Of all DLS’s novels this is the one in which the aftermath of the war is most present. To my recollection, it is barely mentioned (if at all) in most of the others, with the exception that Wimsey suffers occasionally from shell shock. Perhaps the fact that this book was published in 1928 is significant – this date seems to have been the trigger for a lot of writing such as the classic novel, The Middle Part of Fortune, and Robert Graves’ ‘autobiography’ Goodbye to all That. Perhaps with the 10th anniversary of the end of the war, the dedication of the Menin Gate the previous year, many old wounds were scraped raw once more. I know that my great aunt took the opportunity that year to visit her husband’s grave in France (we still have the photographs my grandfather took on their trip). Whatever the reason, the war permeates this novel; indeed the fact that the murder is discovered on Armistice Day is key to the plot.
It opens on Armistice Day in the hallowed portals of the Bellona Club. The opening chapter contains a rather interesting discussion between Wimsey and George Fentiman, one of the major characters in the book. They are discussing how they feel about the Armistice Day parade. Wimsey says:
“It’s my belief most of us would only be too pleased to chuck these community hysterics if the beastly newspapers didn’t run it for all it’s worth. However, it won’t do to say so.”
That Sayers has put these words into the mouth of her hero would seem to indicate that we are assumed to share this attitude, or at least understand it.
All is not well with George Fentiman. He tells Wimsey:
“Oh rotten as usual. Tummy all wrong and no money. What’s the damn good of it, Wimsey? A man goes and fights for his country, gets his inside gassed out, and loses his job, and all they give him is the privilege of marching past the Cenotaph once a year and paying four shillings in the pound income-tax.”
Again, I would suggest that not only is this an attitude that we are assumed to be familiar with, but perhaps also, know men in that situation.
When the inevitable body is discovered, George has a most unseemly bout of hysterics.
“It is doubtful which occurrence was more disagreeable to the senior members of the Bellona Club – the grotesque death of General Fentiman in their midst or the indecent neurasthenia of his grandson.”
So it is understood that not everyone is sympathetic to George’s behaviour. You can almost see the moustaches bristling in disapproval. But later in the book, Fentiman’s shell shock is important to the plot when he has a complete breakdown.
I don’t think Sayers was trying to make any profound statements with this book, she was writing an entertaining piece of detective fiction, not a literary thesis. However, I do think she was attempting to reflect that section of society in which she and her readers lived.