Wimsey, Peter Death Bredon, DSO; born 1890, 2nd son of Mortimer Gerald Bredon Wimsey, 15th Duke of Denver, and of Honoria Lucasta, daughter of Francis Delagardie of Bellingham Manor, Hants.
* Educated: Eton College and Balliol College, Oxford (1st class honours, Sch. of Mod. Hist. 1912); served with H.M. Forces 1914/18 (Major, Rifle Brigade). Author of: "Notes on the collecting of Incunabula", "The Murderer's Vade-Mecum", etc.
There are, further, three collections of short stories:
Lord Peter Views the Body (1928; containing 15 stories):
"The Abominable History of the Man with Copper Fingers"
"The Entertaining Episode of the Article in Question"
"The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager's Will"
"The Fantastic Horror of the Cat in the Bag"
"The Unprincipled Affair of the Practical Joker"
"The Undignified Melodrama of the Bone of Contention"
"The Vindictive Story of the Footsteps That Ran"
"The Bibulous Business of a Matter of Taste"
"The Learned Adventure of the Dragon's Head"
"The Piscatorial Farce of the Stolen Stomach"
"The Unsolved Puzzle of the Man with No Face"
"The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba"
In the Teeth of the Evidence (1933; containing 2 Lord Peter stories):
"In the Teeth of the Evidence"
Hangman's Holiday (1939; containing 4 Lord Peter stories)
"The Image in the Mirror"
"The Incredible Elopement of Lord Peter Wimsey"
"The Queen's Square"
"The Necklace of Pearls"
Three further short stories, "Striding Folly," "The Haunted Policeman," and "Talboys", were collected posthumously in the anthology Striding Folly in 1971. All the short stories were subsequently anthologized in the compendium Lord Peter (1972). A collection of mock-historical studies by Sayers and various friends, notably including professional herald C.W. Scott-Giles, of the Wimsey family was printed privately and finally published in 1977 under Scott-Giles's name and the title, The Wimsey Family, with Scott-Giles's illustrations*
He would subsequently provide Sayers with the maps and diagrams for her translation of Dante's Commedia
. Three unfinished novels were completed by novelist Jill Paton Walsh, and were published as Thrones, Dominations in 1998, A Presumption of Death in 2002, and The Attenbury Emeralds in 2010. A series of "letters written by various members of the Wimsey family" and generally referred to as The Wimsey Papers appeared in the Spectator magazine between November 1939 and January 1940; these have not yet been anthologized, though various excerpts from them appear in the Jill Paton Walsh novels.The Wimsey stories take place between 1922 and 1936, and (a bit unusually for a mystery series) the characters age in real time: Lord Peter is thirty-two in Whose Body? and forty-six in Busman's Honeymoon.Lord Peter is the younger brother of the Duke of Denver, the richest peer in the United Kingdom. As he has no need for a job, he spends his time collecting rare books and acting as a police consultant in murder and grand larceny cases. His main ally in the police is Charles Parker, who later marries Peter's sister. Other recurring characters include Harriet Vane, Peter's love interest and a rare example of an Author Avatar done exceptionally well; Miss Climpson, an elderly spinster whom Peter sometimes sends on fact-finding missions; Mervyn Bunter, Peter's valet and old army buddy; The Honourable Freddy Arbuthnot, financial genius, and one of the oldest Boisterous Bruisers in the book; Peter's mother, the Dowager Duchess of Denver; and a sleazy actress named Miss Vavasour who seems to be a Weirdness Magnet of some strange kind.The books are considered to be among the best pre-World War II mysteries. The sequels by Paton Walsh take Peter and Harriet into the war and are surprisingly good.
The books provide examples of:
Above Good and Evil: Sir Julian Freke believes that morality is a neurological reflex, redundant in a modern, individualist society, and that one who can commit immoral acts without guilt or shame is therefore a more enlightened human being. This is part of his motivation for committing at least one murder.
Absence of Evidence: The Five Red Herrings turns on the absence of a tube of white paint from the crime scene.
Absent-Minded Professor: Miss Lydgate of Shrewsbury College. Also, the Reverend Venables is an amateur rather than a professional scholar, but is otherwise a textbook example.
Aluminum Christmas Trees: Critics at the time doubted that Unnatural Death's method of murder would work. Not only would it work, it was actually employed by a number of real-life murderers.
All Witches Have Cats: In the short story "The Incredible Elopment of Lord Peter Wimsey", Wimsey poses as a wizard in a remote and backwards village. Nine white cats form part of his disguise.
Ambiguously Gay: "Sir Impey Biggs is the handsomest man in England, and no woman will ever care twopence for him."
Arc Words: 'Megatherium Trust' in the earlier books.
Arson, Murder, and Jaywalking: In Unnatural Death, Miss Climpson relays a racist rant by another character, about a "nasty dirty black man" who should have been thrown out of the house, including that the mere sight of him turned the ranter's stomach... then apologises for mentioning stomachs in polite company.
Author Avatar: Harriet Vane is certainly an author avatar. Sayers herself strenuously, though not perhaps entirely convincingly, denied this.
Badass Boast: Wimsey, when asked by a drunken Pomfrett why he won't stand up and fight: "First, because I'm twenty years older than you. Secondly, because you're six inches taller than I am. And thirdly, because I don't want to hurt you."
Badass Bookworm: Small, bookish martial artist Peter. Harriet, Parker and Bunter fit as well, all being highly well-read and -spoken, and pursuing intellectual hobbies, as well as being strong and highly capable.
Battle Butler: Bunter is quite a competent detective in his own right, and, like Peter, he's an ex-soldier.
Beta Couple: Freddy Arbuthnot/Rachel Levy and Parker/Lady Mary both serve as foils to Peter and Harriet, representing inter-class relationships with extended courtships, facing familial disapproval and social, financial and gender inequality.
Bilingual Bonus: Many stories include French dialogue or quotations, offered without translation. The reader is simply assumed to be educated enough to read them, and in the short story "The Entertaining Episode Of The Article In Question," a knowledge of French grammar provides a crucial clue — although people who speak French tend to write it off as a typo until the end, which was doubtless the author's intent.
Christianity is Catholic: Averted - Sayers was a respected Anglican theologian and knew her denominations. Catholicism and High Anglicanism appear in several stories, but so do a number of Protestant and Orthodox faiths.
Lord Peter: I shall, with your permission, continue to propose to you at decently regulated intervals, as a birthday treat, and on Guy Fawkes' Day and on the Anniversary of the King's Ascension. But consider it, if you will, a pure formality. You need not pay the slightest attention to it.
Harriet: Peter, it's foolish to go on like this.
Lord Peter: And, of course, on the Feast of All Fools.
Downer Ending: In Have His Carcase, it's implied that there isn't enough solid evidence to hold or convict the murderers, even though Peter and Harriet figured out how they did it.
In Gaudy Night we're told that at least one of them was convicted.
And the end of Unnatural Death sees Wimsey musing that almost certainly, fewer people would have died if he hadn't involved himself - and the man who originally asked him to investigate isn't even grateful.
In Murder Must Advertise, suicide is a choice to keep the villain's innocent family from guaranteed poverty and social ostracism; and in Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, it was seen as the only honourable way out of the situation—which was not unusual in those days, at least in certain realms of fiction.
Eureka Moment: Whose Body?, Clouds of Witness and Have His Carcase, among others, are solved with Eureka Moments. Whose Body? discusses the phenomenon in some detail.
Everybody Smokes: Peter, Parker, Harriet and St George all smoke, as do many supporting characters. Peter's masterwork while working in advertising is a campaign for Whifflets Cigarettes.
Evil Counterpart: In Whose Body?: Sir Julian Freke, a genius who kills without remorse, motivated by sexual jealousy and anti-Semitism, is contrasted with Lord Peter who catches criminals for the fun of it and feels deep guilt.
Evil Matriarch: Helen, Duchess of Denver, is a rather unpleasant person, and nobody in her family much likes her. She's openly antagonistic towards Peter and Harriet in the later books.
Expy: Bunter is explicitly compared to Wodehouse's Jeeves; Lord Peter and Freddy Arbuthnot both resemble Bertie Wooster.
Faking the Dead: "The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba," where Peter stays publicly dead for two years while undercover — even Parker believed him dead (although no one seems too surprised when Peter turns up alive).
Genre Savvy: Peter and other characters often reference how people act in detective stories and the extent to which it fits "reality."
Genre Shift: It doesn't stick, but The Nine Tailors definitely takes a hard left turn into Magic Realism, and in Busman's Honeymoon the existence of the Wimsey family ghosts is an easily accepted fact.
Grande Dame Helen, Duchess of Denver is a humourless, stuffy Society woman; Lady Hermione Creethorpe, in "The Queen's Square," is a more typical elderly example.
The Great Depression: Not a major factor, as it didn't hit England as hard as some other countries, but it is mentioned in the later books.
Greedy Jew: Averted. Lord Peter and his fellow aristocrats associate with a number of Jewish financiers, jewellers, and so forth, who are invariably presented sympathetically. The anti-Semitism of the era is discussed, but the only characters who express it themselves are either villainous or rather stupid.
Green-Eyed Monster: Several villains are motivated by severe jealously, including Sir Julian Freke, William Grimethorpe, Eric P. Loder, and Standish Weatherall.
He Who Fights Monsters: Peter has sent so many people to their deaths, even though most of them were murderers themselves, that he has come to view himself as a killer just as evil as those whom he brings to justice—if not more so, since he does it for his own amusement.
Heroic BSOD: Peter was badly shell-shocked in World War One, some years before the series begins; during the series, he has two intense breakdowns: one in Whose Body? and another in The Nine Tailors. He also feels his innocence and his very morality slowly slipping away over the course of the series.
Honor Before Reason: Gerald appears to be doing this for much of Clouds Of Witness. Subverted, though, in that he feels (not without some reason) that the harm he will cause to someone else by speaking out may be as great as the harm he may suffer by keeping silent.
Honorary Aunt: Viscount St George cajoles Harriet into being this. Later, of course, she becomes a real aunt.
Hollywood Atheist: Subverted; Peter disclaims all religion, but he views himself, not religion, as the one at fault. He's not actually an atheist, just a Christian with a very bad conscience, but he has much the same logic as those who follow this trope. (In Gaudy Night we actually see him going to church.)
Identification By Dental Records: Though the identification is usually subverted. For example, in "In the Teeth of the Evidence," an evil dentist fakes his own death by deliberately faking a patient's teeth to look like his, then murdering the patient. The Nine Tailors also featured a failed dental identification.
Idle Rich: Discussed with scathing contempt by Antoine in Have His Carcase.
I Remember Because...: One witness in Unnatural Death notes that she remembers Miss Dawson's maids' surname because it was such a silly name: "Gotobed". Averted in Whose Body? and Clouds of Witness, where investigators and witnesses spend several pages painstakingly reconstructing memories with reference to physical records, and where I Remember Because... explanations are specifically referred to as inadmissible in court.
Ironic Echo: Gaude, Sabaoth, John, Jericho, Jubilee, Dimity, Batty Thomas, and Tailor Paul. Nine Tailors Make a Man.
Also, the first spoken word in Whose Body? is the same as the final spoken word in Busman's Honeymoon, and is said by the same person, but in a very different context and mood.
Knight Templar: At the climax of Strong Poison, Lord Peter tells Norman Urquhart that he has just given him a massive dose of arsenic and asks why he isn't showing symptoms. This prompts Urquhart to break down and confess that he has made himself immune to arsenic, and so was able to kill his cousin by splitting an arsenic-laced omelette with him. Then Parker arrests him. Of course, Peter says that he was lying about the arsenic in the sweets, but there's also a possibility that he wasn't...
Also, using a Hannibal Lecture to get the murderer to shoot himself at the end of The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club.
Knows a Guy Who Knows a Guy: In Strong Poison, The Hon. Freddy saw a man who knows a fellow who has it from a chappie that the villain is in financial trouble. The man owed Freddy a favour, and can have the fellow put him in touch with the chappie in exchange for another favour - for the chappie, that is, not for the fellow, or the man. Y'see?
Long List: Peter rattles off a particularly impressive one in The Nine Tailors, consisting of all the things he's figured out about the case. The only thing missing from it is the identity of the murderer.
Loveable Rogue: Jock Graham in The Five Red Herrings; Nobby Cranton in The Nine Tailors
Magical Negro: Hallelujah Dawson, a handsome, elderly West Indian clergyman who's falsely accused of murder and takes it in his stride while charming everyone around him
Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: The solution to The Nine Tailors - rationally plausible, but spooky. The Image in the Mirror suggests that twin brothers might share a psychic connection, though it lampshades the unlikelihood.
Meaningful Name: Hallelujah Dawson. Yes, that's his real name. Yes, he's a missionary. How did you guess? Then there's the venerable Rev. Venables (seeThe Vicar, below) and the equally Reverend Tredgold (named in anticipation of Heaven's golden streets). Arguably, Wimsey's own name is an example, and lampshaded in the series: his coat of arms bears the motto "As My Whimsy Takes Me."
Mega Corp: Pym's Publicity in Murder Must Advertise, although it's obviously less extreme than others of the type.
Several characters lost money in the collapse of the Megatherium Trust.
Minor Injury Overreaction: In Five Red Herrings, the wealthy painter Gowan has his friends and servants arrange an elaborate alibi, and skips the country in the middle of the night, because Campbell cut off his prized beard.
Motive Rant: Annie Wilson at the end of Gaudy Night berates the S.C.R. for what she sees as a betrayal of the feminine ideal (never mind that the S.C.R. are actually for the most part fairly girly—they're bluestockings, not tomboys). She is arguably the only ideologically-motivated villain in the entire series (although revenge also plays a part, and the scene in question is both highly effective and unbelievably offensive and disturbing. This single scene is typically considered Sayers's masterpiece.
More Hero than Thou: In Nine Tailors, two men try to shield each other from blame for murder, unaware that neither of them did it.
Murder Suicide: Peter stops the murderer from committing suicide in Whose Body?, and encourages it (more or less) in Murder Must Advertise.
Mysterious Note - Mysterious poison-pen letters (together with pranks and outright vandalism) are part of a plot against Shrewsbury College, Oxford in Gaudy Night.
Old Flame Fizzle: Harriet finds going to Gaudy Night to see an old friend doesn't work out well.
Oh Crap: Younger brother of an Upper Class Twit, Lord Peter goes out of his way to cultivate an Upper Class Twit image himself. The hapless criminals of Britain think of him as "Bertie Wooster playing detective"; by the time they find themselves face to face with Lord Peter's frightening intelligence, it's much too late.
Old-Fashioned Rowboat Date: Wimsey and Harriet Vane go punting in Gaudy Night, and the scene is retained in the 1987 BBC television production. Such boating excursions are traditional at Oxford, where the story is set. The modern twists on this are their practical discussion of Harriet's poison pen prankster investigation and the "spot of celibacy" Harriet is maintaining, despite Wimsey's numerous proposals of matrimony.
Only a Flesh Wound: Peter is shot in the shoulder in Clouds of Witness, and seems barely wounded at all - he tells the shooter that if he'd hit him "in the head, or the heart, or anywhere that matters," they'd -really- be in trouble.
On One Condition: In "The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager's Will", the will specifies a puzzle that must be solved in order to locate the actual bequest.
Oop North: Clouds of Witness begins in rural Yorkshire, complete with dour, taciturn farmers and boggy moors. The Five Red Herrings is set largely in the south of Scotland, but occasionally crosses the border. Parker is originally from Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria.
Open Sesame: The words Open Sesame must be spoken in Peter's voice to open the inner compartment of the safe in The Adventurous Exploit of the Cave of Ali Baba.
Oxbridge: Gaudy Night is a love letter to academic life, set in Oxford and steeped in dons, gowns and punts.
Parental Marriage Veto: Several parents attempt this, including Lady Levy's and Lady Dormer's, because the prospective spouse is middle-class and/or Jewish. Often, the couple frustrate them by eloping. The Levys go on to veto The Hon. Freddy Arbuthnot's suit to Rachel Levy, but he proves himself by courting her for seven years and agreeing to raise their children Jewish.
Pastimes Prove Personality: In Murder Must Advertise, Lord Peter is arrested for murder just after leading an amateur cricket team to victory; the manager of the opposing team immediately avers that nobody who plays cricket like that could possibly be a murderer.
At the same time however, Wimsey's innings in that game blows his "Death Bredon" cover, as someone recognises his batting style.
The Poppy: The absence of one becomes a plot point in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club.
Promotion to Parent: Peter becomes trustee of a fortune left to the orphaned Hilary Thorpe in The Nine Tailors, letting him ensure she gets the best education and pursue her career, despite the objections of her old-fashioned uncle and guardian.
"The Entertaining Episode Of The Article In Question"
"In The Teeth Of The Evidence"
"The Undignified Melodrama Of The Bone Of Contention"
Rats In A Box: In The Nine Tailors, neither Wimsey nor the police can figure out which of two brothers murdered the victim, so they put the brothers alone in a room and secretly listen to what they say to each other. It turns out that neither of them did it, but both thought the other did, and so they had been unnecessarily covering for each other.
Refuge in Audacity: The murderer's plot in Whose Body?, which is even less audacious than their original plan - to make it look like Sir Reuben disappeared into thin air, leaving behind a pile of empty clothes.
Shell-Shocked Veteran: During the First World War, Peter was buried alive in a collapsed dug-out, and suffers from what would nowadays be called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. His friend George Fentiman in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club has an even worse case, suffering frequent psychotic episodes. Sayers' own husband was a shell-shocked ex-soldier, so she knew whereof she wrote.
Shout Out: In Murder Must Advertise, Death Bredon creates an innovative advertising campaign that he predicts (accurately) will be "the biggest advertising stunt since the Mustard Club"; the Mustard Club was a famous Real Life advertising gimmick for Colman's Mustard. Murder Must Advertise was inspired by the time Sayers spent working in advertising before the Wimsey novels took off — and now, three guesses who came up with the Mustard Club...
One of the characters in Strong Poison refers to the advertising slogan "Guinness is good for you." Guess who came up with that slogan? (If you go into an "Oirish Pub" and see one of those old Guinness ads with zookeepers and toucans, you may be satisfied to learn that that was Sayers, too.)
Peter's address, 110 A Piccadilly, is a subtle salute to Sherlock Holmes, who lived at 221 B Baker Street.
Silly Will: In "The Piscatorial Farce of the Stolen Stomach", a wealthy man leaves his stomach to his great-nephew, a medical student. When Lord Peter decides he wants to see the actual wording of the will, he poses as an author collecting examples of comic wills.
Smart People Know Latin: And Peter and Harriet are smart enough that he proposes to her, and she accepts, in Latin.
Truth in Television for educated English people of that generation. Also, the specific words he uses (placetne, magistra?) are a Shout Out to the Oxford degree ceremony. *
The standard form is placetne, magistre? asking the assembled graduates ("Masters") to consent to admit the graduand. Wimsey uses the female form magistra to Harriet, who is herself an Oxford graduate. This ties in nicely with the Family Versus Career themes of the novel.
Smart People Play Chess: Averted - while a few gifted players appear among the supporting characters, neither Peter nor Harriet can play very well.
"The Reason You Suck" Speech: In Clouds of Witnesses Peter delivers a richly deserved one to Mary's fiancee, Goyles when, after spending half the book tracking him down it turns out that Goyles hadn't shot Cathcart at all, only stumbled across his body in the dark and ran off in a panic.
Thrifty Scot: Peter makes a lot of Thrifty Scot jokes. Of the many Scottish characters in the stories, only Great-Uncle Joseph from The Piscatorial Farce of the Stolen Stomach seems noticeably thrifty.
Time Delayed Death: Busman's Honeymoon as well as Have His Carcase — though that has its own spin on this trope.
Tomboy: It's hard to find a little girl in the books who isn't a tomboy of some sort - usually a car/motorbike fanatic. Five Red Herrings has two!
Tomboy and Girly Girl: Sylvia Marriott and Eiluned Price, particularly in the 1987 Edward Petherbridge series.
The Tooth Hurts: The reason Lord Peter visited his dentist in In the Teeth of the Evidence? A tooth broke.
True Art Is Incomprehensible: In-universe, Peter meets a number of bohemian thinkers who hold to this belief, expressing that, for instance, "Scenes which make emotional history should ideally be expressed in a series of animal squeals."
Unable to Support a Wife: George in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club — unusually, the condition arises after he marries.
Uncanny Family Resemblance: Invoked in the invention of Peter's identical cousin, Death Bredon, in Murder Must Advertise and The Bibulous Business of a Matter of Taste.
Unusual Chapter Numbers: Each book has a different system. Some have plain numbers; some are named for that chapter's chief character; some are thematic.
Upper Class Twit: Peter's brother Gerald, the Duke of Denver; Gerald's wife Helen, the Duchess of Denver
Viewers Are Geniuses: Well, readers anyway. The books are stuffed with obscure literary allusions, and just try to solve the crossword puzzle clue in The Fascinating Problem Of Uncle Meleager's Will...
The Watson: Parker, Bunter, Harriet or a local policeman typically serve as Peter's Watson, and various members of the SCR serve as Harriet's. These Watsons are generally very bright themselves, and serve as sounding-boards to more speculative theories or areas of highly-specialised exposition.
Wax Museum Morgue: In The Abominable History of the Man With the Copper Fingers. The last statue the jealous sculptor made of his mistress... isn't quite a statue.
Wham Episode: The cricket match chapter in Murder Must Advertise ends with Lord Peter getting arrested. Howzat?