My addiction to Dornford Yates is a guilty pleasure. The man appears to have been a bigot, a snob, pretentious, xenophobic, and more. The books are full of purple writing, sentimentality, offensiveness even beyond the norms of Britain circa 1920, tiresome monsters of self-regard (those are the good guys), and turns of phrase repeated until they become laughable cliches. For example, IMO no one over the age of 16 should use zeugma (“he took his seat and his hat”), which Fowler classified ten years earlier under the heading of WORN-OUT HUMOR:
–with all these we, i.e. the average adult, not only are not amused; we feel a bitterness, possibly because they remind us of the lost youth in which we could be tickled with a straw, against the scribbler who has reckoned on our having tastes so primitive.
So why do I like them? Because my dad did (a guilty pleasure for him too) and I got the habit from him as a teenager; because the world of the idle rich between the wars, driving around the Continent in their Lowlands and Rolls touring cars, is exotic (funny to think how at the time, it was the equivalent of today’s consumer porn—driving a Ford Explorer through South Beach); because the plots of the thrillers are gripping and the incidents in the “regular” stories are engrossing and sometimes funny; because they have a mysterious attractive quality I can’t put my finger on. Over the years I’ve bought every book Yates published (thank goodness for Bookfinder!), and when I pick one up, typically I end up on a binge and read all 30-40. My dad visited us in October and I pulled out all the ones he hadn’t seen, so I’m just finishing up my Yates kick with the dregs.
This one is actually not part of the dregs (I misremembered it as one of the late, pathetic mixtures of “Berry” stories and romanticized autobiography), but it pales in comparison with the best of the “Berry” books (Berry and Company, Jonah and Company, and Adele and Company). It’s a series of short stories featuring Boy Pleydell (narrator), his cousins Jonah and Jill Mansel, his sister Daphne, and her husband Bertram Pleydell. The cousins buy antiques, bet on horses, foil burglars, and the like. The two distinguishing features are first that Boy, serial flirter, is here linked throughout the book with one Perdita Boyte, instead of a different girl in each chapter or one of his future wives (Adele, then Jill). However, like all Yates heroines Perdita has pointed fingers, great grave eyes yet a child’s sense of fun, soft hair, slim ankles, blah blah blah, so it’s not really much of a change. Secondly, instead of the usual Sealyham terrier, the current dog is a German shepherd, The Knave. Enjoyable nonetheless. Part of the pleasure is these nice old Ward Lock editions, with their thick, soft, yellowing pages, heady old-book aroma, solid cloth covers, chunky proportions, and nice fonts…