On Reading Dorothy Sayers in the Age of Opinion

Image result for lord peter wimseyIt grates on me, this wearying Age of Opinion.  On any subject -- you name it-- we must take a stand. Books?  Fracking?  Snowden?  Everyone's got an opinion.

I marvel at all these opinions. It is the certainty that amazes me.  My poor little opinion is slippery, it changes with the next Op Ed piece. I'm forever changing my mind, swinging from one point of view to the next.  Then, sometimes, I fret that I don't know what I'm talking about. (What is fracking, anyway?) Or I don't think my opinion matters much-- a sobering realization, but true.

Image result for dorothy sayersWhich doesn't mean that I slide through life effortlessly.  Like everyone else, I read things that grate on me.  I find characters in novels expressing terrible ideas. After all, fiction is a mirror, and human beings are a mixed bag.  People hold all sorts of contradictory opinions, and never bother to line them up-- ideas are flimsy things compared to emotions, they fall apart easily.

Which brings me to the case of Dorothy Sayers, born in a different era. I've been re-reading her mysteries, and yes, her upper-class Brits seem to have a dim view of Jews.  My guess is many (or perhaps most) upper-class Brits did.  I wish they didn't, but history suggests they did. I feel these snide sidecracks are a weakness of Sayers, but are they a fatal flaw?

I know. I'm supposed to have a violently strong opinion about this:  I am Jewish, and naturally, I hate stereotypes about Jews. I see that many readers on the website Goodreads are appalled by Sayers, some to the point of closing the book on her altogether. I am not unsympathetic to them -- but then I think, characters aren't "real," they're invented. Should I blame an imaginary Lord Peter for saying things that I wouldn't say? And then the mirror aspect: I cannot blame Sayers for allowing her characters to voice what they surely would have.

Besides, these aren't mysteries about Jews, nor do they have Jewish villains.  The snobbish throwaway comments are incidental to the plot. Do they mar my enjoyment?  Yes, somewhat-- I want Lord Peter to be above such pettiness, because he is admirable in many other ways.  Do they spoil the mystery or the romance or the wit?  Not really.

As for my opinion of Sayers's literary merit, well, I don't have one yet.  All I can say is I'm thinking about it.




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