The Ballad of Peckham Rye by Muriel Spark

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(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The novel’s title refers to the recollection and somewhat inaccurate balladlike retelling by Peckham Rye’s inhabitants of Humphrey Place’s jilting of Dixie Morse at their wedding (when he replied negatively to the minister’s question of whether he would take her as his wife), as well as this event’s antecedents and aftermath. The novel shows how this mishap and several related ones in the lives of other characters were precipitated by or associated with the appearance of Dougal Douglas in Peckham Rye: the mental breakdown of Mr. Weedin, Personnel Manager at Meadows Meade; the murder of Merle Coverdale (stabbed by a corkscrew in her neck nine times); Vincent Druce’s transformation into a paranoiac murderer; the fatal stroke of elderly Mrs. Belle Frierne, landlady of Dougal’s and Humphrey’s boardinghouse; and the arrest and probation for theft of thirteen-year-old Leslie Crewe, Dixie Morse’s half brother. Ultimately, Dougal Douglas is the catalyst for, rather than the primary cause of, these incidents, evoking from people and social institutions their inherent tendencies, traits, or weaknesses.