4 December 2021


George V and Mary (May) of Teck did not live in a flat. I gather that, at a time when married couples of the English upper classes habitually slept apart, they shared the same bed all their married lives, and produced six children.

I have ventured to consider 'the Flat' as emblematic of the Sterile Marriages of the Thirties. It also excluded whole swathes of corporate  life; if it was kitchenless and gardenless, it excluded servants, from butlers down to under-dairymaids, they were all were redundant. Unwanted family members of the earlier generation, such as Rosamund's father, could be relegated, with a modest pension, to South Coast watering-places. Surely, this is the seed-bed of the atomised social life which we have inherited.

But, if George's recent biographer is correct, and he 'spent his life fighting against the twentieth century', it is a cruel irony that, at the end, he was defeated by it. He was murdered by the eugenicist medical profession of the 1930s, in the person of his doctor Lord Dawson. And he was succeeded by a young man who, like Adolf Hitler, deemed it 'Modern' to arrive hatless and in an aeroplane. 

And whose 'marriage' was sterile.

In conclusion, and purely for your fun, here are two passages, about two contrasting marriages, from Lewis and Sayers. Each of them calls upon the haunting liturgical diction of Archbishop Cranmer.

Lewis: "'Matrimony was ordained, thirdly,' said Jane Studdock bitterly to herself ... 'for the mutual society, help, and comfort that the one ought to have of the other'. In reality, marriage had proved to be the door out of a world of work and comradeship and laughter and innumerable things to do, into something like solitary confinement. For some years before their marriage she had never seen so little of Mark as she had done in the last six months. Even when he was at home he hardly ever talked. He was always either sleepy or intellectually preoccupied ... only one thing ever seemed able to keep him awake after he had gone to bed, and even that did not keep him awake for long ..."

Sayers: "At the end of a week's work, [Harriet] found herself in need of a little technical information, and, going into the library in search of it, discovered Peter, laboriously collating a black-letter folio ... 

"'Glad to be of use,' said his lordship. 'Now as to the effects on a corpse of intermittent submersion in dirty water ...'

"Thirdly', murmured Harriet, with a rich thrill of emotion, 'marriage was ordained for the mutual society, help, and comfort, that the one ought to have of the other.' She sat down on the opposite side of the table, and they plunged eagerly together into the statistics of putrefaction."

In making use of the published edition of Thrones, Dominations, I have, possibly rashly, assumed that chapters 1-6 are by Sayers. Because I think I detect solecisms in chapter 7, I incline to attribute it and the rest of the book to Paton Walsh. But in chapter 3, there is the phrase "the forensic people", meaning practitioners in Forensic Medicine. The OED gives an 1845 reference for 'forensic medicine', but I am a trifle suspicious of this modern use of 'forensic' on its own to mean scientific ... as it does today in English English. Has Paton Walsh tampered? or is Sayers ahead of he time?

I believe that Sayers was a significant enough writer for what she actually wrote to be safely on the record. Did Paton Walsh take liberties with Sayers' drafts?

I wonder where Paton Walsh's own papers ended up after her death.



Jhayes said...

I remember reading that Dawson wrote in his diary that he thought it was important that the King should die before Midnight so that his death could be announced in the morning edition of The Times rather than in the unsuitable evening newspapers.

Dad of Six said...

Father Hunwicke, I am once again grateful for your short history lesson on KGV and his wife. It pushed me to research his death. You have to wonder how "Doctors" like Dawson and Fauci get to such positions of authority.

Andrew T said...

It is cruel to remark on the "sterility" of the marriage of Edward VIII. It may have been the secret grief of their lives.

PseudonymousposterJohn said...

Not a big fan of Lewis, vermin fancier, rodent apologist and romancer of other men's wives. A good ship's cat would have made a quick end of the gobby mouse... Was his Eng Lit scholarship any good? he was just a college tutor most of his career and then latterly given a chair at Cambridge. What I did like about That Hideous Strength was the description of how minor corruptions start out because people are short of money voting to assist the big baddy corporation to get a pay rise - the college fellows vote to sell the wood, while the modern institution they sell to turn out to believe in dark forces and paganism. So I assume he knew whereof he spoke. This is an important lesson for our time; taking the easy course to be a little better off, that can't be so bad. the description of the professor's funeral was very striking. Pity he didn't write more like this but he had not more to say, and I suppose saying it once was enough. Noel Coward liked to imagine Windsor was gay. Doubt that, tho perhaps he was right about the couple. It strikes me Wallis was, and after two husbands had learned how to manipulate men.