I’m honored to welcome Bill Peschel to my blog! Bill is the author of The Complete Annotated Whose Body? By Dorothy Sayers.
Bill, welcome. My first question is rather personal. Do you speak Latin?
Two years of high school Latin has left me with the ability to decline love in the present tense ─ amo, amas, amat, amatus, amatis, amant ─ like a deranged Roman parrot; recite “Britannica est insula. Panama est non insula” ─ a big help if I meet someone from those countries; and chant the “Te Deum” like a medieval monk. I learned that from a college religion course in which the instructor led us in the recitation.
Why Sayers? Were you a fan first and researcher second?
Definitely a fan first. My parents gave me a couple of books of Sherlock Holmes stories for Christmas, and Nero Wolfe novels stood out on the home bookshelves. I say stand out because they weren’t really much for reading. Watching PBS introduced me to all things British, such as Monty Python, Doctor Who and the Lord Peter Wimsey stories starring Ian Carmichael.
Sayers drew me in for a couple of reasons. One is the sheer love of the stories, and the character of Lord Peter. I love how he changes and grows, yet remains thoroughly himself. He has the freedom to be that I wish I could emulate. As I worked on the annotations, it became apparent how much information Sayers makes an organic part of each story. The Cat in the Bag for example,http://planetpeschel.com/wp/the-wimsey-annotations/the-short-stories/the-fantastic-horror-of-the-cat-in-the-bag/ describes the motorcycle culture of the time, in which enthusiasts argued about the capabilities of the models like computer geeks argue over cellphone capabilities today. Gaudy Night is stuffed full of learning and a reflection of the attitudes and concerns about educating women. It’s an Oxford novel, too, so it can have the feeling at times of being there. http://planetpeschel.com/wp/the-wimsey-annotations/gaudy-night/ The Nine Tailors gives kind of a rose-colored view of village life around which one’s whole life could revolve. That’s a big contrast to my life, alienated from my surroundings and my culture.
I’m blown away by your ability to explain so many obscure quotations. Was it genius or Google?
Definitely Google. When I started my website, http://planetpeschel.com/wp/the-wimsey-annotations/ in the late 1990s, I was working for a newspaper that had Internet access. I wondered how well the search functions worked at Google and Yahoo, so I picked up “Gaudy Night” and wrote down 10 items to look up. I had no idea it would grow from there!
What also helped was my magpie mind that picked up a lot of bits and pieces over the years. I loved to read, and if it wasn’t stories, it was history books, space exploration, science, biographies, whatever draws my eye. So I have the curiosity to persist in running down the answers. Even so, as you can see at my site, I have blank places that need filling in (and emails from readers who have generously shared their knowledge, which I haven’t answered yet. But I will!)
Was there a particular annotation you found exceptionally difficult? What was your favorite quotation that was used by one of the characters?
The difficult ones are those that I haven’t found the answers to yet! The Greek passages in Gaudy Night are especially difficult, because you have to find the translation, then understand what the translation means. Sayers acquired her learning naturally, from her reading and at Oxford. I have to teach myself, which leaves enormous gaps in my knowledge, even today!
My favorite quote is the one I quote to myself often. It’s from “Gaudy Night” ─ let me look that up to get it correct. Wondering what her true purpose in life is, Harriet Vane asks, “How can we know when something is of overmastering importance?” The answer, “When it has overmastered us,” is as simple as a Zen koan, and I think that’s true. Ted Sturgeon, the great fantasy writer, said, “It doesn’t matter what you write, what you believe will show through.”
In other words, I can stop worrying how to express my themes and beliefs. Whatever I write, whatever I choose to show, will display that.
What do you think of Harriet Vane? Is she good enough for my man, er, I mean, Lord Peter Wimsey?
Oh, absolutely. Their relationship is great fun to watch, and my appreciation has grown deeper as my wife and I prepare to ignore our 20th anniversary. Like Harriet and Peter, we have great fun talking piffle, and without having to save her from a poisoning charge to do it, either!
Are you working on any other annotations of Sayers’ works that will be published? Please say Gaudy Night.
I would LOVE to do an annotated version of Gaudy Night! It was the first one I did for the web site, and a chance to go back and expand it would be great fun. But the rest of the books are under copyright until 2027, so the owners of the rights would have to agree to it.
If you could have lunch with Dorothy Sayers, what would you want to ask her? What do you think she would order?
Last question first: Something delicious, no doubt. She loved her food, although as the daughter of a parson she was brought up with proper manners, so Buffalo wings or big sloppy cheeseburgers would be right out.
As for the conversation, I’d have to race to catch up with her quicksilver mind, because I’d hate to disappoint her by not contributing to a lively flow of talk. She would lead the conversation, so it could be about the Sexton Blake detective stories ─ she had great fun concocting a pseudo-mythology around them ─ or issues surrounding her latest Lord Peter story she’s working on. Or, maybe she’ll talk about her translation of Dante or the latest controversy about one of her Jesus plays. I certainly wouldn’t ask her anything personal, like the son she had out of wedlock! Some things simply aren’t discussed.
Last question, back to personal. Classic, cozy or police procedural?
Everything. Sayers, Christie, Anne Granger, Valarie Malmont, Ian Rankin or Michael Connolly. If it’s good, I’ll read it. If you could see my library . . .
Thanks so much, Bill. It was great talking with you. Keep up the Sayers!
Bill Peschel is the author of The Complete, Annotated Whose Body? By Dorothy L. Sayers and Writers Gone Wild, available from Barnes and Noble, Amazon, and through his website, http://planetpeschel.com/wp/the-wimsey-annotations/