The Lord and the Law: Legal Content and Ideas in the Lord Peter Wimsey stories of Dorothy L. Sayers
Part II: The Faithful Family Solicitor
Contrasting in some respects with Sir Impey Biggs is another recurring lawyer: the solicitor, J. Murbles of Staple Inn(UBC loc890). Sayers’s portrayal of Murbles is generally positive, if somewhat condescending. While Biggs, the socially superior representative of what was very much the ‘higher branch’ of the legal profession, is physically impressive, Murbles, a lowlier lawyer, is described as a ‘little elderly gentleman … so perfectly the family solicitor as really to have no distinguishing personality at all, beyond a great kindness of heart and a weakness for soda-mint lozenges’(UBC loc 197), burdened by a ‘delicate digestion’ (CW 30). Nevertheless, Wimsey respects his sense, in law and in life, consulting him on issues relating to property (UD 162) and describing him as a ‘wise old bird’, who takes sensible precautions in dangerous situations (UD 223).
Unsurprisingly for one in his profession and station, Murbles’s political views appear to be Tory-traditionalist: thus, he is impatient with the socialist anti-aristocrat view of the radical Goyles, and is convinced that ‘the law’s the law for everybody’ (CW 162), which the benefit of hindsight tells us is a somewhat naive view to have held (albeit fictitiously) in the 1920s and 1930s. He can take a joke along familiar cynical lines relating to the legal profession – so when Lord Peter asks him whether lawyers ever go to heaven, he responds with a dry ‘I have no information on that point’ (UBC loc 273).
Murbles defers to his legal superiors, and is ready to consult counsel on more involved matters of property law. When a case turns on changes in the rules of succession following the 1925 property legislation (much beloved of English and Welsh law students to this day). Murbles suggests consulting a barrister, Towkington, ‘quite the ablest authority I could name’, on the point (UD 166). Although Murbles has his own ideas about the point, he defers to Towkington (UD 170).
All in all, Murbles is a resourceful and useful professional man who knows his place, both with regard to Lord Peter and with regard to the barristers with whom he has to deal.
WB Whose Body? (1923)
CW Clouds of Witness (1926)
UD Unnatural Death (1927)
LPVB Lord Peter Views the Body (short stories) (1928)
UBC The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1928)
SP Strong Poison (1930)
FRH Five Red Herrings (1931)
HHC Have His Carcase (1932)
HH Hangman’s Holiday (short stories) (1933)
MMA Murder Must Advertise (1933)
TNT The Nine Tailors (1934)
GN Gaudy Night (1935)
BH Busman’s Honeymoon (1937)
SF Striding Folly (short stories, published 1972)
TD Thrones, Dominations (by Jill Paton Walsh, based on a sketch by Dorothy L Sayers, 1998)