Friday 8 June 2007

To patronise or not to patronise

I was just wondering... My comment about the 'O' level was essentially saying 'Look, I'm only quoting this because I happen to know it, not because I'm frightfully intellectual'. Is this terribly patronising? I'm never quite sure whether it's worse to assume that people do know things, or assume that they don't. People on the Dorothy L Sayers mailing list sometimes get very worked up about DLS putting chunks of French into the novels untranslated, and even having a short story that hinges on one knowing one's genders -- and of course you miss one whole vital denouement if you don't know Latin. Is this patronising? If it's assuming greater knowledge than readers actually possess, then presumably it's the opposite.

I've been re-reading the sequence Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night, Busman's Honeymoon, which ends the Lord Peter Wimsey saga with the Wimsey-Vane relationship. It's rather beautifully done, and the last of these is particularly satisfying in taking things on much further than one ever hopes for. I did wonder whether Gaudy Night doesn't flag a little in the first two thirds in which Wimsey hardly appears, but in fact I think on reflection it jogs along nicely but then accelerates when he turns up: the romance and the mystery gather pace in tandem. The whole love story is immensely satisfying. It does seem to me that DLs must be unleashing her own fantasies, but she controls them beautifully.

Most of my copies are a 1970s edition by the New English Library, with just a few typos, but rather jolly cover illustrations (except one that I think if you studied it closely would actually give away the plot), but I have two books in a new reprint, also NEL (except, now, of course, it's in lower case (welcome to the noughties)) which is apparently Hodder & Stoughton. They've been reset incredibly badly, with laughable typos that an infant could spot (double commas; words that even Microsoft's spellchecker would know were wrong) and some real idiocies (a Latin telegram that someone has obviously thought was meant to be in English). They've also got a truly ghastly introduction by someone called Elizabeth George, who obviously thinks she's the bees' knees and is prepared to patronise DLS in order to prove it.

Ooh, I've come around in an elegant circle. That doesn't often happen. In fact, I loathe the way it's almost ubiquitous now as a journalistic technique. It's rare to read an article, or at least a light-hearted one, that doesn't feebly hark back to its opening paragraph. I can see why it's a useful technique, but not every time. Please.

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