Break of Day by Colette

When I first read Colette, I was exactly the age when one dreams of multiple choices: (a) independence, (b) wild sex, and (c) a brilliant career. Colette’s feminist heroines flee from love, disillusioned with love, but they also derive pleasure from knowing they can have love.  Her sensual descriptions of nature remind us that nature is the source of beauty and eroticism: the exquisite imagery transforms the novels into prose poems.

Colette’s graceful novel Break of Day is a lyrical account of Colette’s retirement from sexual love in middle age. It is less dramatic than her earlier novels, but in a way it is bolder: who wants to admit to getting older? Published in 1928, Break of Day perfectly describes the reasons for Colette’s decision in her fifties to set aside sexual love for solitude. In my favorite of her novels, The Vagabond, a younger alter ego of Colette, the independent Renee, also rejects love. But Renee gets another chance at love in the sequel, The Shackle. Somehow, we understand both heroines: in Break of Day, the narrator is simply called Colette.

Where do you retreat in middle age to ruminate about your life? Colette bought a house at Saint-Tropez on the Cote d’Azur. She describes living in a hypnotically gorgeous Paradise with her cats. She gardens and contemplates nature. Most of us would like to move to Saint-Tropez, but don’t have the opportunity.

Colette reflects on her late mother, Sidonie. She begins the novel with an old letter from Sidonie, in which she declined an invitation to visit her daughter. “…I’m not going to accept your kind invitation for the time being at any rate. The reason is that my pink cactus is finally going to flower.” Colette is amused: the blooming cactus is a metaphor for Sidonie’s independence, strength, and beauty in old age. Colette writes: “Whenever I feel myself inferior to everything about me, threatened by my own mediocrity, frightened by the discovery that a muscle is losing its strength, a desire its power or a pain the keen edge of its bit, I can still hold up my head and say to myself: ‘I am the daughter of the woman who wrote that letter–that letter and so many others I have kept.”

A gorgeous illustration from a Limited Editions Club copy of Break of Day.

Now that she is older, Colette is happiest alone, watching the colors of the sky and the sea and marveling at the faery-like cats who consent to spend time with her. But she is not alone: she has an active social life. Painters and their mistresses gather at her house; they go on night picnics and dancing.

The most faithful guest is her neighbor, 35-year-old Dial, an antique dealer and decorator. He doesn’t talk much, but he has fallen in love with her. Age doesn’t matter to Colette, but she doesn’t feel strongly about him, and treats him casually. After an encounter with a jealous young woman, she gently rebuff shis love. Although she doesn’t want Vial as a lover, we feel her chagrin when she knows she is letting love go.

This reminds me slightly of Doris Lessing’s Love, Again, in which the heroine is in her sixties and attracts three younger men. But she knows love cannot last in old age, and she rages. And, indeed, we see her aged at the end of the book.

Colette laughs about the independence of her heroines. In real life she didn’t let love go so easily. “And I said to myself that… I should be thenceforward like the woman I have described many a time…. while I was painting this lonely creature, I would go to show my lie, page by page, to a man, asking him, ‘Have I lied well?'”

That’s how we all feel at times. Don’t you remember reading Colette when you were an aspiring artist, or a world traveler, or a Buddhist, or something? Love would never get in your way. Well…

A few years later after Break of Day was published, Colette knew love again: she married a younger man who stayed with her till the end of life.

Smart Rereadings: Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, Colette’s The Vagabond, & D. H. Lawrence’s The Virgin and the Gipsy

Rereadings:  Seventeen Writers Revisit Books They Love, edited by Anne Fadiman, is a little-known classic.  When I first read this charming collection of essays, I was inspired by Evelyn Toynton’s  “Revisiting Brideshead” to reread Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited.  The first time I’d read it, I was teaching at a lovely snob school, and so steeped in classics that Brideshead did not measure up.   When I reread it in 2005,  I admired the exquisite style and the witty dialogue.  Toynton, on the other hand, disliked it.

In Waugh’s great Catholic novel, Brideshead Revisited, published in 1946, the narrator Charles Ryder remembers a romantic pre-war past.  At Oxford he was befriended by the Catholic aristocrat Sebastian Flyte; later he falls in love with Sebastian’s sister Julia.  At Oxford, the charming Sebastian carries his teddy bear, Aloysius, everywhere.  I regret to say that no one I knew ever carried a teddy bear, but then I didn’t know any English aristocrats.

The essays follow a pattern of discovery and reassessment, and quite often the book turns out to be different from the writer’s memory of it.  In my favorite essay, “Love with a Capital L,” Vivian Gornick revisits  Colette’s The Vagabond and  The Shackle, its sequel.  And what she loved in her twenties is not what she loves now.

Gornick writes,

When I was in my twenties, my friends and I read Colette as others read the Bible.  She was our Book of Wisdom.  We read her for solace, and for moral instruction.  We read her to learn better who we were, and how, given the constraint of our condition, we were to live.

Gornikc found the experience of rereading Colette “unsettling.” She writes,  “The wholly unexpected occurred:  I came away from them with mixed feelings.” She loved the lyricism but was surprised by the emptiness of the narrator Renee, whose life revolves around love.   Although  The Vagabond is my favorite of Colette’s books, I know what she means.  In The Vagabond, Renee rejects a charming lover who isn’t quite as intelligent as she:  she feels it wouldn’t work.    But in The Shackle she falls for a man who has beaten his previous girlfriend.  Why?   What happened to Renee that she would find him attractive?

Most of the essays in the collection are elegant and insightful, though I am not interested in David Micahelis’s revisiting of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Band (and anyway wasn’t that cheating?).  Pico Iyer writes brilliantly about D. H. Lawrence’s The Virgin and the Gipsy, which he read at an English boarding school and admired upon rereading. I reread the novella in 2016 and wrote here:  “Think Lady Chatterley’s Lover, only sillier.”

In Rereadings, Patricia Hampl writes perceptively on Katherine Mansfield, Jamie James on Joseph Conrad, Philip Lopate on The Charterhouse of Parma,  David Samuels on J. D. Salinger, and more.  A very entertaining book.  I want to read more on rereadings.

Abortion in Literature: Margaret Millar’s Do Evil in Return and Colette’s “Gribiche”

There are advantages to menopause.

We no longer bleed on our skirts, we secretly like the new crepey texture of our skin, and, finally, we are no longer defined by our sex.  And we are all waiting for the organic yam “lube” concocted by Frankie (Lily Tomlin) on Grace and Frankie.  (Alas, it seems to be fictional, but there are others.)

But as menopausal women become more powerful, menstruating women must still worry about the future of reproductive rights.  When even Planned Parenthood is under attack, we are all shocked.  It looks as if the pro-choice button will never go out of style.

Coincidentally, I recently read two fascinating works of fiction on the perils of illegal abortion, Margaret Millar’s suspense novel, Do Evil in Return,  and Colette’s  “Gribiche” from The Collected Stories of Colette.

Syndicate Books has recently reissued Margaret Millar’s classic crime fiction, and I am racing through  Collected Millar:  Dawn of Domestic Suspense. The addictive fourth novel in this volume, Do Evil in Return (1950), is an eerie exploration of the consequences of illegal abortion.

What happens when a young woman dies, not because she has an abortion but because she cannot find a doctor to perform one?

A wan young woman, Mrs. Violet O’Gorman,  shows up at Dr. Charotte Keating’s office.  Violet desperately wants an abortion: she was impregnated during a one-night stand, not by her husband.   Charlotte gently explains that she cannot perform an illegal  abortion.

This decision sets in motion an unstoppable Greek-style tragedy.  The Eumenides (the Furies) are milling and thronging.

In Millar’s taut, short novels, the dialogue is spare and snappy.  In addition to writing novels,  Millar wrote screenplays for Warner Brothers–and it shows.   This would make a brilliant noir film, but perhaps it is too radical these days.

The girl let out a cry of despair.  “I thought–I thought being you was a woman like me–being you…”
“I’m sorry,” Charlotte said again.
“What can I do?  What can I do with this–this thing growing inside me, growing and growing, and me with no money and no job and no husband.  Oh, God, I wish I was dead!”  She struck her thighs with both fists.  “I’ll kill myself!”

Charlotte is not heartless.  She believes she may have made a mistake in denying Violet the abortion, as she tells her married boyfriend Lewis Ballard (the two met because his “nervous” wife Gwen is Charlotte’s patient). But Lewis points out that Charlotte was not obligated to break the law to help a strange woman.

“You’ve had cases like this before.  Why does this one worry you?”
“Because of us, Lewis.  Don’t you see…?”
“No.”
“If we go on together, if we become lovers, I might accidentally end up in the same boat she’s in.”

In a fit of conscience, Charlotte attempts to find Violet at her uncle’s rooming house in a  bad neighborhood.  Violet is out, and the visit ends in violence. Charlotte is attacked in front of her garage and robbed of her purse.

When Violet is found drowned, it looks like suicide.  Detective Easter does not buy it.  Easter likes Charlotte, but unfortunately she is linked to the death when a card with her name typed on it is found in Violet’s purse.

As Millar turns upside down our ideas of powerful and powerlessness–is the well-educated doctor the most powerful woman in the book, or not?– Charlotte investigates on her own.  She falls into a trap of blackmail, betrayal, and violence. No line is wasted, every word matters, and Charlotte is a champ.  But the noir tragedy that unfolds makes Aeschylus look like Aristophanes.

Colette’s short story “Gribiche” (1937), in The Collected Stories of Colette,  is lyrical, poignant, and heartbreaking. The narrator is Colette herself: her fictional counterpart is working as a music-hall artist in a revue, as Colette did after she left her husband Willi.

In the witty opening scene, she describes a typical night in “the women’s quarters” at the theater. The steps of the iron staircase clang like a xylophone, the fifty pairs of high heels are “clattering up and down like hail,” and the basement dressing rooms smell of powder, makeup, and different perfumes.

But that very night a young actress in a chorus of soldiers faints, falls down the stairs, and is bleeding heavily.   When Carmen, “a little green-eyed Basque,” says that things are going “pretty badly,” Colette asks what she means.

Carmen looked slightly embarrassed.
“Oh! Colettewilli, don’t be nasty, dear. Gribiche, of course. Not allowed to get up. Chemist, medicine, dressings, and all that…”
“Not to mention food,” added Lise Damoiseau….
“But where’s she been hurt, then?”
“It’s her..back,” said Lise.
“It’s her stomach,” said Carmen, at the same time.

And then Colette realizes Gribiche had an abortion.

The women at the theater are sympathetic, and every one of them believes in the right to abortion.  But this dark, un-preachy story realistically describes the danger of backstreet abortions.

Colette writes beautifully, and I highly recommend this story.

Colette’s Duo and Le Toutounier

The name and image of Michel came to torment her. She harbored against her dead husband a grudge which often distracted her from her variable, capricious and ill-controlled grief.”—”Le Toutounier” by Colette

colette-duo-641782-_uy475_ss475_Colette was a fascinating bisexual woman with multiple husbands and lovers, a lyrical writer, a traveling music-hall artist, a critic, a journalist, and the owner of a cosmetics business. Not only was Colette extraordinarily beautiful and original but she wrote beautifully and originally about love and work.  As Erica Jong says in the introduction to The Colette Omnibus, “Colette’s fiction…is self-mythologizing in the way Proust’s or Henry Miller’s fiction is.   It often draws upon the author’s life with seeming candor, but is not literal autobiography.  The facts of the author’s life have been shaped, honed, and elevated to myth.”

And it is perhaps the myth that raises Colette to cult status.  Was any writer more popular than Colette among women readers when Farrar Straus Giroux reissued her books in paperback in the ’70s? Judging from the number of Goodreads reviews, she is still popular today.  How much is fiction? How much is fact?  Some years ago I read two biographies of Colette, Judith Thurman’s Secrets of the Flesh:  A Life of Colette and Creating Colette By Claude Francis and Fernande Gontier.  And still I mix up fact with fiction, because her memoirs seem so closely tied up with her novels.  Of course Renée, a traveling music-hall artist in the novel, The Vagabond,  is not Colette, but she is what we would like Colette to be.

The time comes when one can’t reread the favorites constantly, and goes back to lesser works.  I recently reread Duo, a novel I didn’t care for much years ago, and Le Toutounier, a sequel I’d never heard of.

In the quotation at the top of the page, from her novel Le Toutounier, the heroine, Alice, is bewildered, sad, and angry. Her  husband Michel drowned in what she calls “an accident” on the river while they were on vacation. She has returned to Paris and, as she lets herself into her bohemian, impoverished sisters’ flat, she does not quite allow herself to realize it was suicide.  In Alice’s case, he died so suddenly that she can’t come to grips with it.  Readers of Duo know he committed suicide.

duo-harcover-colette-9780672518492-usThis diptych of novels is rather stagy:  indeed Duo was later adapted as a play. And this “duet” between a theatrical couple, Michel and Alice, beautifully reveals their characters in dialogue.  Michel, who directs theatrical seasons in casino towns, is the more sensitive of the two, worried about the business.  Practical Alice, who grew up poor with three sisters who also worked in different capacities in the theater, designs costumes and doesn’t worry .

The plot of Duo centers on Michel’s discovery that Alice had a brief affair with his business partner. When she attempts to hide a purple portfolio, he insists on looking at it.  As he carries orchids in a glass jar to the table of the run-down family manor house where they are vacationing,  the dialogue is charming and lyrical.

“The purple light looked so pretty in your eyes and on your cheeks…like that. But we need that other thing too; it’s the same color—you know what I mean?”

“What other thing? Look out, Michel—you’re spilling the water from the flowers. Are you coming?”

“I’ve never knocked over the water from flowers in all my life! Some kind of blotter—it was there, on your bureau…it isn’t there anymore. Have you put it away? What were you doing with it? Were you writing?”

colette-duo-dell-9780440321439-uk-300There is a  love letter in the portfolio. He does not take the affair in stride, even when she tries to sugar-coat it.  He is, however, aware that he cannot express his anger while their housekeeper, Maria, is in the house. Alice is annoyed that he cares so much what people think but what Michel says is true:  they are vacationing in his manor house in the country where gossip spreads very quickly.  Finally, she tells him more about the affair, since he can’t seem to get over it, and he commits suicide while she is sleeping.  He is thinking grimly on the way to the river that she’ll have no problems dealing with the business and the estate.

In Le Toutounier, Alice returns to Paris, after being hassled by the insurance agents trying to prove it was suicide. She moves into the crowded flat with her sisters, bright, brittle, pretty women, Colombe and Hermine, with married lovers. Actually, Colombe is a virgin, faithful to her inaccessible man, while Hermine is dramatic, having a nearly fatal meeting with the wife.   Le toutounier is the  big American sofa where they relax and where two of them sleep. And, ironically, her sisters’ involvements with their inappropriate men mean that soon Alice will have le toutounier all to herself.  She doesn’t want to be alone, but she will be alone.

I preferred Le Toutounier to Duo, though that, too, was much better than I had remembered.  Her best books are great; her lesser books are better than you think.

Colette under Different Titles & a 1951 Anthology of Six Novels

short-novels-of-colette-good-pictureHave you ever discovered  a “new” book by a favorite author?  And then it turns out you have already read it—under a different title?

That was the case with one of the books in Short Novels of Colette, a 1951 omnibus including Cheri, The Last of Cheri, The Other One, Duo,  The Cat, and The Indulgent Husband.

I bought the anthology for The Other One, which IS new to me, but I was also unfamiliar with The Indulgent Husband.  Turns out it is just the third Claudine book (Claudine Married), under a different name–my least favorite Claudine.  It’s the one where Claudine has an affair with a seductive young woman who turns out to be her husband’s lover—ewwww!

Colette wrote the (slightly) risqué Claudine books for Willi, her first husband, who employed and exploited dozens of ghostwriters.  (He spent so much time commissioning work that he could easily have written it.)  The Claudine books were fantastically popular and adapted for the stage.

the-indulgent-husband-colette-cfee468a9027beb3623a24ac01456d46Oh, well,  it is worth having the anthology for The Other One, and  for Glenway Westcott’s 57-page introduction   He loves every word Colette wrote, good or bad.  Proust and Gide wrote letters to Colette about their great admiration of her work.  Westcott writes,” …now that the inditers are both dead and gone, Colette is the greatest living French fiction-writer.”

Westcott’s introduction is a mix of biography, separate sections with incisive criticism, and personal comments about his love of Colette. He gushes about her looks and the artistry of photographs of her.

“I wish we could have illustrated this volume with photographs of Colette; there are plenty, entrancing, at all ages. The first written description of her that I ever read was an entry in Jules Renard’s Journal, November 1894: her appearance at the first night of Maeterlinck’s translation of ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore, bright-eyed, laughing, ‘with a braid of hair long enough to let the bucket down a well with”; Melisande-like.”

The Other One was a first read for me, and if the translation by Viola Gerard Garvin is stilted, it still captures Colette’s originality.  It is rather stagy, which is appropriate, because the heroine, Fanny, is a  playwright’s wife accustomed to the intrigues of the theater. She is happy except for one problem:  Farou has affairs.

colette-the-other-one-101049Fanny lives  with Farou and her stepson, Little Farou.  It is summer, and there is much emphasis on her laziness, the heat, and  her Oriental eyes.  Contrasted with the dark Fanny is their cool ash-blond housemate, the efficient Jane, Farou’s smart secretary, who  helps Fanny with the housekeeping. The lives of Fanny and Jane revolve around Farou.  When he is away, they wait for word from him.

The novel begins:

The postman brought nothing at eleven o’clock. If Farou did not write last night before going to bed, it’s certain he had a late rehearsal.”

“You think so, Fanny?”

“I’m sure. ‘The House Without Women’ is not difficult to stage, but little Asselin isn’t at at all the type of woman to play Suzanne.”

“She’s very pretty, though,” said Jane.

Fanny shrugged her shoulders.

“My poor Jane, how does it help her to be pretty? No one ever wanted a pretty woman to play Suzanne. It’s a part for a Cinderella like Doriyls. Didn’t you see the play when it was first produced?”

Jane’s comment about Suzanne’s prettiness is the first clue to her  jealousy.  Jane is having an affair with Farou.   It is Little Farou, who has a crush on Jane, who tips off Fanny.  And when  Fanny sees her husband embracing Jane, and then a minute later Jane mimics Fanny and her habit of saying “oo-la-la,” we see the ugliness of an otherwise pretty woman.   Fanny realizes that her friend of four years is far from a friend. But she hides her knowledge while she figures out what to do.

The ending is abrupt, and not altogether believable to me, but in the world of Colette–who know?  And in a way it is the shock of the sophistication of the women that makes it true.

I so much love reading Colette, even if it’s not the best Colette

My Colette Paperbacks Are Falling Apart!

IMG_3852Alas, woe is me, oimoi! My faded Colette paperbacks are falling apart.  I had a set of 16 FSG/Noonday Press editions, but the bindings cracked and I’m down to seven.  I love the delicate drawings on these white covers now faded to cream.  I found them at the Union bookstore as a freshman and charged the books on my student ID.  Reading Colette made me feel sophisticated (says she who wore bell-bottom jeans and t-shirts).

Sure, my cat used the top edge of  My Mother’s House and Sido as  a scratching post, but  all remained readable until the glue began to dissolve.  The bindings have cracked: p.  84, The Pure and the Impure, p.  26, The Vagabond, etc..

I’ve replaced The Blue Lantern, Break of Day, The Shackle, The Complete Claudine, Mitsou/Music-Hall Sidelights, My Apprenticeships, and Gigi, to name a few.  Several are in print from FSG, thank God.  But most of mine are used:  an   NYRB, an old hardcover Colette omnibus with an introduction by Erica Jong,  old Penguins, a Dover,  and  Peter Owens.

How can I replace this pretty edition of Sido and My Mother’s House?  (Mine is not as pretty as this picture of someone else’s online.)

My Mother's House and Sido colette 0374512183.1.zoom

Well, it is in print from  FSG, but with a different cover.

my mother's house sido colette new fsg 51IOr+jGOJL._SX310_BO1,204,203,200_

And what about The Vagabond?  I am very attached to this book.

the vagabond colette noonday 904293My favorite Colette is The Vagabond, the first one I read.  The heroine, Renee, is a witty, sophisticated, reserved writer-turned-music-hall artist,  enjoying casual friendships with  the troupe and life on the road, while trying to avoid her fan, “Big Noodle,”  who sends her flowers and is determined to seduce and marry her. Renee is divorced and resists a new relationship. She prefers to spend time with her bulldog.  I wanted to be just like Renee, but how would that would have would been possible?  Should I have been a mime/dancer instead of a Latin teacher/flunky editor/perpetual student/waitress?  Well, I can’t mime or dance…but I do know Latin.

colette erica jong il_340x270.766889536_leuuFortunately, The Vagabond is included in an omnibus edition of Colette with an introduction by Erica Jong, so I’m covered if this one falls apart.

Omnibuses are the salvation of biblio-civilation!

Do your books fall part?  Can they be saved?  What is their shelf life (ha ha)?  I have turned on comments just for this post.

Good Things in Threes: Edward Carey’s Heap House, Colette’s The Innocent Libertine, & Dorothy Sayers’s The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club

Good things come in threes!  I thoroughly enjoyed three feather-light classics this month, Edward Carey’s Heap House, Colette’s The Innocent Libertine, and Dorothy Sayers’s The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club.

Edward Carey HEAP-HOUSE1. While reading Heap House, written and illustrated by Edward Carey, I thought, “It’s ‘Upstairs Downstairs’ meets Edward Gorey and Mervyn Peake!” This eerie fantasy, the first of the Iremonger trilogy, is set in an alternate nineteenth century. The extended family of the Iremongers lives in a huge mansion, Heap House, built on “the heaps,” i.e., hills of trash and rubble collected from London.  Servants toil in the heaps, wearing gas masks and tied to human anchors as they salvage valuable objects.

Heap House is told in two alternating narratives.  The first narrator is 15-year-old Clod,  a  brilliant, sickly orphan with a special gift:  objects speak to him.  Each Iremonger is presented with  an object at birth:   Clod’s is a bath plug; his cousin Pinalippy has a doily; and an aunt a brass door handle.  The owners must carry their birth objects at all times.  When Clod enters a room, objects speak their names to him.  His bath plug says, “James Henry Hayward.’

Lucy Pennant, an orphan recently brought to live at Heap House, relates the story of  the servants downstairs.  After she arrives, the objects, ranging from utensils to furniture, start acting strangely. She meets Clod while cleaning the fireplaces upstairs and they share information and form an alliance.

I loved this book!  which was praised by Kelly Link and Eleanor Catton.  And it is one of the best novels I’ve read this year.  (And I have two to go.)

Colette innocent libertine 1323302. Colette’s The Innocent Libertine. Colette explains in the preface that this slight novel was intended as a short story, but her first husband, Willy, saw the commercial value and insisted that she pad it.  Then she wrote a sequel. Later she welded the two stories into one novel, but fears “that this definitive edition itself fails to… reconcile me completely to the first aspects of my career as a novelist.”

It is charming but feather-light, not up to Colette’s usual standard.  In Part I, she introduces the heroine, Minne, a  schoolgirl who pores over sensational newspapers while she pretends to do schoolwork.  She is fascinated by a column called”Paris at Night”:  she loves the stories of a gang of brigands living in the boulevards of Paris. She thinks the gang is romantic:  she likes their names,Copper-nob, the Moth, the Viper, and Curly.  She fantasizes that a young man she has seen sleeping in the park is Curly.  When she sneaks out one night, she discovers the world is not like “Paris at Night.”

In Part 2, Minne is unhappily married to her handsome cousin, who had a crush on her as a teenager. She is unfulfilled and wonders what other women find in love.  Her ideas of sex and romance are as naive as her girlhood vision of the gangs of Paris.  Will she ever find love?

When you’ve read all of Colette, read this.

3. I’ve always wanted to join a stuffy club where men lounge in comfortable chairs and smoke cigars.  (Are women still barred?) In Dorothy Sayers’s The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1928), the fifth novel in the Lord Peter Wimsey series, the amateur detective hero, Wimsey, is at his wittiest and most dashing as he solves a puzzle plot full of red herrings and twists.

It opens at the club:   Captain George Fentiman, a shell-shocked, unemployed veteran of World War I, tells Wimsey that he would resort to crime if he could.

Wimsey gently, humorously reins in his friend, who is on the verge of a breakdown.

“Oh, I wouldn’t do that,” said Wimsey lightly.  “Crime’s a skilled occupation, y’know.  Even a comparative imbecile like myself can play the giddy sleuth on the amateur Moriarty.  If you’re thinkin’ of puttin ‘ on a false moustache and lammin’ a millionaire, don’t do it…”

the unpleasantness at the bellona club sayers 192887Then George’s grandfather, General Fentiman, is found dead in the club’s library, in an advanced state of rigor mortis.  The time of death is important to quarreling heirs, because the general’s sister also died that morning:   if she died first,  her fortune belonged to the general, and would go to George and his brother, Robert.

Wimsey examines timetables, romps through Europe, and interviews artists (one of whom half jokingly proposes to him:  he sweetly refuses).

Really a great read!  One of Sayers’s best!