OK, this is admittedly a very trivial discovery, and one I could have made easily enough long ago, if it had ever occurred to me to inquire. No doubt I’m just revealing yet another embarrassing gap in my reading knowledge in pointing to it as a book I’d never heard of. Still, I felt a little amused thrill yesterday as I was browsing in J. W. Doull’s and happened across a battered copy of a novel called The Stars Look Down. I instantly recognized the title because it is mentioned several times in the opening section of one of my long-time favourite books, Dorothy Sayers’s Busman’s Honeymoon. Peter’s mother is reading it as the drama of Peter and Harriet’s engagement and marriage unfolds: “Was reading The Stars Look Down (Mem. very depressing, and not what I expected from the title–think I must have had a Christmas carol in mind, but remember now it has something to do with the Holy Sepulchre–must ask Peter and make sure) after ea, when Emily announced ‘Miss Vane,'” reads the Dowager Duchess’s diary for 21 May. Then she loses track of it (“Must remember to ask Franklin what I have done with The Stars Look Down“). It turns up again in October (“Tried The Stars Look Down again, and found it full of most unpleasant people”) and then finally, on October 8, after the wedding (“H. looked very lovely, like a ship coming into harbour with everything shining and flags flying at wherever modern ships do fly flags…”), she puts it aside once more: “Find The Stars Look Down not quite soothing enough for a bed-book–will fall back on Through the Looking-Glass.” I’m pretty sure The Stars Look Down has no thematic relevance to Busman’s Honeymoon: Wikipedia tells me that the novel chronicles injustices in a mining town. I have no particular interest in reading it. It was just such a surprising start of recognition the minute I saw the title. I guess I may have read Busman’s Honeymoon a few too many times. A while back, a colleague gave a paper in the department on Sayers and the automobile, focusing particularly, of course, on Peter’s Daimler, and I was disconcertingly able to provide exact quotations for the examples she brought up in the Q&A session: “Not waking the baby, are we, Bunter?” “The vibration is at present negligible, my lord.” The mystery plot of the novel is absurd; it was always Peter and Harriet I loved, Harriet especially–though I admit, the Peter Wimsey of Gaudy Night and Busman’s Honeymoon is one of a tiny elite group of fictional crushes of mine. (And no, neither Heathcliff nor Mr Rochester is in the group.)
As a completely irrelevant aside, while I was browsing in Doull’s the staff received a phone call from a woman asking for ‘books that would look pretty on her shelves.’ I kid you not. The woman who took the call was remarkably patient (“No, you really would have to come in and take a look to see which books would suit your decor. No, we don’t offer special discounts on books sold “by the foot”; no, we won’t sell our books to you for 25 cents apiece if you buy over a certain quantity; yes, our books are all priced individually based on what they are worth.”) It reminded me of my own days in retail: it’s odd how customers are at once essential and the bane of your existence!