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Kennedy and Brown

Image result for Dorothy Sayers

Mystery solved!

As some of you may remember, I've long been intrigued by a passage in Dorothy Sayers' introduction to her translation of Dante's Inferno. The passage, written in 1949, includes allusions to roughly 60 different people who played a part in English social history in the century or so before that date. Some she refers to by full name, most by part of a name, some by an allusive phrase. Her point is that an intelligent reader five centuries later will need help understanding a poem that makes such allusions, and she tries to provide analogous help in her notes on Dante.

Roughly two thirds of a century has passed, and even for Anglophilic Americans, her prediction had been amply verified. Some of the references are obvious, some take some digging, some left me confused for a long time.

But I believe I have cleared up the most confusing example. She refers to "Brown and Kennedy." Those are quite common names, so googling didn't help

The archives of The Spectator include a withering denunciation of a then-new legal precedent involving the convicts Kennedy and Brown. Dated 15 September 1832. They were convicted of murder, apparently because they stole a coat, and through an unlikely chain of events that theft led to a man's death. The editorialist considered this horrific.

I can certainly see how a poet determined to model himself after Dante could include this pair. They might for example be found in the circle of purgatory that cleanses the soul of avarice (represented by their theft of the coat) , and they might mention that their punishment for murder while in their bodies had prepared them to endure their more righteous punishment in the afterlife.

Mystery solved. Thanks to social media and especially to Vivienne Smith of the Dorothy L. Sayers Society.

There still seems to be some room for argument, though, about Sayers' reference to Fred Archer. Another day....


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