A Facility for Quotation Covers the Absence of Original Thought

Dorothy L. Sayers? Lord Peter Wimsey? Harriet Vane? Philip Broadley? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: I have found the perfect sardonic motto for the QI website:

A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought.

According to the “Encarta Book of Quotations” 1 these words were spoken by the character Lord Peter Wimsey in the 1935 novel “Gaudy Night” by the acclaimed mystery writer Dorothy L. Sayers.

Prepare for the twist ending of this message. I have “Gaudy Night” on my bookshelf, but I have been unable to find this quotation. Would you please help to solve this vexatious mystery?

Quote Investigator: QI has examined two editions 2 of “Gaudy Night” 3
and has been unable to find this quip; hence, QI believes that the “Encarta” reference book is mistaken.

Interestingly, a different novel by Sayers contains a very similar remark by Lord Peter Wimsey. He delivered the following line in the 1932 novel “Have His Carcase”. Boldface added to excerpts by QI: 4

“I always have a quotation for everything—it saves original thinking.”

“Blast the man!” said Harriet, left abruptly alone in the blue-plush lounge.

Below are additional selected citations that assist in the resolution of this whodunit.

Continue reading A Facility for Quotation Covers the Absence of Original Thought

Notes:

  1. 2000, Encarta Book of Quotations, Edited by Bill Swainson, Entry: Dorothy L. Sayers, Quote Page 826, St. Martin’s Press, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1958 (1935 Copyright), Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers, (Quotation was absent), Victor Gollancz Ltd, London. (Verified with scans)
  3. 1968 (1936 Copyright), Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers, (Quotation was absent), Avon Books: A Division of The Hearst Corporation, New York. (Verified with scans)
  4. 1975 (Copyright 1932), Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers, Series: A Lord Peter Wimsey Novel, Quote Page 53, Avon Books: A Division of The Hearst Corporation, New York. (Verified with scans)

As Years Come In and Years Go Out, I Totter Toward the Tomb

Dorothy L. Sayers? Apocryphal?

Dear Quote Investigator: Gossip mongers are obsessed with identifying and publicizing the latest carnal pairings of celebrities. The acclaimed mystery writer Dorothy L. Sayers composed a short poem expressing disinterest in this subject, and I have seen two distinct versions of her humorous four lines. Would you please help me to find a citation?

Quote Investigator: The earliest evidence located by QI appeared in a letter written by Dorothy L. Sayers in 1953. She was responding to John Betjeman who inquired about the poem. Sayers recognized that different versions were circulating, and she presented the following text as genuine: 1

As years come in and years go out
I totter toward the tomb,
Still caring less and less about
Who goes to bed with whom.

Sayers highlighted the rhyme between the first and third lines, and said that the “alliteration in the second line lends, I feel, a kind of rickety dignity to the whole”. The third and fourth lines are spoken together without a pause; referred to as enjambment in poetry. Sayers commented that the rhyme and flow “seem to usher in the final pronouncement with a more breathless solemnity.”

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading As Years Come In and Years Go Out, I Totter Toward the Tomb

Notes:

  1. 2000 Copyright, The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers: Volume Four: 1951-1957: In the Midst of Life by Dorothy L. Sayers (Dorothy Leigh Sayers), Chosen and Edited by Barbara Reynolds, Letter from Dorothy L. Sayers to John Betjeman, Letter dated February 2, 1953, Quote Page 80, Published by The Dorothy L. Sayers Society, Carole Green Publishing, Cambridge, England. (Verified with scans from Wheaton College, Buswell Library)

I Always Have a Quotation for Everything—It Saves Original Thinking

Creator: Dorothy L. Sayers, prominent English mystery writer, playwright, and poet

Context: Sayers published the crime novel “Have His Carcase” in 1932. The quotation was spoken by Lord Peter Wimsey while he was conversing with Harriet Vane. Emphasis added to excerpts: 1

“There’s something in that. But I’ll have to get a decent frock if there is such a thing in Wilvercombe.”

“Well, get a wine-coloured one, then. I’ve always wanted to see you in wine-colour. It suits people with honey-coloured skin. (What an ugly word ‘skin’ is.) ‘Blossoms of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured nenuphar’—I always have a quotation for everything—it saves original thinking.”

Wimsey was quoting from the poem “The Sphinx” by Oscar Wilde which included the following lines: 2

Or did huge Apis from his car leap down and lay before your feet

Big blossoms of the honey-sweet and honey-coloured nenuphar?

Some editions of “Have His Carcase” employed the incorrect spelling “menuphar” instead of “nenuphar” (water-lily).

Notes:

  1. 1975 (Copyright 1932), Have His Carcase by Dorothy L. Sayers, Series: A Lord Peter Wimsey Novel, Quote Page 52 and 53, Avon Books: A Division of The Hearst Corporation, New York. (Verified with scans)
  2. 1909 Copyright, Complete Writings of Oscar Wilde, Poems, Poem: The Sphinx (1894), Start Page 287, Quote Page 297, The Nottingham Society, New York. (Google Books Full View) link