10 August 2009

Célestine Berger

Dorothy L.Sayers. “The Entertaining Episode of the Article in Question” in Lord Peter Views the Body. London: Gollancz. 1928. London: Penguin Books. 1962.

Synopsis

Célestine, 'a slim singled creature with the face of a Paris gamin' but with ankles 'a trifle on the thick side', took a job in England in 1928 in the service of the Dowager Duchess of Medway.

She had the misfortune, in the queue at the Gare Saint-Lazare to have one’s luggage weighed, to be immediately in front of the English private detective Peter Wimsey. Wimsey's idiosyncratic mind was bothered by a phrase that she used: 'Me prends-tu pour un imbécile?'. He had a surreptitious photograph taken of her.

When the family diamonds disappeared just before the wedding of the Duchess's granddaughter, Wimsey, working with the police knew enough to have Célestine arrested. He explained that he was quite intrigued that a young woman would use a masculine article to describe herself, rather than saying 'une imbecile'. He had her photographed and confirmed with the Sûreté that she was indeed Jacques Lerouge also known as Sans-culotte.

Curiosities

While Dorothy Sayers(1893-1957) was an androgynous dresser, she rarely used gender variance in her plots, this being almost the only exception.

“Sans-culotte” was a expression used in revolutionary France where men wore pantaloons rather than the knee breeches of upper-class men. Here of course it means in a skirt rather than a culotte.

La Celestina was a major character in the 1499 Spanish novel by Fernando de Rojas, Tragicomedia de Calisto y Melibea or Libro de Calisto y Melibea y de la puta vieja Celestina. She is a former prostitute who now arranges discreet meetings between lovers, and runs a brothel.

Celestine is also the name of five Roman Catholic Popes.

Sayers regarded her translation of Dante’s Divina Commedia to be her best work. It was released as three Penguin Classics.
  • Marjorie Garber. Vested Interests: Cross-dressing and Cultural Anxiety. New York: Routledge. xiii, 443 pp. 1992. New York: HarperPerennial, 1993. London : Penguin Books, 1993: 190-1.

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