Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Following Lord Peter to Balliol

Dateline: June 30, 2015
Place: Balliol College, Oxford University
Time:  Just before leaving (3:30 p.m. ish)
Temperature: Still 30° C
Song of the afternoon: Lord Peter Wimsey theme song

My parents had a strict Friday night ritual when I was growing up: watching PBS TV including Masterpiece Theatre with Alistair Cooke. While I wasn’t so much into Wall Street Week or Washington Week in review, I loved Masterpiece Theatre. This is where I was introduced to Glenda Jackson playing Elizabeth I, the Bellamy family of Upstairs, Downstairs and, above all else, Lord Peter Wimsey, the aristocratic detective created by British mystery novelist Dorothy Sayers.

Portrait of Dorothy L. Sayers that hangs
in the British National Portrait Gallery.

I watched the series with Ian Carmichael and then the trilogy with Edward Petherbridge and, of course, read the books: Murder Must Advertise, Clouds of Witness, Gaudy Night. I have just re watched Gaudy Night, set at a women's college at Oxford and filled with London references that I now know first-hand ("She went up to King's on The Strand") so naturally I had to tour the grounds of Balliol College while in Oxford--because Lord Peter was a Balliol alumnus, as was his spouse Harriet Vane.

The grounds are beautiful--neat, with banks of lovely flowers and old, old trees just meant to canopy picnickers.
The Fellows' Garden ... but where is the murderer?

And, of course, compartmentalized into open spaces as well as the cloistered master’s and fellows’ gardens … which makes me think of Harriet Vane trespassing in the fellows’ garden as shetries to solve a mystery that, at its root, is about a woman's place in society as well as academic integrity. 

And, just before I leave, I have some cranberry juice fizz at The Buttery, across the street from the college … because the name is charming and yet another Wimsical reference.

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