Peter & Harriet: character sketches from Busman’s Honeymoon
It is unknown whether the following descriptions, taken from a manuscript found among Sayers’s papers, were intended for casting the play Busman’s Honeymoon, or aiding the actors once cast; in any case they are rather better suited to being read.
Peter will be 45 next birthday; & though his small bones, whippy figure & fair colouring give him a deceptive appearance of youth, his face, in its rare moments of repose is beginning ot show the marks set there by time & experience. At first sight one would say that the lines of brow & chin ran back rather alarmingly; but this, too, is largely an illusion, due to the dominance of the high, beaked nose which is, one feels, a tradition handed down from the Norman Conquest or thereabouts & somewhat exaggerated in the transmission. The steadiness of the grey eyes & long, humorous mouth is reassuring, & there is certainly no lack of physical health or vitality; yet the acuteness of the facial angle, the silvery pallor of hair & skin, the slight droop of the eyelids, the sensitive & restless hands, & above all a certain nervous tautness of gesture & carriage—these signs perhaps convey a warning that the family blood will not stand very much more of this kind of thing, & that in marrying a commoner he has shown no more than a proper consideration for posterity. HIs social poise is inborn; but his emotional balance appears to be rather a matter of discipline applied partly from within & partly by training and circumstances; his outbursts of inconsequential gaiety are the compensation for the exercise of a rigid control in other directions. A natural sweetness of disposition, allied to a freakish sense of humour & assisted by a highly-civilized upbringing, makes him easy enough to get on with, but to get within his guard is difficult. The light, high, over-bred voice is his own; but the drawl, like the monocle, is part of the comedian’s make-up which he can & does put off when he is in earnest. Being above the necessity for standing upon his dignity, he is ready enough to play the fool if it suits his whim or his purpose—a fact which some people find disconcerting. To the villagers, however, he presents no problems; they recognize him at once as a hereditary ruler & are not embarrassed by his eccentricities, which are exactly what they would expect from a gentleman of his condition. Nor does he hold any surprises for Bunter, who has known him from his teeth to his toe-nails for twenty years. How far Bunter has it in him to surprise Peter is a matter for infinite conjecture.
Harriet is 30 years old, tall, strongly-made and rigorous in speech, movement & colouring. She has dark hair & eyes & a skin like honey; her face has more character than beauty, but the older she grows the handsomer she will become. Her first meeting with Peter took place under painful circumstances, & his courtship of her has been a prolonged & patient fight against a set of stubborn inhibitions. Past unhappiness has matured but not tamed her; she has not learnt, & never will learn, self-discipline as Peter has learnt it. What she has got & what he loves her for, is an immense intellectual sincerity. She will commit endless errors of judgment & hold to them in the face of any emotional attack; but if her reason can be persuaded, she will admit the error freely & without rancor. It is evident that she will never be happy unless her passions & her reason can march side by side; & she is lucky to have found a man honest and unselfish enough to refrain from using her heart as a weapon against her conscience. Indeed, in this respect he is the more vulnerable, & it is her honesty that will prevent him from turning the same weapon against himself. The fact that they both have the same educational background is probably a considerable factor in the establishment of a common understanding; & though you might think that they are the last people who should ever have married one another, Oxford will in the end be justified of her children.
We may sympathize with this curiously-assorted couple over the disturbances attending their honeymoon. Peter, in particular, see-sawing between emotional & intellectual excitement, may be excused for a variability of mood lacking in that repose which marks the caste of Vere de Vere. At the opening of the play, both of them are rather absurdly astonished to find themselves happy. This is not the kind of treatment to which live has accustomed them; consequently, when the upheavals begin, they are less disconcerted than younger & less experienced people would be under such distressing circumstances. This, after all, is life as they have always known it—one damned thing after another—& they are able to preserve a sense of humour & proportion which, all things considered, is highly creditable to both of them.
Reproduced in Love All & Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy L. Sayers, edited by Alzina Stone Dale