The ugly side of the golden age

Everyone knows what a huge fan of golden age mysteries I am. Little pleases me more than finding one I’ve not read either, in a second hand shop or among the latest batch of re-issues. They have to be read with understanding of the era they were written in, though – the past was another country.

I just about tolerated Josephine Tey’s “The Man in the Queue” even though it was terribly xenophobic and the continual use of “the Dago” to describe the unknown suspect (as well as the stuff about the method of murder being un-British) began to grate.

I’ve just finished one of the “Wallace” spy books from the 1930’s, which I started with high hopes as it read a bit like one of the adventure stories for boys I so like. However, the levels of xenophobia, homophobia and the excruciating chief villain who was – yes – disabled, was too much, even for my “remember the context” reading. In the end I devised my own back story for one of the spies (deeply closeted homosexual, hiding it behind condemnation of anything camp) which began to accord really well with the text, much to my amusement.

No more Wallaces for me, unless they come with a Gromit.

2 thoughts on “The ugly side of the golden age”

  1. So true about ‘golden age’ in any genre. There are classics of sci-fi that I really struggled with, sometimes early enough in my reading career that I didn’t know why it was bugging me, just that I was irritated and depressed by the characters/narrative voice/plot details. Being a writer oneself I think makes it both better and worse; you can tell why things are not working for you, but you also just end up more critical in general, and it does make it harder to handwave when you’re sitting there thinking ‘I could write this better!’ (Hence the headcanons, and I love yours!)

    1. So very true about ending up more critical.

      I was wondering why I can read Saki (who is notoriously un PC especially in that great story ‘The Unrest Cure’) with pleasure and I think it’s because he writes with such elan. Nothing insidious or sneaky or grinding you down. One may disagree with his sentiments but not in the way he expresses them.


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