Setting the Stage: An Introduction
When Lord Peter Wimsey, dressed as a harlequin, dives from atop a tall fountain into the shallow fishpond below, awestruck (albeit tipsy) partygoers breathlessly applaud his death-defying act. Later he offers a terse explanation for his flamboyant performance: “It pays to advertise.” In this scene from her 1933 novel, Murder Must Advertise, Dorothy L. Sayers advertises her own love of performance. From ornately costumed theatricals in her parents’ home to plays put up at Oxford University, Sayers relished role-playing. Even in her professional life she manifested a flair for the histrionic, with showy baubles dangling from her ears and, occasionally, a Marie Antoinette wig covering her hair loss. It is as though Sayers recognized that the actions one performs become a type of advertisement for the self—explaining, perhaps, why she hid her baby conceived outside of marriage; it was not a performance she wanted to advertise. Nevertheless, when she discussed her son with the cousin secretly raising him, she wrote, “I’ m glad he’ s such a good advertisement. I always knew he was going to be frightfully tough and obstreperous” (Ltrs 1. 216). Sayers employs two adjectives that might well describe herself, displayed when she sends B.B.C, representatives not a note of dismay for changes made in one of her radio plays, but an envelope filled with tiny, torn-up bits of her contract. As she states in the opening paragraph of “My Edwardian Childhood,” an autobiography that she later abandoned, “I never could resist a touch of the dramatic” (3).
KeywordsWriting Performance Ministic View Divine Comedy Detective Fiction Good Advertisement
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