Thursday, July 3, 2014

Tey for You and Tey for Me

Well, it's a new month at The Passing Tramp and that means, of course, that it's time for another blog post taking issue with Julian Symons!

Julian Symons
Readers of this blog will know that I have most recently disagreed with Symons about hard-boiled crime writershumorous crime writers and Rex Stout.  But it's not just your Passing Tramp who disagrees with Mr. Symons.  Lucy Worsley, it will be recalled, was so outraged by Symons' comments in his book Bloody Murder about Dorothy L. Sayers' Gaudy Night--a book she considers one of the great 20th century crime novels--that she threw her copy of Bloody Murder on the floor and stamped on it!

While the generality of opinion these days no doubt agrees with Symons that the modern era of the "crime novel" is superior to the Golden Age of detective fiction (What Golden Age, one wisenheimer modern crime writer, recently asked, Dan Andriacco tells us), it strikes me that a lot of Symons' opinions about specific crime writers actually are out of sync with modern views. 

Josephine Tey
Take Josephine Tey, for example.  Of Tey's eight crime novels, published between 1929 and her sadly premature death in 1952, Symons likes The Franchise Affair (1948) best, praising the opening section as "wonderfully good."  However, Symons goes on to pronounce that the "solution is a little disappointing, not only because it is foreseeable, but because the central figures are no more than conventionally sketched."

Symons doesn't mention another great Tey favorite, Brat Farrar (1949), but he considers Tey's The Daughter of Time (1951) at greater length.  He does not like this book, which was voted the greatest mystery novel of all time by the Crime Writers Association in 1990, four years before Symons' death (by the by, Symons won a Gold Dagger from the CWA in 1957 for his crime novel The Colour of Murder).

Most readers of this blog no doubt know that The Daughter of Time tells the story of Tey's Inspector Grant, laid up in hospital, researching the mystery of Richard II and the infamous murder of the Princes in the Tower. When The Daughter of Time was first published in the middle of the twentieth century, it was heartily praised for doing something different with the mystery fiction format (though John Dickson Carr's The Murder of Sir Edmund Godfrey, 1936, somewhat anticipated Tey's book).

Framed? Richard III
Symons, however, was not impressed with Time, complaining that there 

is nothing new about the theory [of the murders advanced by Grant]....Grant's almost total ignorance of history is the most remarkable thing about the book.  The pleasure taken by critics in the slow unfolding of a thesis already well known suggests a similar ignorance on their part.  Still more to the point is the fact that this amateur rehashing of a well-known argument, interspersed with visits from friends to the detective's bedside is, as one might expect, really rather dull.

Whatever one thinks of Tey's books, Symons concluded, they were "not only preoccupied by the past but also belonged to it."  The cutting edge novels of the mid-twentieth century, Symons argues, were concerned with realism and human psychology.

Yet don't Tey's fans believe that Tey's novels--at least the six post-WW2 ones--have much greater realism and character depth than most Golden Age puzzle-oriented mysteries? Don't they admire them precisely because they feel they are "real novels"?  Was Symons possibly reacting more to the traditional social milieus of the Tey novels (schools, villages, country houses).  What do you think?

And what are your favorite Teys?  I think it's safe to sat that the Big Three are The Daughter of Time, Brat Farrar and The Franchise Affair, with Miss Pym Disposes perhaps nipping discreetly at their heels.  The other four Tey mystery novels tend to be comparatively neglected.  I soon will post a review of one of the latter four books.


  1. I think the difference between Daughter of Time and Carr's Sir Edmund Godfrey is that one can actually read more than five pages of Tey's novel without falling asleep. To misquote and paraphrase an old Broadway saying, Carr's book is one where you walk out humming the research.

  2. Interesting - I'll look forward to your review. Tey drives me mad, but I still find her books immensely readable - though The Franchise Affair is the least enjoyable to re-read. All the others stand up well. I have a lot of issues with Daughter of Time, but I don't find it dull.

    1. I've never re-read The Franchise Affair, but liked it a lot on the one reading. Once you know much about Tey, however, I suspect the outcome is unlikely to surprise!

  3. I couldn't bear The Daughter of Time, though my issues were mostly with the way she argued her case. The Franchise Affair I enjoyed, although I would have to agree that the story was undermined by the fact that the solution was entirely foreseeable, and that too seemed on account of this need to make a point and argue a case.

    1. I'm with Karen about her reaction to THE DAUGHTER OF TIME. A real chore to read and unexciting to me. I think it's vastly overrated. It gets a lot of attention for the gimmick of a bedridden detective solving a historical case. A lot of other crime writers copied her idea later. THE WENCH IS DEAD by Colin Dexter has Inspector Morse doing a similar bedside detective work while recuperating from an illness. Some of Tey's other books are more enjoyable as far as character and plot. BRAT FARRAR and MISS PYM DISPOSES, for example. I like the Hitchcock version of SHILLING FOR CANDLES, but have yet to read the book. One of these days I'll tackle THE SINGING SANDS (her last book not well reviewed by critics) which is one of the few 1st editions of her books I own.

    2. I have to say, with you two, that I'm not a great Time fan either. And it's ironic, I suppose, because my field is history and as a teenager I loved the Wars of the Roses period of English history. But I kept thinking, why didn't Tey just write a historical monograph on the subject?

      John, the good news about Candles is that the Hitchcock film is almost entirely different, so reading the book will be practically a new experience! I liked The Singing Sands myself. Barzun picked that one for his 100 Crime Classics series.

  4. Daughter of Time was an interesting experiment and if it didn't entirely succeed it gets points for trying. I quite enjoyed The Man in the Queue.

    1. Time certainly made an impression at the, um, time! I kind of surprised, however, that it's only gotten more popular over the years, evidently.