The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club

infobox Book |
name = The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = Cover of the BBC Adaptation
author = Dorothy L. Sayers
cover_artist =
country = United Kingdom
language = English
series = Lord Peter Wimsey
genre = Mystery novel
publisher = Ernest Benn
release_date = 1928
media_type = Print (Hardback & Paperback)
pages =
isbn = NA
preceded_by = Unnatural Death
followed_by = Strong Poison

"The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club" is a 1928 novel by Dorothy L. Sayers, her fourth featuring Lord Peter Wimsey.

Plot outline

A 90-year-old member of the Bellona men's club in London, General Fentiman, has apparently died there on Armistice Day, but no one noticed for hours that he was dead. During those hours, his wealthy sister also died. According to her will, General Fentiman inherits most of her money — but if he doesn't survive her, his grandsons only get a small share and the bulk goes to one of her own relatives, Ann Dorland. Lord Peter is asked to help resolve the legal battle between the heirs by discovering which of them died first.

Explanation of the title

The title is a wry take on the perception of the novel's events. The Bellona Club is a quiet, respectable gentlemen's club. Death, displays of shell-shocked hysteria, police enquiries and Press interest, and eventually revelations of murder and suicide, all shatter the peaceful atmosphere, but more traditional members regard the events mainly as "unpleasantnesses" which inconvenience or disturb them personally.

“I say, you fellows, ... here's another unpleasantness. Penberthy's shot himself in the library. People ought to have more consideration for the members.”

chapter XXII

Plot summary

General Fentiman has been estranged for years from his sister, Lady Dormer, but is called to her deathbed for a reconciliation where he is told the terms of her will. If she dies first he will inherit a fortune, which his grandsons sorely need; if he dies first, most of the money will go to another relative, Ann Dorland. Lady Dormer dies at 10.30 next morning. Later that day the General is found dead at his club in an armchair; nobody saw him arrive and confusion surrounds his movements for the previous hours. Wimsey is asked to help solve the puzzle. The heirs suspect each other, so refuse to compromise and share the money, and attempts to establish the General's exact time of death fail. Then Wimsey has the General exhumed and he is found to have been poisoned. Suspicion falls on Ann Dorland, but George, the shell-shocked younger grandson, makes a rambling confession.

Wimsey discovers that the General died at the club shortly after seeing his sister. He had just told Robert, the older grandson, the terms of Lady Dormer's will. Robert then found his grandfather dead, apparently of natural causes, and, piqued that he and his brother had lost their inheritance, concealed the body overnight in the club and put it in an armchair next day under cover of the three minutes' silence to give the impression of a later death. George was not involved. However, the General had not died of natural causes. He was murdered by Dr Penberthy, another club member. Penberthy was in a secret relationship with Ann Dorland, knowing of her coming inheritance and planning to use it to fund his research. The General, distressed and ill after his reconciliation with his dying sister, asked Penberthy for medication to keep him alive long enough to inherit. Penberthy, seeing his chance of a fortune slipping away, gave him poison instead. He was present next day when the body was discovered, so was able to cover his tracks and certify a natural death. Penberthy has been manipulating Ann Dorland, first to try and secure the money for himself via her, and then dropping her and exposing her to suspicion when his plans failed.

Wimsey confronts Penberthy with his knowledge and offers him the chance to behave like a gentleman, exonerate Ann Dorland from suspicion of complicity, and undo the damage he has caused. Penberthy writes a confession, retires to the club library and shoots himself, causing one more unpleasant scandal in the stuffy club.

Characters in "The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club"

*Lord Peter Wimsey – protagonist, an aristocratic amateur detective, Bellona Club member
*Detective-Inspector Charles Parker – Wimsey's friend
*Mervyn Bunter – Wimsey's manservant
*General Fentiman (deceased) – an old soldier with little money, who inherits the bulk of his sister's estate if she predeceases him. Bellona Club member.
*Lady Dormer (deceased) – General Fentiman's wealthy sister
*Major Robert Fentiman – General Fentiman's older grandson. Bellona Club member.
*Captain George Fentiman – the General's younger grandson, badly shell-shocked and finding it hard to gain employment. Bellona Club member.
*Sheila Fentiman – George's harassed and hard-working wife
*Ann Dorland; distant relative and companion of Lady Dormer,who inherits the bulk of the latter's estate if the General predeceases his sister
*Dr Penberthy – impoverished doctor with hopes of fame and fortune via a new hormone theory. Bellona Club member and the general's physician.


Written after Sayers' marriage to World War I veteran Oswald Arthur "Mac" Fleming, the book explores the effect the "Great War" had on its veterans. The book opens on Remembrance Day, a momentous occasion in a country where every adult had lost someone in the war. General Fentiman's shell-shocked grandson George tells Lord Peter:

“Oh rotten as usual. Tummy all wrong and no money. What’s the damn good of it, Wimsey? A man goes and fights for his country, gets his inside gassed out, and loses his job, and all they give him is the privilege of marching past the Cenotaph once a year and paying four shillings in the pound income-tax.”
George Fentiman is both grateful and resentful that his wife supports him. Lord Peter's health is better, but as we saw in Whose Body?, he is also a victim of shell-shock. George's brother, Major Robert Fentiman, appears not be affected by the war — but all is not as it appears.

Similar plot elements appeared in other Lord Peter novels. "Whose Body?", "The Nine Tailors", and "Gaudy Night" all touch on WWI and/or Lord Peter's military service. "Unnatural Death" and" Strong Poison" explore the legal technicalities governing wills and inheritance more fully.

Film, TV or theatrical adaptations

"The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club" was adapted for television in 1972, as part of a series starring Ian Carmichael as Lord Peter.


External links

* [ Shell Shock and the aftermath of the Great War: The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Dorothy L Sayers (1928)]
* [ Notes on The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club]

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