C. E. Vulliamy Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

C. E. Vulliamy is best known for his novels and biographies of the Johnsonian era (the most controversial being a portrait of James Boswell as an opportunist in his friendship with Samuel Johnson), for his Voltaire, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, John Wesley, and George Gordon, Lord Byron, and for his articles in The Spectator. His mysteries are not as widely known. In the main they are novels of academia (Don Among the Dead Men, 1952) or of clergy (The Vicar’s Experiments, 1932; Tea at the Abbey, 1961), though the protagonist may be merely a headmaster or a rector. In Vulliamy’s novels, the mystery plot actually serves as the backdrop for mildly satiric treatments of British society and consequently depends on the techniques that dominate more traditional satiric forms. There is a sense of reductio ad absurdum in the portraits of foolish and fallible humanity. Vulliamy’s virtue is his vice, with the satiric at its best adding an extra dimension to the mystery genre, but at its worst detracting to such a degree that neither satire nor mystery convinces. Vulliamy employs the conventions of detective fiction but turns them on end, mocking them and, through his reversals and exaggerations, mocking the weaknesses of humanity that necessitate such conventions.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Breen, Jon L., and Martin H. Greenberg, eds. Synod of Sleuths: Essays on Judeo-Christian Detective Fiction. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1990. Discusses important Jewish and Christian religious figures in detective fiction; sheds light on Vulliamy’s works.

Erb, Peter C. Murder, Manners, and Mystery: Reflections on Faith in Contemporary Detective Fiction—The John Albert Hall Lectures, 2004. London: SCM Press, 2007. Collected lectures on the role and representation of religion in detective fiction; provides perspective on Vulliamy’s writings.

Nover, Peter, ed. The Great Good Place? A Collection of Essays on American and British College Mystery Novels. New York: P. Lang, 1999. Compilation of essays focused on crime fiction set at college campuses or featuring academic characters; helps readers understand Vulliamy’s novels.

Shibuk, Charles. “Notes on C. E. Vulliamy.” The Armchair Detective 3, 5 (April, 1970; April, 1972): 161, 145. Contains information about the writing of Vulliamy.

Shibuk, Charles. Review of Tea at the Abbey, by C. E. Vulliamy. The Armchair Detective 7 (November, 1973): 55. Review by a fan of the author looks at this novel of the clergy.