“Joyce has freed us from the superstition of syntax.”

Clouds of Witness (1925), by Dorothy L. Sayers.

Clouds of Witness (1925), by Dorothy L. Sayers.

Miss Tarrant secured seats at a rather crumby table near the serving-hatch, and Peter wedged himself in with some difficulty next to a very large, curly-haired man in a velvet coat, who was earnestly conversing with a thin, eager young woman in a Russian blouse, Venetian beads, a Hungarian shawl and a Spanish comb, looking like a personification of the United Front of the “Internationale.”

Lord Peter endeavoured to please his hostess by a question about the great Mr. Coke, but was checked by an agitated “Hush!”

Please don’t shout about it,” said Miss Tarrant, leaning across till her auburn mop positively tickled his eyebrows. “It’s so secret.”

“I’m awfully sorry,” said [Lord Peter] Wimsey apologetically. “I say, d’you know you’re dipping those jolly little beads of yours in the soup?”

“Oh, am I?” cried Miss Tarrant, withdrawing hastily. “Oh, thank you so much. Especially as the colour runs. I hope it isn’t arsenic or anything.” Then, leaning forward again, she whispered hoarsely: “The girl next to me is Erica Heath-Warburton—the writer, you know.”

Wimsey looked with a new respect at the lady in the Russian blouse. Few books were capable of calling up a blush to his cheek, but he remembered that one of Miss Heath-Warburton’s had done it. The authoress was just saying impressively to her companion:

“—ever know a sincere emotion to express itself in a subordinate clause?”

“Joyce has freed us from the superstition of syntax,” agreed the curly man.

“Scenes which make emotional history,” said Miss Heath-Warburton, “should ideally be expressed in a series of animal squeals.”

“The D. H. Lawrence formula,” said the other.

“Or even Dada,” said the authoress.

“We need a new notation,” said the curly-haired man, putting both elbows on the table and knocking Wimsey’s bread on to the floor. “Have you heard Robert Snoates recite his own verse to the tom-tom and the penny whistle?”

———

Tonight I had the rare joy of having a beer at a bar with a friend (not that—though a thing rare enough in itself, for him as for me I expect) and being asked, “What makes you feel joy?” and finding no response more apt than a long silence, for the answer was manifest.

The conversation led constantly from one thing to the next, as conversations always do with old friends catching up on years of absence, so that I found myself pouring forth a torrent of personal opinions, untested hypotheses and favorite theories, until I realized we were sitting in the parking lot of the Abbey and it was time for him to go and me to get back to my hotel and get a night’s sleep (-1 hour).

The great Dorothy Sayers (1893–1957), author of great detective novels and, higher in my estimation, The Lost Tools of Learning, given at Oxford in 1947.

The great Dorothy Sayers (1893–1957), author of great detective novels and, higher in my estimation, The Lost Tools of Learning, given at Oxford in 1947.

So, exhausted from the traveling and the funeral and the normal things, naturally I came into the room to transcribe this delightful (and germane?!) passage I read in Dorothy Sayers’s Clouds of Witness.

Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for trusting to joy. I’ll have to thank my friend the next time I see him: he’s responsible for the invention of a “joy” tag on this blog, which is already, what, a couple of years old? But then, it looks like I didn’t have a “syntax” tag either.

Who pretends to be interested in truth and beauty and doesn’t even have a syntax tag on his blog, anyway?

Thanks, dear reader, should you ever find me, for being my gadfly.

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About philokalos

Philologist, historian, and lover of great books, I started this blog to keep myself alert to the beauty of what I see amid the demands of my work.
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