Meeting P.D. James made me rethink my aversion to titles I associate with monarchy. She was an authentic lady long before she was a Lady. She earned that title, of course, which made the honorific sweeter. P.D. James' murder mysteries triumphed, cornering the world market for superlatives about murder mystery writers. But what impressed us most was the foundation on which Lady James built her mysteries: human beings have a powerful need for justice*. Some Lady!
Having feasted on half a dozen of her books, I refused to be daunted by her many accomplishments and simply welcomed the Baroness of Holland Park. My first impression was how absolutely delighted she was to be "on tour" with her latest novel, especially as her 80th birthday was behind her.
She was remarkably gracious. I forever relish the conversation that unfolded. Three things stand out:
Reading is crucial for kids especially, because reading does many things television does not. The reader, she observed, contributes to the process of reading and participates in it. Absolutely nothing is required of viewers. In that same vein, she also clarified what happens when a book gets adapted for motion pictures. Clearly amused, she had a straightforward answer to questions about what "those people did to your book." The motion picture writers have done nothing whatsoever to her book, she'd say. Not a comma in the book has been changed from how she'd written it. Rather, someone has taken her story and transferred it to a visual medium, an entirely different art form. Take that!
Lady James was immensely grateful to have been born in 1920 and not because school room maps still celebrated a British Empire on which the sun never set. Rather, it was because children then were taught grammar in grammar school and literature in high school. Proper English to Lady James is far from elitist. Proper language is both key to a successful life and essential for any society that is to function as a democracy.
Finally, I took to heart how heated she (having served for years on the governing board of the BBC)became about American television . She simply does not know how "you people" put up with all the advertisements. How, indeed!
It is fitting to give this authentic Lady the final word:
The greatest mystery of all is the human heart. And that is the mystery with which all good novelists, I think, are concerned. I'm always interested in what makes people the sort of people they are.**
Our world is diminished by her absence.
*-- From February, 2000 'til March, 2005 we (The Paula Gordon Show) produced several hundred one and two-minute programs for CNNRadio International and, later, for CNN.com. These programs were excerpted from our 1-hour conversations with hundreds of "leading edge" individuals. Included were several programs with Lady James, some of which are included in this post.
**-- quoted in Fashion Times.