Friday, October 30, 2015

An unfortunate taste from the past

Just for fun, I've been rereading the Lord Peter Wimsey detective novels by Dorothy Sayers, which I probably last read when I was a boy living in England for a year back in 1963-64. They're quite engaging in many ways, at least if you happen to have a soft spot for England back between the two World Wars. Wimsey and his counterpart Harriet Vane are smart and funny, and the books' patient (one might say slow-paced) encounters with a rich slice of English life are intriguing too.

But here's one feature that's not so good: Dorothy Sayers was an anti-Semite. I have the impression that British society of this period was pervasively anti-Semitic, so in this respect as in so many others she is capturing the spirit of her age. But she does so without compunction. In one novel, for instance, she has one of her characters say that "A good Jew can be a good person." That's better than saying that a good Jew can't be a good person, of course, but not that much better. In fact, in each of the 5 books I've read so far, there's at least one gratuitous remark about a Jew, or about Jews. I hope it is fair to say that attitudes of this sort became impossible to hold, or express, after World War II. But I'm not absolutely sure.