“As a maiden lady, you would wear anyone down…”

The second in a series looking at favourite Dunnett quotations – this time from Checkmate.

“She thinks, as a maiden lady, I should wear my hair down…”
“As a maiden lady, you would wear anyone down…”

“I shall call you mon compere, as the King does the Constable. You haven’t enough artillery, have you?”
“Against you or the Germans?”

These two seemingly casual quotes, dropped in before two of the most dramatic episodes in the series, are amongst my favourites. Both for their examples of Dorothy’s humour and for their subtle and leading insights.

Lymond and Philippa are on their way to the House of Doubtance in Lyon. Lymond is now Captain-General in charge of defending the city and is busy dealing with rich merchants who would rather escape or even switch sides, but must take time out to honour the Dame’s will. Marthe has schemingly arranged that Philippa, who arrived at the house of Marechal de St Andre disguised as a boy, should also be there. Philippa is attempting to discover as much as she can about Lymond’s origins in order to heal the rift between him and Sybilla. We know, but Philippa does not, that he has fallen in love with her but has decided that he cannot pursue such a match despite the fact they are, by force of circumstances in Istambul, married. He is thus trying to keep a certain distance between them, and still desires to obtain a divorce and return to Russia where he is second in power only to the Tzar.

From her escapade as ‘Annibal, Lymond is discovering even more about how resourceful and quick-witted she is, and must find their verbal sparring both a delight and a trial. Here she flits between innocent (or is it?) banter and incisive insight into military status and strategy, and Lymond has to parry almost defensively.

These two quotes, following on from the byplay with the fan and Annibal’s resourceful double bluffing as Lymond unmasks her, show us that the two of them are now much more closely matched. Philippa is more than capable of standing up to him and trading quips, and she is also quite comfortable in befriending the Marechale or twisting the Schiatti brothers round her little finger. No longer is Lymond in undoubted control of the relationship as he was in the Mediterranean. His advantages in age and seniority have seemingly evaporated (“Do you consider I’m old enough to stop calling you Mr Crawford?”), and his aura of untouchability and the scathing tongue that scares his men rigid mean very little to her.

Of course we are being manipulated. Dorothy is preparing us for events that will take place later that night when the heady mix of mortal danger and ingenious escape will combine to provide Philippa with her own revelation of love. But she does it with such a light touch that we are hardly aware of it at this stage. A probing remark, a description of an outrageously ostentatious dress, a pun here, an unexpected change of subject there. We are entertained, lightened, admiring this sophisticated and attractive girl (Jerott doesn’t even recognise her at first) who deals so easily with our irascible and tortured hero. So that when the moment comes it is the most natural development in the world. Yet without those two apparently insignificant pieces of conversation – easily missed or forgotten compared to the high drama of the Dame’s voice from the grave and the chase through the traboules – the following chapters would be far less of an inevitable progression, the rhythm of the narrative weakened.

This is the difference between a talented author and a genius.


“As a maiden lady, you would wear anyone down…” — 19 Comments

  1. Probably not the place to post this, but does anyone know the source of the phrase “To Lie With Lions”?

    On another note, I often find myself thinking about the wonderfully long dinner I had with Lady Dorothy Dunnett tete-a-tete. It was at the Caledonian Club of London sometime in 2001 in response to a review I wrote of Gemini for the Times Literary Supplement when I was 25 http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/incomingFeeds/article767853.ece (a magazine she subscribed to “for the good of her soul”). She was even more charming in life than her characters were in her fiction.

  2. I just posted a review of Gemini and a testament to the whole House of Niccolo series on my blog Nan Hawthorne’s Booking the Middle Ages at http://allsheread.blogspot.com/2009/01/gemini-by-dorothy-dunnett-house-of.html .

    I ask a favor at the end.. I know you are among those who can help me.. Being unable to read print, I listened to the series on cassettes provided by the library for the blind.. I never have seen how some of the characters’ names were spelled.. most notably Nicholas’s third and last wife.

    Drop me a note on the blog comments if you would be so kind.

    Nan Hqawthorne
    Author, An Involuntary King: A Tale of Anglo Saxon England

  3. Hello Alexander, apologies for the late reply, I was just heading off to Madeira when you posted and have been up to my eyes in work since getting back. Thanks for your question which I’m trying to get an answer for. Having not long moved house I don’t have immediate access to most of my books and notes so it may take a few days.

    Interesting review, and I’m sure you must have had a lovely time discussing it with Dorothy – she was indeed one of the most charming people you could wish to meet.

  4. Hello Nan, and a warm welcome. Another excellent review and I hope you enjoy Lymond when you’ve rested from the inevitable literary indigestion that Gemini’s riches will have created.

    It must be difficult to not know the spellings; I had never considered that before. Nicholas’ wife’s name is Gelis, and it’s usually the pronunciation which baffles many people. His father’s family is spelt St. Pol. If I can help with anything else then do get in touch. I’ll post this reply on your own comments section as well.

  5. Thanks, Bill. Even the “talking book” versions of the eight volumes had three different pronunciations of “GHelis”!

    I would say harder than not knowing the spellings is not having the maps… they include all the prefatory material, including the list of characters that goes on for pages… Gemini’s prefatory material was so long that the first word of the actual novel didn’t show until side 2… and these cassettes are produced at half speed to get twice as much on them! I will jsut have to look for the maps elsewhere.

    I have also read and loved “King Hereafter”.

    Since the library for the blind insists on sending me only Cadfaels and Ursula Blanchards lately, I may be beginning Game of Kings sooner than you would think…

    Join my online book community on February 3 to hear it discuss my own novel, An Involuntary King. See the schedule at http://histnov.blogspot.com

  6. A second welcome Nan, the occasion of starting the Lymond Chronicles surely deserves one! You are in for a glorious exhilarating ride and I look forward to more reviews as you progress through them. It sounds as if you’ve already fallen in love with Lymond as much as you did with Nicholas – there is so much more to come.

  7. I came across this page when searching for Dorothy Dunnett quotations and was so happy to find the discussion and analysis! I started keeping track of my favorite quotations while reading The Unicorn Hunt, and have since added some Lymond ones as well. There’re all here, but I’ll mention two of my favorites:

    “In his heart, John thought that Nicholas was the same kind of man that he was. The trouble was, they all did.”

    “But her own kiss was warm and loving, and she held him lightly, so that he breathed in her natural freshness, her costly scents and her human harmlessness.”

  8. Hello divia, and welcome. Glad to have you aboard and pleased to see some Niccolo quotations – for some reason most people seem to remember Lymond quotes more often and certainly I know the Chronicles in much more depth myself so those are the ones I remember most easily. Once I have some free time I’ll go over your quotes in detail and context – I do like that one of John’s particularly.

  9. I love the Lymond quotes you selected. I just finished the Niccolo Series for the first time and seeing these quotes reminded me how much more word play and puns are found in Lymond, compared to Niccolo.

    I believe I read somewhere a speech by Dorothy Dunnett when she commented that Lymond was mostly speaking in English (when he wasn’t quoting French and Latin), whereas Nicholas is often speaking in Flemish, French, Arabic, etc. His words are presented to the reader in English for our benefit, but a pun in English rarely translates to another language and vice versa, so it would not make much sense for the character of Nicholas to indulge too often. Do you agree?

  10. I think there’s certainly some truth in that – though Dorothy was perfectly capable of making such puns if she’d wanted to.

    I think there’s an essential difference between Lymond and Nicholas that makes that sort of wordplay less appropriate and less likely in the latter’s story. Lymond was a complete master of words and used them in many different ways: politically, socially, to persuade, to discipline, to seduce, to befriend, etc. etc. Nicholas’ great gift was numbers and you can’t use them in anything like the same way because most people don’t have the basic grounding in them to understand him. So although his life is equally complex his verbal interactions with people are in some ways more straightforward (although equally guarded politically) and less wrapped in the sort of word-wizardry that Lymond indulges in. Nick also doesn’t have the sort of education that allows him to use the literary allusions that Lymond has such recall of.

    The interesting counterpoint to that is that they both love and are skilled in music but seem to come to it from different directions.

  11. Great analysis. These are two of my favourite passages also.

    Another is, of course, ‘… “But you must excuse the hunchback, who does.”‘

    And another is:

    ‘So,’ said Mary, ‘you would condemn the human race to hell, for want of enlightenment?’
    ” Why not?’ said Francis Crawford. ‘It has nothing to fear, surely, from hell.’

    And those are just Checkmate. There are so many, aren’t there?

  12. Lymond has a mathematical brain, or at the very least, the ability to cope with mathematics – and to be creative with it – with ease. There is the proposition he placed before Orontius Finnaeus that spelt … (Checkmate).

    As Lymond says to John Dee (in Castle) regarding being a musician but understanding the mathematics of sailing, ‘I believe the case of mind is the same’. There is some maths involved in understanding music (especially harmony). And historically, the two subjects were quite closely linked (eg, through the idea of divine proportions).

    Mathematics is not Lymond’s focus, or love, as it may be Nicholas’s. But he certainly appreciates it and finds it interesting, and it helps him to do things he wants or likes to do.

    Both men know that music makes them feel. And sometimes it makes them feel much more, or more deeply, than they want to or can cope with, so that each sometimes tries to avoid it. (This is obvious enough with Lymond, and I remember an occasion with Nicholas when he was taken to the cathedral to listen to a composition, and did maths in his head so that the music would slide over him.)

    So I think they have considerable affinity in these areas.

    Lymond’s ability with words and references comes initially from his education, but also from his extensive reading beyond that formal education, allied to an appallingly accurate memory. Nicholas is not as voracious in this area, it seems, but he still seems to me to be highly articulate and very precise in his speech.

    Just some rambling thoughts anyway. Apologies for any misquotes – I’m going from memory.

  13. I’ve remembered another favourite, also in Checkmate, I’m afraid:

    If one believes in God, but has learned not to pray, one offers only, in silence, one’s apologies, and then asks the spirit to do what it can.

  14. And Lymond in Disorderly Knights: ‘I may add that Friday is my day for raping; and I like it quieter than this, and they enjoy it.’

  15. Pingback: Taken on a journey to Blackfriars | Bill's Dunnett Blog

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