Murder Must Advertise, by Dorothy Sayers (Avon, New York, 1967)
Dorothy Sayers is one of my favorite authors, both fiction and non-fiction, and her Lord Peter Wimsey mystery stories among the best of that genre. I've read them all so many times that quotations from them worm their way up from the depths of my brain unbidden, enabling me to appear knowledgeable in fields where my ignorance is nearly complete, as happened earlier this year while I was sitting in on a class about medieval manuscripts.
The beauty of Sayers' writing makes re-reading her murder mysteries delightful even when you know whodunit. I was nursing a cold, and trying to forget the agony of descending from high altitude with completely clogged ears, as well as the frustration of not being able, at that hour, to purchase real Sudafed, but only the ersatz variety that proudly proclaims on the box that it contains none of the ingredient that really works. In the mood for something that would distract without taxing to my befogged brain, I shunned my burgeoning "to read" pile and reached (again) for Murder Must Advertise.
This tale of Lord Peter's ventures into the British equivalent of Madison Avenue is a full of philosophical observations as it is of murder and intrigue, and the following passage struck me as particularly appropriate today. Sayers—who herself worked as an advertising copywriter for a number of years—wrote Murder Must Advertise in 1933.
Where, Bredon asked himself, did the money come from that was to be spent so variously and so lavishly? If this hell's-dance of spending and saving were to stop for a moment, what would happen? If all the advertising in the world were to shut down tomorrow, would people still go on buying more soap, eating more apples, giving their children more vitamins, roughage, milk, olive oil, scooters and laxatives, learning more languages by gramophone, hearing more virtuosos by radio, redecorating their houses, refreshing themselves with more non-alcoholic thirst-quenchers, cooking more new, appetizing dishes, affording themselves that little extra touch which means so much? Or would the whole desperate whirligig slow down, and the exhausted public relapse upon plain grub and elbow-grease? He did not know. Like all rich men, he had never before paid any attention to advertisements. He had never realized the enormous commercial importance of the comparatively poor. Not on the wealthy, who buy only what they want when they want it, was the vast superstructure of industry founded and built up, but on those who, aching for a luxury beyond their reach and for a leisure for ever denied them, could be bullied or wheedled into spending their few hardly won shillings on whatever might give them, if only for a moment, a leisured and luxurious illusion.