20 August 2023

D L Sayers and Jill Paton Walsh ... a 'thirties and 1998 philological detection (2)

 In 1998 Jill Paton Walsh 'completed' the unfinished Sayers novel Thrones, Dominations. The text published declines to say where the 'join' between the two writers occurs; but cover blurbs make claims such as "The first thing to be said about this extraordinary book is that it is impossible to tell where Dorothy L. Sayers ends and Jill Paton Walsh begins".

I think that is mistaken.

On page 114 of the paperback edition (Chapter 7; see also page 213), an upper servant says "May I recommend, your ladyship, that the gentleman does not sit too close to the fire, for fear of chilblains, your ladyship, and that I should bring a tot of brandy immediately".

I contend that the vocative would normally be "my lady"; and that "your ladyship" in thirties contemporary usage does not generally function as a vocative but expects with it a third-person verb (e.g. "Your lordship will bear in mind that we are conveying the port?" in Busman's Honeymoon). I presume that is why, in modern Italian, the third person singular has evolved into being used as a second person singular.

In Busman's Honeymoon we find Sayers anxious to be precise about usages which give clues and pointers to class-distinctions; for example, the gardener says in Wimsey's presence "It's all one, I daresay, to my lord.", which the hypercorrecting Miss Twitterton corrects to "to his lordship".

Does this matter? I think it does. Sayers' novels are fascinating windows into the language and the underlying fashionable preoccupations and assumptions of the 1930s (for example, Eugenicism). I think it is unfortunate that we have, very probably, been deprived of accurate, unexpurgated texts of what she wrote.

Just how wokiefied is Paton Walsh's edition?

In my view, Sayers' text has expired before page 114.

I am suspicious.


Richard Chonak said...

In the same passage, it also seems odd that the servant would "recommend that the gentleman does not sit too close", using an indicative verb rather than a subjunctive to "recommend that the gentleman not sit too close". It would be hard to imagine Bunter making such a misstep.

Bill Murphy said...

If nothing else, this strange hybrid should give a few language specialists years of fun as they argue about who wrote what and which word was used in which style back in the thirties.

Adrian said...

"... not sit too close" is an American locution.