to forget – maybe even a bit too brilliant as it threatens to outshine the rest of the novel and make the further events seem somewhat drab.