The page numbers are from the Avon paperback edition. Quotations are considered to be from Lord Peter unless otherwise noted. Excerpts from “The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club” are copyrighted 1928 by Dorothy Leigh Sayers Fleming. All material unless otherwise noted is copyrighted by Bill Peschel.
ARTICLE NOTE: “Bellona” readers interested in a discussion of shell shock on World War I veterans should check out “The Science of Mysteries: Shock, Trauma, and the First Real War” by Ann Finkbeiner.
Title ~ the Bellona Club
Bellona is the name for the Roman Goddess of war, either the wife or sister of Mars, and an appropriate name for a story set in a club in which so many of its members were soldiers.
6 ~ (From the “Who’s Who” entry on Lord Peter) “The Murderer’s Vade-Mecum”
The phrase is from the Latin for “go with me,” and refers to a useful book that one carries around constantly. In “Unnatural Death” (p. 145), Wimsey threatens “You wait till I publish my epoch-making work: ‘The Murderer’s Vade-Mecum” or 101 Ways of Causing Sudden Death.’ ”
(Contributed by Tom Sulyok)
Arms: Sable, 3 mice courant, argent; crest, a domestic cat couched as to spring, proper; motto: As my Whimsy takes me
As I learned from my time spent in the Society for Creative Anachronism (a medieval re-creation group), coats of arms have to be described by words to ensure that they are represented properly, and that they don’t conflict with someone else’s arms. So precise terms were developed to describe, and since the French were largely responsible for this, French words were used.
Commonly, the background color is described first, so “sable” tells you that the shield is on a black background. The “3 mice courant, argent” means that they are running to the left (courant) and to be colored silver (argent). Crest means the area above the shield, and the cat is described in English, and portrayed (proper), or colored naturally. Mottos are portrayed below the shield, on a banner.
(Contributed by Fred Vanner, as well as Joshua Mackay-Smith, David Smith and others)
7 ~ I wish to God Jerry had put me out with the rest of ’em
“Jerry” is slang for the Germans and a reference to the recent unpleasantness of 1914-1918, otherwise known as World War I.
The holiday held on November 11 to mark the end of WWI. “Armistice night” five paragraphs down is another name for the same holiday. As the generation that marched off to “It’s A Long Way to Tipperary” died off and the need to remember them disappeared, the holiday mutated into the more general Remembrance Day.
(Correction supplied by Alexander Campbell)
A noted battlefield in France during World War I. A low ridge, only 150 feet high and 250 yards long, it acquired its name because of its height in meters was marked as such on British maps. The hill had been captured by the Germans on 10th December 1914, and the British immediately began digging tunnels underneath, planting charges to be set off coordinated with an attack.
At 7 p.m. on April 17, 1915, the plungers were pressed and the resulting explosion sent debris almost 300 feet up and 300 yards in all direction. One British soldier who peered over the top of the trench was killed. The German lines were bombarded. The charge threw the Germans off the hill, but they successfully counterattacked that night. The battle continued until the 20th, when the Germans gave up.
The hill has been preserved as a monument and it’s possible today to eat lunch at the summit.
8 ~ marching past the Cenotaph once a year
The Cenotaph is the war memorial in London, built in 1919.
A reference, of course, to Sherlock Holmes’ master villain.
9 ~ Majuba
A notable battle from the first Boer War, in which British forces were routed attempting to capture Majuba, a steep hill. “Remember Majuba” was the rallying cry during the second war.
10 ~ neurathenia
“A condition characterized by general lassitude, irritability, lack of concentration, worry, and hypochondria. The term was introduced into psychiatry in 1869 by G. M. Beard, an American neurologist. Used by Freud to describe a fundamental disorder in mental functioning, the term was incorrectly applied to almost any psychoneurosis and has been largely abandoned.” (Quoted from The Columbia Encyclopedia, Sixth Edition.)
12 ~ Guy Fawkes procession
Remember, remember the fifth of November
Gunpowder, treason and plot.
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
Should ever be forgot.
Guy Fawkes, Guy Fawkes
‘Twas his intent
To blow up the King and the Parliament
Three score barrels of powder below
Poor old England to overthrow
By God’s providence he was catched
With a dark lantern and burning match.
Guy Fawkes night, the fifth of November, is still celebrated in England. While the means differ from place to place, generally, there are bonfires, races and parades with fireworks. An effigy of Fawkes is usually bourne through the streets before being set on fire.
13 ~ Justinian . . . “delicate in workmanship and not always equally so in subject.”
The Justinian referred to here may be one of the two Roman emperors. While I haven’t been able to trace the manuscript, Sayers hints that its subject matter might be a bit racy, appropriate reading for a bachelor like Wimsey.
the Cockburn ’80 always tastes a lot better in company
The “priceless old port,” of course, from a house established in 1815 and still bottled and sold today (a 1904 was found online that sells for $495). The Trichinopoly reference is to not just a type of cigar, but one that was mentioned in the Sherlock Holmes stories such as “A Study in Scarlet.”
16 ~ Don’t lets harrow our feelings
“Harrow” means to break up, as with a plow. Wimsey here understands what Mr. Murbles was getting at, and was asking him not do get themselves worked up over it.
18 ~ see a display of fireworks at the Crystal Palace or some such place — it may have been Hampstead Heath or the White City
22 ~ Begone dull care
A line from a traditional English ballad. It has not been traced farther back than the reign of James II.
23 ~ a melody of Parry’s formed itself . . . ‘For man worketh in a vain shadow . . . he heapeth up riches and cannot tell who shall gather them.”
Parry is probably a reference to Hubert Parry (1848-1918), an English composer who held positions at Oxford and at the Royal College of Music.
From Psalm 39:6:
6 Surely every man walketh in a vain show:
surely they are disquieted in vain:
he heapeth up riches, and knoweth not who shall gather them.
7 And now, Lord, what wait I for?
My hope is in thee.
23 ~ malacca
Rattan, named for the town in western Malaysia.
25 ~ Sam Weller face
A comic character from Charles Dickens’ “Pickwick Papers,” known for his cunning and colorful speech. He appeared first as a bootblack and became Pickwick’s servant, using his wits to help his master. When Pickwick is sent to prison, Weller gets himself arrested for debt so he can share Pickwick’s fate.
31 ~ au contraire as the man said in the Bay of Biscay when they asked if he had dined
Bay of Biscay: The bay, located off the west coast of France, is considered the roughest part of the crossing between England and France. So when the man said “au contraire” (“on the contrary”), he meant he did the reverse of eating, i.e., he vomited.
(Contributed by Dahra Latham)
prim and point-device
Well, well, this one’s still in my American Heritage dictionary. Prim, of course, means straight-laced, even prudish, and point-device is from the French a point devis for a fixed moment, it means scrupulously correct or neat.
31 ~ no pyro stains . . . prefer metol-quinol for the purpose of development
In photography, there was a process of trial-and-error to determine the best way to develop pictures. Pyro (pyrogallol) was one of the earliest, discovered in 1850 and still in use during Wimsey’s time. However, Bunter preferred metol-aminophenol, a later invention discovered in 1891. It wasn’t until the 1930s and ’40s, when the most popular developing agents ascorbic acid (also known as vitamin C) and phenidone were discovered.
35 ~ at sixes and sevens
Slang term for being in a state of confusion. The phrase may have been derived from an ancient dice game and was first recorded in the 14th century. It’s theorized that it was derived from a game called hazard, and that the expression may have been “at fives and sixes,” they being the hardest numbers to shoot for. At some point, the numbers shifted, perhaps because the sum of six and seven is 13, very unlucky.
41 ~ Froth-Blower’s anthem
The Ancient Order of Froth-Blowers was a popular service club during the 1920s, sort of like the Rotary and Lions and Elks, only centered around the more convivial activities in a pub. They held dances, raised money and performed good works for charities.
You might get a sense of how they saw themselves from this quotation in their handbook, in which they described themselves as:
“A sociable and law abiding fraternity of absorptive Britons who sedately consume and quietly enjoy with commendable regularity and frequention the truly British malted beverage as did their forbears and as Brittons ever will, and be damned to all pussyfoot hornswogglers from overseas and including low brows, teetotalers and MP`s and not excluding nosey parkers, mock religious busy bodies and suburban fool hens all of which are structurally solid bone from the chin up.”
44 ~ I get you, Steve
A catch-phrase of some kind, possibly derived from the music-hall stage or a play; source unknown.
46 ~ Marsh’s test for arsenic
James Marsh (1789-1846) developed this test for detecting arsenic, which turns the compound into a brown stain when heated.
48 ~ all according to Cocker
A reference to Edward Cocker (1631-1676), an engraver, teacher and writer of poetry and textbooks. His most famous book was “Cocker’s Arithmetic,” which ran to more than 100 editions and created the phrase “according to Cocker,” meaning absolutely correct.
A more completely biography can be found here.
52 ~ Aunt Judit of ‘Rosie’s Weekly Bits’
Not traced, although you can guess from the context that Wimsey is referring to a precursor of “Dear Abby” or Ann Landers.
60 ~ operator didn’t happen to notice the bloke . . . an automatic box
This may get a little complicated.
Phone service in England, as in the U.S., was built on the exchange system. A network of phones was created. That’s one exchange, and all the phone numbers began with the name of the exchange, such as Wigmore 2450. To make a phone call, you had to find a store or post office that offered the service (advertised with a sign such as “You may telephone from HERE”). There, you gave the clerk tuppence and number you wanted to call. If the call was to a different exchange, the operator would have to connect the exchanges via switchboard and complete the circuit.
By 1901, telephone Kiosks were installed that allowed the caller to access the exchange operator directly. The coinbox had gongs that rang as the coins were dropped in, telling the operator that the fee had been paid.
By 1912, stroenger exchanges were first installed, allowing callers to reach phones directly, so long as both phones were on the same exchange. This is the “automatic box” that plays so great a role in the Bellona Club story. In fact, the stroenger exchange was installed on Wigmore Street in 1922, right in the middle of the novel’s important locations. Sayers took advantage of this then-up-to-date information to allow for the untraceable call.
(Contributed by Justin Pentecost, with thanks)
63 ~ behaving like a sweep
Roland of the combination . . . Parker was the Oliver
One of the Paladins of Charlemagne. In history, he was Hrodland, count of the Breton marches, who died when his king’s rearguard was ambushed in the Pyrenees after a successful invasion of northern Spain. “The Song of Roland” transformed him into an epic hero, a model of knighthood for the new era of the Crusades. Oliver was Roland’s best friend and brother-in-law.
75 ~ ghastly hole at Carency
One of the many World War I battlefields.
76 ~ face that launched a thousand ships
A reference to Helen of Troy. The phrase first appeared in Christopher Marlowe’s “Doctor Faustus”:
“Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.”
81 ~ improving the submerged tenth
the submerged tenth: The tenth part of society in most need of help. The proletariat, the riff-raff, the rabble.
82 ~ over the mews
mews: the stables.
87 ~ viscera
According to the American Heritage dictionary: “The soft internal organs of the body, especially those contained within the abdominal and thoracic cavities.” In the case of poor General Fentiman, they’re referring to his stomach and intestines.
Slang for breakfast
89 ~ perdrix aux choux
French for partridge with cabbages.
bottle of Chambertin
A wine from France’s Burgundy region.
91 ~ Cheshire Cat
The famous cat from “Alice in Wonderland,” who grinned and grinned and slowly vanished until only the grin was left.
93 ~ Flanders poppy
On the battlefields of World War I, after they had been torn up by shell and shot, these red flowers were usually the first to appear. The sight inspired a Canadian doctor, Lt. Col. John McCrae, to write “In Flander’s Field (McCrae died in the war). This, in turn, inspired some charities to start selling poppies to wear in the gentlemen’s lapels, as a way of raising money and to remember the dead.
96 ~ Morpheus hover over your couch and bless your slumbers
Morpheus is the god of dreams in Ovid’s “Metamorphoses.”
97 ~ two minutes silence
It was ordered by King George V that at 11 o’clock on Armistice Day, two minutes of silence would be observed to mark the end of World War I.
98 ~ No more spirit in him than the Queen of Sheba
A reference to I Kings 10:5:
1 And when the queen of Sheba heard of the fame of Solomon concerning the name of the Lord, she came to prove him with hard questions.
2 And she came to Jerusalem with a very great train, with camels that bare spices, and very much gold, and precious stones: and when she was come to Solomon, she communed with him of all that was in her heart.
3 And Solomon told her all her questions: there was not any thing hid from the king, which he told her not.
4 And when the queen of Sheba had seen all Solomon’s wisdom, and the house that he had built,
5 And the meat of his table, and the sitting of his servants, and the attendance of his ministers, and their apparel, and his cupbearers, and his ascent by which he went up unto the house of the Lord; there was no more spirit in her.
99 ~ set the springe for his woodcock
From Hamlet, Act 1, Scene 3. Ophelia tells her father, Polonius, that Hamlet has been courting her, and he responds
Ay, springes to catch woodcocks. I do know,
When the blood burns, how prodigal the soul
Lends the tongue vows: these blazes, daughter,
Giving more light than heat, extinct in both,
Even in their promise, as it is a-making,
You must not take for fire.
Shakespeare’s audience knew that woodcocks were stupid birds, easily trapped. So Polonius is warning his daughter that the boy uses pretty words of love, but does not really mean them.
(Contributed by Heather Hadlock)
100 ~ chaste silver tray
This phrase caught my attention. After all, the tray was obviously not celibate, and I hope it was “innocent of unlawful sexual intercourse.” A look at the dictionary shows that “chaste” means “severely simple in design and execution.”
102 ~ cast nasturtiums
A form of rhyming slang, a pun on aspersions.
written on a P.L.M. express
A letter specially delivered from someone riding the Paris-Lyon-Marseille express.
104 ~ clouds of formalin
A synonym for formaldehyde.
a mackintosh sheet
A type of hospital sheet that is made of rubberized cloth.
In the Christian church, the thurifer is an acolyte who carries a thurible, a small censer swung on a chain.
105 ~ Palmer and Cook’s stomach
A reference to an incident in the case of behind this Web site believe him to be innocent).
The stomach reference comes from the story of the inquest on Cook, which was terribly done. Of the two men who conducted the autopsy, one was a medical student, the other a doctor’s assistant who had never performed a post-mortem before. Palmer’s behavior at the autopsy might charitably be called strange rather than suspicious. While the stomach was being opened, Palmer pushed forward, and the resulting collision among the specialists caused some of the stomach contents to spill into the body. Palmer then took away the jars containing the stomach contents, and when they were found to be missing, was asked to return them. A post-boy responsible for helping to transport the jars to the hospital said that Palmer offered him ten pounds if he would dump the contents.
107 ~ Hark! hark! the lark at heaven’s gate sings
A quotation from Shakespeare’s “Cymbeline.”
110 ~ not altogether the clean potato
English slang for someone who’s not free of guilt, who admits he has a bad reputation.
113 ~ Aristotle . . . he says, you know, that one should always prefer the probably impossible to the improbable possible.
A quotation from the philosopher’s “The Poetics,” paragraph 10.5.
114 ~ nux vomica
A tree native to southeast Asia that bears poisonous seeds used in strychine and brucine.
117 ~ You can trust your father
Sounds like a catch-phrase, source unknown.
I’ll make a Martha of myself
In Luke 10:38, Jesus visits the house of Martha. While she bustles about her chores, her sister, Mary, sat herself at the Lord’s feet to listen. According to the Revised English Bible:
40. Now Martha was distracted by her many tasks, so she came to him and said, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to get on with the work by myself? Tell her to come and give me a hand.’
41. But the Lord answered, ‘Martha, Martha, you are fretting and fussing about so many things;
42. only one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen what is best; it shall not be taken away from her.’
There is a joke that says there’s a verse 43 that reads “And then Martha thrust the duster into the Lord’s hands, saying, ‘Fret I may, but dust never sleeps, and someone has to keep the place clean. Get to work.'”
118 ~ captured Sabine maiden
What is it about Sabine maidens that make them the object of so many artists’ fantasies? The art world is full of pictures of Sabines being captured, raped or being displayed on the auction block in far insufficient clothing. The historical Sabines were the people who lived in central Italy. They were conquered and assimilated by the Romans in 290 B.C.E. According to Plutarch biography of Romulus, the founder of Rome ordered their capture at a festival to restock the city.
121 ~ Dr. Voronoff, you know, those marvelous old sheep
A reference to Dr. Serge Voronoff, a notable figure of his time, now forgotten. Voronoff conducted numerous studies on transplanting organs on animals. He treated wounded soldiers with bone grafts from primates and fetal membrances to replace burned skin. He believed he discovered ways to reverse the aging process using transplants from animals. He tested his theories on goats, sheep and bulls (hence the “marvelous old sheep” remark), and then tested on old men using chimpanzee testes. More than 45 doctors experimented with 2,000 transplants, and it was discovered that, while the process worked, the effect didn’t last long and retransplantation was needed.
Voronoff married several times (his second wife was an heiress who financed his work), and at 75 married a 21-year-old woman who stayed with him until his death in the United States in 1951.
123 ~ the parable of the swept and garnished houses
From the book of Matthew:
12:43 When the unclean spirit is gone out of a man, he walketh through dry places, seeking rest, and findeth none.
12:44 Then he saith, I will return into my house from whence I came out; and when he is come, he findeth it empty, swept, and garnished.
12:45 Then goeth he, and taketh with himself seven other spirits
more wicked than himself, and they enter in and dwell there: and the last state of that man is worse than the first. Even so shall it be also unto this wicked generation.
139 ~ judgment of Paris
A story from Greek mythology. Zeus was preparing a wedding banquet for Peleus and Thetis and did not invite Eris. In revenge, she created an apple of pure gold, inscribed it “To The Prettiest One,” and rolled it into the hall during the banquet. Athena, Hera and Aphrodite each claimed it, and Zeus ordered that someone be found to settle the issue. Paris was chosen due to the virtue of being the handsomest man in the world. The result was a mythological beauty contest. As you can see from Peter Paul Rubens interpretation of the story, Hera promised him greatness, Athene warlike prowess and Aphrodite the love of the most beautiful woman in the world. This won the apple, Paris chose Helen, and the result was the Trojan War and a line of condoms.
140 ~ Supposing she gave the old boy digitalin in his B and S, ……
B and S: A brandy and soda.
(Contributed by Alexander Campbell)
141 ~ Like the lady in Maeterlinck who’s running around the table while her husband tries to polish her off with a hatchet.
A rather long way to make a point. Maurice Maeterlinck was a Belgian author who won the 1911 Nobel Prize for literature. The lady is Melisande, from “Pélleas et Mélisande,” an event-free Symbolist drama, in which, no matter what absurd events happen, she repeats the understatement “Je suis pas heureuse” (“I am not happy”). The play is the source of Debussy’s opera of the same name (1902).
(Contributed by Heather Hadlock)
144 ~ As George Robey says this getting up from my warm bed and going into the cold night air doesn’t suit me
While I’m unsure where the reference comes from, George Robey (1869-1954) was a major English music-hall star, so one may assume that it’s a reference to a song of his. He also played Falstaff in Laurence Olivier’s “Henry V” movie. Sayers also invokes his name in “Strong Poison” and “The Incredible Elopement of Lord Peter Wimsey.”
150 ~ smashed up his family with a beetle — a pavior he was
A beetle is a tool consisting of a heavy weight, usually of wood, attached to a handle. It’s used as a hammer to drive in wedges and pegs, or for crushing and flattening various items. A pavior is a man who lays paving stones, which is why the unfortunate man who smashed his family into jelly “came to have a beetle in the house.”
(Contributed by Alexander Campbell)
where Ronnie True went to with his little toys and all
Ronnie True was a murderer. True was something of a bad boy throughout his life, and it didn’t help matters that in 1915, he joined the Royal Flying Corps, crashed his plane several times, and was invalided the next year carrying a severe addiction for morphia. He traveled to the United States, Mexico, Cuba and then back home, picking up and dropping a wife along the way. He sought treatment for his addiction, was hired and fired from several jobs, then turned to forgery to support his habit. Somewhere along the line, he turned into a nut case, who believed that there was another Ronald True who was impersonating him and doing all these bad things. In 1922, while thieving in London, he hooked up with an ex-shopgirl and prostitute named Gertrude Yates, whom he eventually robbed and asphyxiated. He was tried, found guilty and sentenced to death. A successful appeal led to his being examined by three medical experts and declared insane. He was reprieved and taken to Broadmoor, where he died in 1951.
151 ~ I’m sending in my papers
Resigning your officer’s commission. Apparently, Robert’s brother officers thought he did not act like an officer and a gentleman, mishandling a body in order to steal an inheritance. I mean, it’s just not done, demme it all. Not cricket, you see.
155 ~ like a pelican in the wilderness
A reference to Psalm 102:6. There has been some confusion over which animal was meant, so different Bibles have used different animals, including bat, vulture and owl. The Revised English Bible has recast that sentence to read “I am like a desert-owl in the wilderness.”
155-156 ~ List of books in Miss Dorland’s studio
Miss Dorland’s taste in literature represented a wide cross-section of the streams of intellectual thought in Sayer’s world at the time of “Bellona Club’s” publication (1928). There were also a smattering of popular fiction as well.
William Le Queux (1864-1927), the “Master of Mystery”
Arthur Conan Doyle (1859-1930), the creator of Sherlock Holmes
James (1843-1916): The noted novelist and short-story writer, author of “The Turn of the Screw,” “Daisy Miller” and other stories.
Richardson (1873-1957): Modernist writer
Woolf (1882-1941): Modernist author
(1893- ) modernist author
Sinclair (1863-1946): modernist novelist with an interest in Women’s Suffrage and psychoanalysis. Two of her novels are stream-of-consciousness from a woman’s point of view.
Mansfield (1888-1923): Noted experimental short-story writer and friend to D.H. Lawrence.
Galsworthy (1867-1933): Nobel-prize winning author of “The Forsyte Saga” and other works. The first edition of his “The Man of Property” forms part of the noted holdings of Shrewsbury college, Oxford, that Harriet Vane attended.
John Davys Beresford (1873-1947): early science-fiction novelist.
Hubert George Wells (1866-1946) wrote in a variety of genres: science-fiction (“The Time Machine” “War of the Worlds”), comic, realistic novels based on his childhood (“Love and Mr. Lewisham”); criticisms of English society (“Tono-Bungay”); and non-fictions histories like “The Outline of History.” His influence on popular thought can be evidenced by Sayers’ use of Wells last name only in this list.
Arnold Bennett (1867-1931): a noted novelist and editor in his time, now largely forgotten.
Lawrence (1885-1930): of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” and other works, including “Women in Love.”
Mackenzie (1883-1972): prolific writer of travel, biography, essays, poems and novels.
Margaret Storm Jameson (1891-1986): novelist.
Louis Berman / “The Personal Equation”
Berman (1893-1946): scientist.
“Why We Behave Like Human Beings”
Non-fiction book by George Dorsey, published in 1926. He is noted for writing, “The more you use your brain, the more brain you will have to use.”
Huxley (1887-1975): biologist and writer.
Freeman (1862-1943): Mystery writer who wrote “A Silent Witness.”
“Through the Wall”
Mystery novel written in 1909 by Cleveland S. Moffett
Mystery novelist (1883-1924)
Wallace (1875-1932): prolific mystery and thriller novelist.
169 ~ You can always turn a tragedy into a comedy by sitting down
Possibly Henri Bergson, quoting Napoleon..
170 ~ Ethel M. Dell
Dell (1881-1939): popular British writer who wrote what we would call today romances, set in India and other colonial possessions. Her “The Way of the Eagle,” published in 1912, went through 27 printings by 1915.
172 ~ Rose Macaulay . . . ‘nameless orgies’
Macaulay (1881-1958): English novelist, essayist and poet. The reference is from her essay [url=http://www.blupete.com/Literature/Essays/Best/MacaulayRCatch.htm]”Catchwords and Claptrap”[/url] which, despite the sauciness of the phrase, is actually a writer’s complaint about the incorrect use of words. The complete sentence runs: “All those who write of nameless horrors, nameless vices, nameless orgies, know, when they reflect, that none of these things need actually be nameless to those with clear heads and good dictionaries; what they mean is horrid, only they prefer a vaguer, less definite, and therefore more terrible adjective.”