RogerBW's Blog

The Wimsey Papers, Dorothy Sayers 27 June 2018

1939-1940 short articles published in The Spectator; various characters from the Wimsey stories write to each other about the early days of the Second World War.

In fact it's very much in the style of Mrs Miniver, in those early days of the war before Blitzkrieg became a household word – but Sayers is a more accomplished propagandist. The overall impression one gets is of psychological adjustment to a new sort of war, new not because of new technologies and tactics (which hadn't yet become apparent) but because of the long wait between the declaration of war and any fighting that involved the British. (The Finns do get mentioned here.)

Thank God, I say, we're not saddled with Russia as an ally, which we should have been if some of our bright intellectuals had had their way.

Several old friends reappear, written in their recognisable voices. The actual content ranges from how not to get run over during the blackout to grandiose plans for the post-war reconstruction of Britain (all housing and industry to be put underground); it's by turns more whimsical and more practical than Mrs Miniver.

So far, all the advantage in this war has been with the defence, and I think we might argue that if every country would provide itself with a Maginot Line so strong that an attack wasn't worth the candle, we might reduce land warfare to a sort of perpetual check and fight everything out by air and sea.

A few pieces deal with the impact of "Lord Haw-Haw", and specifically of whether the British should make any answer to his broadcasts; this makes a contrast with a government that seems to have been perceived as curiously colourless and passive, a bureaucracy locked into wait-and-see and we-can't-do-anything-yet. This is all, of course, while Churchill was still First Lord of the Admiralty.

Incidentally, why is the news-bulletin broadcast to the Empire on the short wave at 11.30 a.m. always so much fuller of interesting and detailed information than those on the Home Service? Are we considered mentally inferior to our cousins overseas?

One letter as to Harriet Vane mentions her discouragement with murder-stories in an age when actual murders were happening by the tens of thousands, and given that Sayers wrote no mystery stories after the war (and only Talboys during it) one may imagine that this reflects her own feelings. Peter Wimsey may be doing diplomatic miracles, but as a hobbyist detective he has retired.

Some of these letters were used by Jill Paton Walsh at the start of Thrones, Dominations, but there has never been a formal republication. A facsimile copy is available at archive.org.

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See also:
Mrs Miniver, Jan Struther

Previous in series: Striding Folly | Series: Peter Wimsey

  1. Posted by Michael Cule at 11:41am on 27 June 2018

    Oh, thanks for discovering those!

    Are you going to look at the Wimsey family history that one of her friends cobbled together?

  2. Posted by RogerBW at 11:55am on 27 June 2018

    The Scott-Giles? I have no plans to; my arbitrary cutoff is material that Sayers wrote, or co-wrote, herself. (It would have been "everything she wrote about Wimsey" except that it seemed petty to leave out The Documents in the Case.)

  3. Posted by Michael Cule at 12:26pm on 28 June 2018

    The Scott-Giles is built around stuff that she wrote but it isn't as clear as it is in the case of the Jill Patton Walsh books whose stuff is whose. I'm fairly sure I can see her hand in the account of the hermit of the marsh but elsewhere I'm not so sure.

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