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The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs [Book]

The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs is a 2003 novel by international bestseller Alexander McCall Smith, who was born in Zimbabwe and has taught law both there and in Edinburgh, Scotland. A follow-up to Portuguese Irregular Verbs (originally self-published in 1996), the novel takes place partially in and around the campus of the University of Arkansas (UA) in Fayetteville (Washington County).

The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs follows the comic misadventures of Professor Dr. Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld of the Institute of Romance Philology in Regensburg, Germany, who is the pompous author of the linguistic monograph Portuguese Irregular Verbs. Von Igelfeld, who had regularly spurned invitations to lecture in the United States, finds himself seeking an opportunity to do exactly that after a colleague, Professor Dr. Dr. Florianus Prinzel, is offered an opportunity to lecture in Texas: “It was quite unacceptable that Prinzel should go to America before he did. After all, the Americans might think that Prinzel, rather than he, von Igelfeld, represented German philology, and this, frankly, would never do.” Von Igelfeld, therefore, accepts an invitation to speak in Fayetteville, “a charming college town nestling in the Ozark Mountains, seat of the University of Arkansas, or at least of that part not located in the minor campus at Little Rock.”

The professor experiences some initial confusion after being taken around the countryside to view various farm operations, and only just before his lecture does he discover that he has been mistaken for the veterinary doctor Professor Martin Igelfold of the University of Münster and that he is expected to speak on the subject of dachshunds. One lecture attendee points out to von Igelfeld, however, that Professor Igelfold had reportedly died recently, to which von Igelfeld responds that, in Germany, sometimes obituaries are published before a person’s death “because we Germans are so efficient.” After padding his lecture with much inanity—such as, “If a dog has short legs, we have found that the body is almost invariably close to the ground”—he finds himself warmly praised for his relatively non-technical speech. On the airplane back home, he thinks to himself, “It was a good place, America, and Arkansas was a good state.”

Though the section of the novel relating to Arkansas is brief, it is filled with several off-hand references to local history. The professor who meets von Igelfeld is R. B. Leflar, an apparent reference to Robert Leflar, influential dean of the University of Arkansas School of Law. What happens in Arkansas also sets up the action of the rest of the book when von Igelfeld is again mistaken for a dachshund expert back in Germany and is called in to advise on an operation that, because of his mistakes, culminates with the dachshund losing three of its four legs. As it happens, this dog belongs to Professor Dr. Detlev Amadeus Unterholzer, a colleague whom von Igelfeld finds to be a personal and professional annoyance. Later in the book, while von Igelfeld and Unterholzer are visiting Rome, the dog—now supported by a wheeled mechanism—consumes some small bones said to belong to St. Nicholas, relics that are at the center of a schism in the Coptic Church.

The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs was followed by At the Villa of Reduced Circumstances (2003) and Unusual Uses for Olive Oil (2011) in McCall Smith’s Professor Dr. Von Igelfeld Entertainment series.

For additional information:
Drzal, Dawn. “The Nutty Professors.” New York Times, March 13, 2005. Online at http://www.nytimes.com/2005/03/13/books/review/013DRZALL.html (accessed February 13, 2015).

McCall Smith, Alexander. The Finer Points of Sausage Dogs. New York: Anchor Books, 2003.

Guy Lancaster
Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture

Last Updated 5/13/2015

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