Event Title

4B1: Recalling the Trenches from the Club Window: Contrasting Perspectives in Dorothy Sayers and P.G. Wodehouse

Start Date

29-9-2018 2:30 PM

End Date

29-9-2018 3:45 PM

Description

Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957) and P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975) provide contrasting approaches to the aftermath of World War I within British middlebrow fiction. Both, however, use the institution of London social clubs for gentlemen as a tool for thinking through the consequences of the war for the Victorian social order. Despite its origins in late-seventeenth-century coffeehouses and chocolate houses, the club saw great growth and solidification in the Victorian period, in part as a buttress against the increasing forces of social democratization (Reform, Emancipation, and growing rights for women, for instance). In the last decades of the nineteenth century, the New Humorists, a personal and professional influence on Wodehouse, established jokes about the club as a means of humorously working through the social changes, and Wodehouse and Sayers brought this notion to the post-war period.

Dorothy Sayers’s _Murder at the Bellona Club_ (1928) renders a Victorian joke horribly real: that a member has died behind his newspaper and no one has noticed. Lord Peter Wimsey, Sayers’s detective, navigates a range of social contexts, using detection as therapy for his shell-shock. The structure of the mystery imposes a sense of order for both Wimsey and perhaps also his readers, yet _Murder at the Bellona Club _also suggests the limits of this kind of containment. The body is discovered on Armistice Day (the anniversary), and the aftermaths of the war loom large in the subsequent investigation. The club and its rules, written and unwritten, become a synecdoche for the pre-war social order. The attempts of some clubmen to proceed as if nothing has changed become the subject of dark humor.

Meanwhile, Sayers’ contemporary P. G. Wodehouse largely ignored the war, continuing to depict his humorously bumbling upper-class men, who cluster around the Drones Club, relatively unchanged throughout the Nrst three-quarters of the twentieth century. Sayers is in explicit dialogue with Wodehouse, who was much more prolific (and twelve years older), having her characters directly compare Wimsey to Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster. Although critics often underestimate the number of references to the war in Wodehouse’s fiction, none of his major characters are described as having served (in either world war). Nevertheless, the continuity in Wodehouse’s novels itself constitutes a response to the war.

Yet both Sayers and Wodehouse also engage in a complex relationship with the club as an institution of exclusivity and friendship. Despite their subversion of the club, they also rely on its structures of feeling. Viewed through the lens of middlebrow fiction, the war was not a straightforward break, as a classic (oversimplified) view of Modernism might have it. The double meanings and polyvocality of humor convey the complex domestic Armistice negotiations.

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Sep 29th, 2:30 PM Sep 29th, 3:45 PM

4B1: Recalling the Trenches from the Club Window: Contrasting Perspectives in Dorothy Sayers and P.G. Wodehouse

Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957) and P. G. Wodehouse (1881-1975) provide contrasting approaches to the aftermath of World War I within British middlebrow fiction. Both, however, use the institution of London social clubs for gentlemen as a tool for thinking through the consequences of the war for the Victorian social order. Despite its origins in late-seventeenth-century coffeehouses and chocolate houses, the club saw great growth and solidification in the Victorian period, in part as a buttress against the increasing forces of social democratization (Reform, Emancipation, and growing rights for women, for instance). In the last decades of the nineteenth century, the New Humorists, a personal and professional influence on Wodehouse, established jokes about the club as a means of humorously working through the social changes, and Wodehouse and Sayers brought this notion to the post-war period.

Dorothy Sayers’s _Murder at the Bellona Club_ (1928) renders a Victorian joke horribly real: that a member has died behind his newspaper and no one has noticed. Lord Peter Wimsey, Sayers’s detective, navigates a range of social contexts, using detection as therapy for his shell-shock. The structure of the mystery imposes a sense of order for both Wimsey and perhaps also his readers, yet _Murder at the Bellona Club _also suggests the limits of this kind of containment. The body is discovered on Armistice Day (the anniversary), and the aftermaths of the war loom large in the subsequent investigation. The club and its rules, written and unwritten, become a synecdoche for the pre-war social order. The attempts of some clubmen to proceed as if nothing has changed become the subject of dark humor.

Meanwhile, Sayers’ contemporary P. G. Wodehouse largely ignored the war, continuing to depict his humorously bumbling upper-class men, who cluster around the Drones Club, relatively unchanged throughout the Nrst three-quarters of the twentieth century. Sayers is in explicit dialogue with Wodehouse, who was much more prolific (and twelve years older), having her characters directly compare Wimsey to Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster. Although critics often underestimate the number of references to the war in Wodehouse’s fiction, none of his major characters are described as having served (in either world war). Nevertheless, the continuity in Wodehouse’s novels itself constitutes a response to the war.

Yet both Sayers and Wodehouse also engage in a complex relationship with the club as an institution of exclusivity and friendship. Despite their subversion of the club, they also rely on its structures of feeling. Viewed through the lens of middlebrow fiction, the war was not a straightforward break, as a classic (oversimplified) view of Modernism might have it. The double meanings and polyvocality of humor convey the complex domestic Armistice negotiations.