Saturday, November 29, 2014

P D James, RIP

From the Telegraph obituary for P D James, perhaps the best mystery novelist of my time and certainly one of my favorites:
  • For most of her writing life P D James was saddled with the sobriquet “Queen (or First Lady) of Crime”, a crown which the media had handed to her following the death of Agatha Christie in 1976. But she was at pains to point out that she differed from Christie (“such a bad writer”) in that she cared about the victim and thought that treating the corpse as simply part of a puzzle “trivialised death”.
  • She was...a committed Anglican: she was horrified when no one seemed to realise that the title of her novel Devices and Desires came from the Book of Common Prayer.
  • Her descriptions of English country churches were both loving and evocative, reflecting her interest in church architecture and her passion for the language of the Authorised Version of the Bible. “Clerics have debased the Authorised Version,” she complained, “presumably on the basis that they are better writers than Cranmer or that God is unable to appreciate the more subtle rhythms of 17th-century prose.”
James was a member of the Church of England's Liturgical Commission and expressed doubts about the modernized Book of Common Prayer, the 16th- and 17th-century Anglican service book famous for the beauty of its language.

"Something vital is lost, surely, when 'Let not your heart be troubled' is translated as 'Do not be worried and upset,'" she said.
  • I believe that political correctness can be a form of linguistic fascism, and it sends shivers down the spine of my generation who went to war against fascism. The only way to react is to get up in the morning and start the day by saying four or five vastly politically incorrect things before breakfast!
  • I like structured fiction, with a beginning, a middle, and an end. I like a novel to have narrative drive, pace, resolution, which a detective novel has.
And from an early post on this site:
.... For many years, now, P D James has been one of the best practitioners of the art of the mystery story. From a review by Ralph C. Wood of P D James's most recent Dalgliesh mystery novel The Lighthouse:
IN HIS CELEBRATED 1948 essay on detective fiction, "The Guilty Vicarage," W.H. Auden argued that the appeal of crime novels lies in their "dialectic of innocence and guilt." A seemingly edenic community is discovered to have a murderer in its midst. Various false clues and secondary murders cast suspicion on nearly everyone and thus reveal the falseness of the community's innocence. With the almost miraculous aid of a detective who possesses superior powers of perception, the true criminal is caught and punished, as the community undergoes a catharsis that cleanses its partial guilt and restores its innocence. Hence Auden's conclusion that the detective story, though a worthy genre, is a peculiarly Protestant form of magic: a "fantasy of escape," built on the Socratic daydream that "sin is ignorance."
Auden rightly describes the pattern that obtains in the huge preponderance of crime novels—though there have always been some that elude the easy escapist comfort. The novels of P.D. James, for instance, mainly because her victims are not entirely innocent nor her villains entirely guilty. A complex admixture of good and evil lies at the moral and religious center of her work....
Either mushiness or hardness of heart prompts nearly all personal sins, James suggests, from the great to the small, from murder to gossip. The only antidote lies in the pity that seeks firm justice while acknowledging that everyone, even the worst, suffers irremediably. What we do with our suffering is what matters. Our sins most often spring not from mere ignorance, James teaches, but from false innocence. Despite Auden’s salutary warning, therefore, such detective fiction as hers enables us to confront our real guilt. ....