The Sirens Sang of Murder
Copyright © 1989 by Sarah Caudwell
We are of course anxious, said Julia, to appeal to as wide a public as possible, and it seems to us that the readers who want fiction to be like life are considerably outnumbered by those who would like life to be like fiction.
But that doesnt mean it hasnt got verysmellitude, said Cantrip. Its all based on real life, so its going to have verysmellitude in bucketfuls.
|Her tone had unmistakeably been that used by a well-bred Englishwoman to indicate that if she were not well-bred, or not English, she would be making a scene.|
|The chagrin of a woman displaced in her lovers affections is as nothing compared with that of a barrister superseded in the favour of a leading firm of solicitors.|
|Chapter 3||The Guide to Comfortable Tax Planning, which contains much invaluable advice on such questions as where to stay in Vaduz, eat in Gibraltar, or buy a novel in the British Virgin Islands, which flights to Luxembourg offer free champagne, what to see in Nassau, do in Vanuatu, wear in Panama, drink in the Netherlands Antilles, and on no account do in the Turks and Caicos, is unfortunately not available to the general public: it has been compiled by certain members of the Tax Bar for the benefit of no one but themselves, and the few copies in existence are subject to constant revision by means of notes circulated among the contributors.|
|People do follow people, so if you think youre being followed by someone and youre not, thats not being loopy, its just being wrongbeing loopy is if you think youre being followed by purple elephants, unless you are of course.|
I suppose, said Ragwort, that he is simply one of those all too numerous people who have no idea of the difference between right and wrong.
I suspect, said Julia, that he thinks things are wrong only if one enjoys them, and is able on that basis to regard himself as a man of the highest moral character.
|Chapter 6||By the modest standards of the unworldly Scholar, the offer seemed not ungenerous; and yet, were I now to decline it, she could not but think that my reason was the inadequacy of the financial reward. I could not endure to be suspected of so grasping and sordid a motive: I indicated that I would undertake the investigation on the terms she had proposed.|
|Chapter 7||I had been at fault, I now saw, in indulging the natural preference of the Scholar for quiet, solitary research among the dusty documents of a bygone era. My attention should be concentrated not on a shadowy and hypothetical class of suspects of whom I knew nothing, but on those persons whom I already knew to exist and to be connected with the Daffodil settlement. I must not be deterred by the possibility that this might oblige me to travel to the Channel Islands, Monaco, or even, if necessary, the Cayman Islands.|
The trouble is, said Selena, with a certain wistfulness, that you and I, Julia, have been brought up in an era of emancipation and enlightenment, and we have got into the habit of treating men as if they were normal, responsible, grown-up people. We engage them in discussion; we treat their opinions as worthy of quite serious consideration; we seek to influence their behaviour by rational argument rather than by some simple system of rewards and punishments. Its all a great mistake, of course, and only makes them confused and miserableespecially men like the Colonel, who have grown up with the idea that women will tell them what they ought to do without their having to think about it for themselves. But Im afraid its too late to put the clock back.
I suppose, I said, that he was rather bored by Alls Well That Ends Well?
On the contrary, he enjoyed it enormously, suspending disbelief to an extent that the producer can hardly have dreamt of. He took in particular a great fancy to Helena, whom he described as a damned fine girl, and a corresponding dislike to the Count of Roussillon, whom he judged to be unworthy of her affections. So strongly, indeed, did he feel on the subject that in the middle of the fifth act he rose from his seat and shouted, Shame, sir, shame, youre a scoundrel, and I had some difficulty in persuading him to sit down and be quiet.
She had never heard of such a thingor at any rate she had never read of such a thingor at any rate not in any piece of respectable crime fiction published since the beginning of the Second World War. A physical object, forsooth, with the initials of a suspect engraved on itwhy, it was worse than a fingerprint. If we must have a clue of a physical natureand in Julias experience the best authors nowadays wholly eschewed such vulgaritiesthen let it at least be one invisible to the naked eye and identifiable only by the most sophisticated techniques of modern pathology. If the progress of the past half century was to count for nothing, then one might as well go back, said Julia scathingly, to murders committed by means of arsenic or for motives of matrimonial jealousy.
I do not doubt, I said, that in a crime novel having any pretensions to modernity, the pen would be quite inadmissible. As a mere historian, however, there is nothing I can do about it. Nature, as we know, does imitate Art, but I fear that she all too often falls short of the highest standards. Were you to turn your attention from fictional crimes to those reported in the newspapers, you would find that people are still leaving fingerprints and murdering unfaithful spouses for all the world as if they were living in the 1920s. In the more backward parts of the country they may even still be poisoning one another with arsenic. We cannot ignore the pen for the sake of literary fashion.
The trouble with real life is that you dont know whether youre the hero or just some nice chap who gets bumped off in chapter five to show what a rotter the villain is without anyone minding too much.
|Chapter 12||He wanted to make it all official to start withyou know, have me seconded to his unit for the purposes of the operationbut I talked him out of that. Squiffy, I said, once we start putting things in writing and signing them in triplicate, whats going to happen? You know whats going to happen, I said, Its all going to end up on some chaps desk in War House. And what are the chaps in War House there for? Theyre there to find out if any of us have got a bit of fun lined up and put the kybosh on it. If you try to make it official, you can kiss good-bye to me as a navigator, and probably the whole operation. Squiffy, I said, dont do it. He saw the sense of it in the end, so I stayed unofficial. Never stir up trouble when you dont have to, thats my motto, said the Colonel virtuously.|
|Chapter 18||People do what books have taught them to do and feel what books have taught them to feelit is curiously difficult to do otherwise.|
text checked (see note) Feb 2006