The Lady Garden

Tea and Strumpets

On Marriage

Over the summer, I’ve been bingeing on vintage detective fiction. Along with Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh, I also love the lesser-known Gladys Mitchell. I love the slightly mannered air time has given these books, and the occasional delights caused by changes in language usage. (In The Saltmarsh Murders, a woman is described as having “turned gay”. After a while I worked out this meant she was having a heterosexual affair.) Also there’s a group of young women whose friendships really do seem to have… distinct lesbian overtones.

This passage really struck me recently, in Death and the Maiden, published in 1947.

Laura grinned. “You’ve guess it,” she said contentedly. “Yes, the lad and I have come to a sort of understanding. I’m not to interfere with his career, and he’s not to take me away from my job, and we fight all the time in any case, but, apart from that, there seems little reason why the wedding bells, as such, should not peal out in the comparatively near future. Your congratulations are neither solicited nor desired. I think, myself, I’m being a bit of a fool, but you probably know how it is.”

“Well, well!” said Mrs Bradley. “Dear me! And I never suspected a thing!”

“Call yourself a detective!” said Laura. “I thought it stuck out a mile. Still, we haven’t really seen much of one another yet, you know, and it’s such a nuisance I shall have to be the one to have the children. It’s such a waste of time, and the sort of thing calculated, I should fancy, to drive intelligent females mad, but there it is. Three boys and a girl is my schedule, to be produced within nine years. What do you think? Is that reasonable? I thought I’d get it over, you know, and then take up motor-racing or something.”

Lucky we’ve come such a long way in the last sixty years, etc.

8 responses to “On Marriage

  1. Lucy Stewart January 12, 2012 at 1:08 pm

    Marsh and Christie are regular comforts to me – along with Dorothy Sayers – but the older I get, the more jarring I find them to read; everything will be proceeding along quite smoothly when suddenly OH HAI, SEXISM AND RACISM AND ALL THE OTHER ISMS. (Georgette Heyer, despite her magnificence in other regards, has the same issue with a truly cavalier attitude to sexual assault by her heroes.) It’s not going to stop me reading them, but boy, does it throw you out of the story.

    • Emma January 12, 2012 at 4:09 pm

      I’ve been thinking about this while reading the Agatha Christie I’m currently on. There’s a lot of casual “but then of course she married a Greek, which is almost as bad as an Argentinian,” but at no point do I get the feeling that… it’s an authorial voice? Not to say that there aren’t other places where Christie’s books are more inherently, subtly racist, but for some reason it doesn’t bother me as much as, say, Heinlein’s misogyny.

      • Lucy Stewart January 13, 2012 at 11:44 am

        t no point do I get the feeling that… it’s an authorial voice?

        That’s a good point. I certainly feel it’s an accurate portrayal of the attitudes of the time, but Christie (and Marsh) are sympathetic enough to a variety of people in different novels that I don’t feel most of the creepiest stuff reflects *their* worldview – and I like me some military SF, so I have extensive experience with creepy authorial worldviews.

  2. Trouble January 12, 2012 at 1:32 pm

    I love Dorothy Sayers for the snapshot of her life and times, rather than the detective business. Gaudy Night and Strong Poison stand out in particular – they’re both very autobiographical, apart from the crimes of course. Like her heroine, Sayers was talked into moving in with a man who professed a principled disbelief in the institution of marriage. When he later proposed, she (they?) realised the deception was an attempt to test her devotion, decided that that was no way to be treated, and moved out again. Unlike her heroine, Sayers got pregnant during the business and had to have her baby secretly and give him up for adoption to a friend.

  3. Msconduct January 12, 2012 at 3:56 pm

    There was a somewhat free adaptation of the Mrs Bradley mysteries on UK TV a few years ago starring Diana Rigg. They implied heaviliy all the way through that she and her chauffeur George were having constant torrid sex off camera, which no doubt would have raised Gladys Mitchell’s eyebrows but which was immensely entertaining.

    • Emma January 12, 2012 at 4:07 pm

      I loved that series, though to be fair I will watch Diana Rigg do pretty much anything. They made the Mrs Bradley character much more attractive and less disconcerting than she is in the books, but as separate things they’re both quite enjoyable. Also, bonus David Tennant.

      • Msconduct January 12, 2012 at 4:14 pm

        Oh God, yes, I’d forgotten he was in it. Also bonus Doctor Peter Davison, doing evil very very well.

        • Emma January 12, 2012 at 4:28 pm

          I have this friend? And sometimes I go to her house and we spend the entire weekend watching British murder mysteries. It’s kind of awesome.

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