“This new way of applying quotations”: Allusion in Dorothy L. Sayers and John Dickson Carr


  • Luke Seaber University College London


golden age crime fiction, detective fiction, Dorothy L. Sayers, John Dickson Carr, allusion, rhetoric


This article looks at two interwar writers of detective fiction rarely (if ever) considered Modernist, Dorothy L. Sayers and John Dickson Carr, and examines how the use of allusion in their works may align their detective fiction with Modernism in terms of both content and form. It will focus chiefly on two works from the late 1930s: Sayers’ Busman’s Honeymoon (1937) and Carr’s The Crooked Hinge (1938). Lord Peter Wimsey’s ludic, or seemingly ludic, use of conversational allusion in Busman’s Honeymoon may appear to be writing against the high seriousness of Modernist allusion.  The surface flippancy of the one, however, will be shown to have much in common with the avowed seriousness of the other.  This underlying similarity of content, which is to say in this context why allusion is used, in Sayers contrasts with a similarity of technique (how allusion is used) in Carr. The Crooked Hinge (and Carr’s work more generally) uses an array of allusion to other material to create an intertextual network where meaning is created as much by other texts as it is by the text itself.  This article will explore how the study of allusion, both as a technique and as a type of content, allows us to read certain works of detective fiction in dialogue with a Modernism to which they may otherwise be considered alien.