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Updated Up To 18/01/2017
Volume 8, Issue 2 (June 2010) : 365--87
Dorothy Sayers and the Case of the Shell-Shocked Detective

Ariela Freedman
Rubric A: Narrative as a Way of Thinking


Through readings of contemporary medical accounts of shell shock alongside Dorothy L. Sayersí (1893--1957) popular detective novels, this essay argues that through the character of Peter Wimsey, a veteran of the World War I and a survivor of shell shock, Sayers not only participates in the creation of a new kind of male literary protagonist, distinguished by his vulnerability rather than virility, but also intervenes in a contemporary debate about the place of a shell-shocked soldier in post-war society. While the medical literature aligned the doctor, detective, and policeman against the soldier, shell shock victim, and criminal, Sayers exposes and revises the implied alignment of shell shock and criminality, using shell shock as the pre-condition for the creation of an empathic, flawed, and profoundly modern detective in a traumatized and diminished post-war England.

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