In an abrupt change of pace, I set aside the works of Walter Burkert just as he was about to show once and for all how human behavior really works, and read a mystery novel until all hours of the night. I had given up on the entire ‘reading in bed’ thing—there never seemed to be any time, I was tired, and the who really wants to read a technical excursus on Greek sacrifice in bed anyway? (Though I have heard that some scholars, when sick and confined to bed, pass the tedious hours by reading the works of the famous French epigraphist Louis Robert, and this instills in them such a profound desire to get up and work and travel that their recovery is rapid.)
Anyway, though, I’ve suffered a relapse and was reading P. D. James as a bedtime story. I was astonished at how straightforward it was—no narrative or stylistic tricks to obscure the meaning or the plot, no hidden depth of character, no unexpected descriptions. It was quite refreshing. It did, however, set me to wondering about genre. A comparison, I think, of these womanish mysteries might be helpful; and the ‘academic’ mysteries in particular might prove fruitful. There is an interesting similarity of tone between Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night, James’s An Unsuitable Job for a Woman, the Sarah Caudwell mysteries, and even Donna Tartt’s lamentable Secret History. Is this similarity due to genre, the gender of the author, the academic setting, or the vaguely feminist-ish slant of the text? The answer is probably just ‘yes’ to all counts, and I leave it to you to sort out the particulars yourself.