An Annotated Wimsey


The LordPeter mailing list has undertaken the project of reading and discussing all the Lord Peter Wimsey stories in something like chronological order. As I started rereading Whose Body?, I was reminded of how many times I've wished there were an Annotated Wimsey. But alas, Sayers had not yet found her Martin Gardner. So I thought, anyway. Lacking the time or the knowledge to make up for the lack, I managed to use the occasion to compile as many notes as possible on the maze of allusions in the stories, particularly the variously obscure matters of literature, music, and 20s history. And science, which I do know something about.

The good news is that there is an Annotated Wimsey: Stephan Clarke's The Lord Peter Wimsey Companion. This was originally issued in 1985 by the Mysterious Press (ISBN 0892968508) and was an instant rarity after a major publisher bought that operation and promptly shredded its backlist. The most recent copies I've seen on the used-book market were listed around $250, which makes the high price I paid a few years ago look like a bargain.

But the really good news is that it's back in print, and better than ever. The second edition was released at the end of 2002 by The Dorothy L. Sayers Society and is available from the Society and other sources. It is vastly expanded from the first edition, beautifully laid out and printed, well and intelligently illustrated, a steal at under $50 US, and generally indispensable if one really takes an interest in the books.

Alas, it's not quite the Annotated Wimsey in the same sense as Martin Gardner's rendition of Alice. Lewis Carroll's copyright has expired; those of twentieth century authors have not expired, and never will, to the end of time. Hence, an annotated edition of the books would mean paying royalties on a whole new collected edition, which would be just too expensive for this small market. You must read your own copy and look things up in the LPWC. But Clarke had the absolutely ripping idea of providing a second index to the book, listing the entries according to the stories (or chapters) to which they refer. With this, reading the book and looking up annotations is as convenient as reading an annotated volume, pretty much.

In the meantime, what about these notes? They are a less significant project for me than before the book was issued, but they offer a different view of the works, less exacting and perhaps more whimsical. To the extent that I keep them up, they will try to cover things that ought to be covered in more detail than the space allotted in the LPWC allows, and things that I just feel like expanding on, and even maybe some points on which I don't entirely agree with Clarke's interpretations.

One item in the first category is the notes on The Documents in the Case, which is not Peter Wimsey at all. As a venture into current science and philosophy it is a very intriguing work (also a fine epistolary detective novel), and it offers much room for commentary seventy years later. Another item, strictly Wimseyan, is the crossword puzzle in Uncle Meleager's Will. This extravagant puzzle has an official solution, and a brief set of explanations of the solution (presumably by Sayers), and notes in the LPWC; but I'm still not satisfied. Hence my notes explaining the explanations of the solutions.

Other Wimseyan Sources

The central collection of Wimsey information and links is at The Wimsey Lovers' Page.

Notes on the Notes

What needs annotation, and what doesn't? You can explain everything, giving the impression that your readers are pig-ignorant. Or you can leave things out, implying "Nobody is so ignorant as not to know that!" Or, perhaps worst of all, you can write notes that apologize for themselves, which is somehow even more patronizing.

Dropping that last practice is a no-brainer. The best practice, which I'll attempt to emulate, is probably that of Harold Ross, who founded The New Yorker: Explain everything. As I recall, he said that the only two people you could name without any explanation were Houdini and Sherlock Holmes. So, if you find a note somewhere that makes you gnash your teeth at its explanation of the obvious, please consider that I may have done the same. Though more probably I gnashed my teeth at the obviousness of some other note.

For all that, here is a list of things that are taken for granted in my text.

The reader is assumed to have heard of the major works of Lewis Carroll, which are the second most widely reprinted books in English, and the most widely reprinted of original English works.
Biblical citations will be given without explanation, as in Luke 16:1-9. In some cases I may link to an on-line copy of the text, as with one of Sayers's favorite parables. Naturally, references will normally be to the Authorized (King James) Version, which Wimsey would have used.
Lord Peter Wimsey
In the least indefensible of these practices, the Peter Wimsey stories will simply be cited by name, or sometimes by standard abbreviation (see below).
The Lord Peter Wimsey Companion, cited above.
The Oxford English Dictionary, originally and properly known as the New English Dictionary, but no one would recognize that.
Sherlock Holmes
The Holmes stories will simply be referenced by name, as if no one in the world could fail to recognize The Hound of the Baskervilles or The Lion's Mane.

The notes as published here are based on my postings to the LordPeter mail list, with many changes and additions from the people on the list. I have tried to give credit where credit is due; please let me know where I've slipped up.

Page numbers in the text are mainly from my 1970-ish Avon paperbacks. I've given the page number for the start of each chapter, so that you can relate the numbers I use to those in your favorite edition. This should make finding text much easier till the arrival of that Definitive Edition whose very page numbers I am unworthy to compute. How long, how long, O Lord?

References to the various stories will commonly use the abbreviations that the mailing list uses; these are defined when they first appear.

Finally, is it necessary to say that I welcome any comments and corrections and additions?

The Books Annotated

Contributing to the Notes

These notes contain many questions that the collected learning of the Lord Peter list has not been able to answer. More than likely, there are also things in the books that ought to have been annotated but have not been. It's even possible that there are errors in the notes.

If you have any corrections or additions, please send them to Cousin Matthew, the Wimsey family's archivist. I'll assume, absent anything to the contrary, that such material is fair game for addition to this Web site, with due attribution.

Private mail, and material definitely not intended for publication here, can be sent to my personal e-mail address, which is given below. In any case, of course, you can request whatever treatment you want for your material.


First, relative to matter from the Lord Peter list, we've reached a consensus that what's posted in that public forum is potential material for this collection, barring a request to the contrary. As new people show up and contribute, I'll try to assure that they either join in the consensus or opt out of it.

For matter that's posted there or sent to Cousin Matthew, here are the general rules on attribution.

Do let me know if you want a different treatment for what is, after all, your intellectual property.

Date last modified: March 28, 2003.
Built March 28, 2003
Dan Drake's Home Page
Mail to
Copyright (C) 1999 Daniel Drake. A royalty-free license to reproduce this document in whole or in part is hereby granted provided (i) all additions, omissions, and other changes are clearly marked; (ii) the work is not reproduced as, or as part of, a work for which payment is charged; (iii) this notice is reproduced without change. Quotations for critical or polemical purposes, with proper attribution, are permitted in any case, being obviously fair use.