Monday, June 23, 2014

"If Agatha Christie and P.G. Wodehouse had a child, he'd have written this book."

Okay, if you know me by now (get to know me!), you'll know that's probably the best imaginable headline for a review of one of my books, ever. (Well, maybe "Spielberg offers half a billion for movie rights to mystery series" might just cap it.)

So special thanks to Laura Hartman, reviewer for Patch in the Oswego area, for all her enthusiasm. And for a magnificent piece of wordplay.

You see, I have a character in This Private Plot called "Lesbia Weguelin," and Laura speculates that it's a double-entendre for something like "let's be a wiggling."  

I love this. It's entirely appropriate in a book that includes a character whose name is the Swedish word for penis. (Quilt-Hogg and Mormal also have dubious etymologies, and An Embarrassment of Corpses includes a company called "Woodcock and Oakhampton." So far, nobody's spotted the filthy joke behind that one.)

Unfortunately, the wiggling is entirely accidental. Here's the true story.

I'm a devotee of the early 20th century "English musical renaissance," and I have quite an extensive collection of CDs by British composers from this period. Hyperion is one of several recording companies that have done an outstanding job of reviving the works of many lesser known composers, with well-chosen artwork for the CD covers. Back in the dark times when we indulged in CDs.

Lesbia - Weguelin. (See?)
For several recordings of big works by Sir Granville Bantock (1868-1946), Hyperion astutely chose paintings by contemporaneous neo-classical artists -- you know, all Mediterranean sunlight, diaphanous gowns, and a marked absence of underwear. But this was okay for the Victorians, because the young ladies thus depicted were (a) foreign and (b) from classical literature, so it was educational. Besides, you could always blindfold the piano legs.

And for Sir GB's 1906 hour-long orchestral song cycle "Sappho," coupled with his "Sapphic Poem" -- I'm not making this up -- the selected image was an 1878 picture called "Lesbia" by John Reinhard Weguelin (1849-1927), an English artist despite his name.

You might think this pairing coyly matched the implied sexual theme. You'd be wrong. The real Lesbia was a pseudonym for a former mistress of Catallus, the first-centry BCE Roman poet, and from what was said of her at the time, she was decidedly heterosexual and seemed intent on proving it to as many famous men as possible. A good sport, we might say euphemistically. Well, if you looked anything like Weguelin's slice of Victorian soft-core porn -- history lesson, I mean -- you wouldn't keep it to yourself, would you?

Where was I? Oh yes. I don't have this particular CD, but I saw it a while ago in the Hyperion catalogue with a credit for the cover art abbreviated to "Lesbia Weguelin." And I knew immediately that I had to invent a character with that name.

Boring stuff this, eh? Let's pretend instead that Laura was right all along . . .

"Knock knock."

"Who's there?"

"Lesbia Weguelin."

 "Lesbia Weguelin who?"

"Lesbia Weguelin, Miley, your fifteen minutes are nearly up."

Incidentally, were Agatha and PGW to have paired, they'd have been one of those rare couples to have received name-changing honors quite independently. (The wife of a knight get to be called "Lady Whatever" anyway, but in this case, the damehood would be in Agatha's own right.) Other examples are Dame Cleo Laine and the late Sir John Dankworth and Dame Agatha herself, whose second husband, Max Mallowan, had been knighted for services to archeology. Alas, Dame A and Sir Pelham Grenville Wodehouse could not have sired me, since poor PGW was apparently unable to have children, possibly because of a childhood case of mumps. Oddly enough, I read a 1934 comic story by Agatha last week called "The Girl in the Train" (it's in The Listerdale Mystery collection) that was clearly inspired by PGW and could almost have been written by him on one of his off days. I guess there's more than one way to reproduce.

1 comment:

  1. I love the real story behind her name. But it still makes me chuckle every time I read it :)