After a short chapter of about 2000 words on the Detection Club (this is acceptable, though you will learn much more about the Detection Club from Doug Greene's observations on it in his biography of John Dickson Carr, my CADS booklet Was Corinne's Murder Clued? The Detection Club and Fair Play and Peter Lovesey's essay on the Detection Club, forthcoming in Mysteries Unlocked), Worsley in Chapter 23, "Snobbery with Violence," adopts the old Julian Symons-Colin Watson take on Golden Age English detective novels, castigating the books for their "attitude that servants are not really human" (the chapter title is the same as the title of Colin Watson's book on the subject).
Worsley cites as evidence for this assertion Margery Allingham's Albert Campion and his manservant Magersfontein Lugg. Do Allingham readers agree that the memorably-portrayed Lugg comes off as "not really human"? And what about Dorothy L. Sayers' Bunter? He may not be human, but, if so, it's because he's super-human, not subhuman!
|Not really human? Lugg and Campion|
Worsley also cites a character in Sayers' The Nine Tailors (a Mrs. Gates), who says of a chauffeur, "I believe him to be a perfectly truthful man, as such people go." Worsley doesn't mention that immediately after this comment the person Mrs. Gates is talking to mentally refers to her as "this old cat." Worsley may have missed this, but Mrs. Gates and her retrograde social attitudes (and, yes, they were retrograde attitudes, even among Sayers' readership, in the 1930s) are being satirically portrayed by Sayers. This is not evidence for Worsley's claim, but rather evidence against it.*
*(Here is a character's description of Mrs. Gates from earlier in the novel: "But I'll tell you who would have noticed anything, and that's Mrs. Gates--our housekeeper, you know....She's a perfect ghoul...She's quite nice, really, but she ought to live in a Victorian novel....")
Of course Worsley, like Symons and Watson before her, is right that there are plenty of objectionable classist attitudes about servants legitimately attributable to authors of Golden Age mysteries, but the argument can be overdrawn. In fairness to the Golden Age mystery, there was more nuance on this matter than often is admitted.
Worsley goes on to pronounce that "in the Golden Age, too, the detective was usually of a specific social class, much more elevated than it had been in the days of Inspectors Field and Whicher, when detection was considered dirty work....Agatha Christie cleverly allowed Hercule Poirot to sidestep the issue of class by making him Belgian and therefore, notoriously, hard to categorize. But a great many of his colleagues sprung from the ranks of the aristocracy."
Predictably, Worsley then goes on to offer as evidence of the "great many" Peter Wimsey, Albert Campion and Roderick Alleyn. Once again only resort to the Crime Queens is made. But what about the resolutely bourgeois Inspector French (Freeman Wills Crofts), Superintendent Wilson (GDH and Margaret Cole) and Inspector Macdonald (ECR Lorac)?
These are three examples, just the number Worsley offers, but additional ones could be offered (and have been on this blog). It's simply not true that the readership of Golden Age mysteries could not abide a smart middle class policeman as a series sleuth.
|a middle class copper|
Part Four will consider Worsley's explanation for the "fall" of the Golden Age detective novel.