Members and their guests have been busy attending a wide range of events. Reports and photographs are below.
Friday 1 FEB 2019
6:15pm – Queen's Building Lecture Theatre, College
Wednesday 30 JAN 2019
Talk by Sir Stephen O'Brien
Monday 28 JAN 2019
Book Group – Lent Term Meeting
8:00pm – Fellows' Breakfast Room, College
The Cambridge Murders by Glyn Daniel
It seems unlikely that at the beginning of the evening any of us thought that by the end of it we’d have talked about Giles Farnaby (1563-1640), Jane Austen (1775-1817), Anton Chekov (1860-1904), Virginia Woolf (1882-1941), Dorothy Sayers (1893-1957), C S Lewis (1898-1963), Georgette Heyer (1902-1974), Colin Dexter (1930-2017), Qiu Xiaolong (1953-) and J K Rowling (1965-) along with: borrowed names and religious allegory; era-appropriate words and phrases; guns; level-of-description; and rules-for-writing fiction but we had. Era-appropriate words and phrases, guns, Dexter, Heyer, Qiu and Sayers were perhaps predictable, but the rest?
Yes, the titular murders were committed with a gun, but that wasn’t the context in which we talked about them: rather we considered Chekov’s guidance about the opening of a work of fiction. He was concerned with the imperative to get the plot moving early. Apparently he said that if the author mentioned that there was a gun hung over the fireplace in the room where the action opens, it, the gun, should have been fired in the next three pages. The Cambridge Murders opened much more slowly than that - took 23 pages of an old Penguin edition to find the first body. Until then, nobody had thought there was anything odd about the last night of term in the imaginary Cambridge College in the late 1930s. We noted that J K Rowling - a writer who does not want for readers - had felt able to indulge in a veritable telephone directory of characters, each introduced in their own short chapter, before she got going on the plot of A Casual Vacancy. So much for that rule for writing fiction.
We had come across two sets of rules for writing detective fiction specifically: van Dine’s (US) Twenty Rules for Writing Detective Stories which apparently originally appeared in the September 1928 edition of The American Magazine, but which we had found on the thrillingdetective website, and those of The Detection Society, codified by Ronald Knox in 1929 (try Wikipedia). Like Knox, Sayers was a founder member of (UK) The Detection Society but clearly didn’t rate van Dine’s Rule 4: "There must be no love interest in the story. To introduce amour is to clutter up a purely intellectual experience with irrelevant sentiment. The business in hand is to bring a criminal to the bar of justice, not to bring a lovelorn couple to the hymeneal alter.” Think of Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night and Busman’s Honeymoon. Perhaps Sayers felt she had matured out of writing straightforward detective fiction. Daniel also broke van Dine’s Rule 4, because in the case of The Cambridge Murders people’s fondness or passion for each other provided some handy motives for them to behave badly (but sometimes affectionately!) and so enrich the “intellectual experience” of the many potential solvers of the murders, and indeed the readers. Wondering whether following rules for writing detective fiction might be a characteristic of writers with a UK or US background, we are going to read Qiu's Death of a Red Heroine - the first Inspector Chen story - later in the year.
And the other things - writers - composer - that caught our interest? Well, if you like wide ranging discussion, do join us! Next meeting probably June 3rd.
Friday 11 JAN 2019