A couple of years ago I thought (as a gesture to God saying something like, Hey, we dont disagree about everything and anyway what do I know about life?) that I would start going to a certain church where the pastor was an ex-football star. I say all of this because the ultimate falling-out I had with the pastor of that church reflects the central conflict of the great and wonderful mystery story, Gaudy Night, so Im going to use this review as a venue to air my grievances, which will hopefully be entertaining enough that you can bear with me. In fact, this book brings up a couple of stories I have about churches, so I should probably say as a disclaimer that Gaudy Night is not religious at all in its topic, but deals mostly with the role of women in society. I wish, at this point, I had read the book The Madwoman in the Attic, so that I could give more scholarly opinions about Gaudy Night. The fun and thoughtful discussion Dorothy Sayers presents in Gaudy Night on the topic of women being intelligent humans in their own right was vindicating and cathartic for me to read. Also, I love the way Sayers explores how women think of themselves. at the back of that church, than to hear the male pastor go on about how women are good at scratching backs - and only that. Anyway, I think Ive decided that maybe the use of classical quotations has to do with the battle of wits between Whimsey and Harriet, showing the equality of their intelligence and education. I was given this book at a housewarming shower, held for me by a really wonderful woman, who is the pastor of a subsequent church I attended. I kind of love that this book was given to me in this really awkward event that only women were allowed to come to. Even though the evening was pretty fun, and I really do love most of the women who came, the concept of the shower said so much about my failure in being an independent, educated woman.
Book Review 4 of 5 stars to Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers, a strong and talented writer of detective mysteries in their Golden Age of publication. My advisors and professors, knowing I had an affinity for reading and writing mystery stories, encouraged me to do an independent study on this era of literature; but they also told me I wouldn't be allowed to select any of the books I had to read. she was a big Dorothy Sayers fan and thought this was the author's most popular book. here's the scoop: I read A LOT. First the book review goes on Goodreads, and then I send it on over to my WordPress blog at https://thisismytruthnow.com, where you'll also find TV & Film reviews, the revealing and introspective 365 Daily Challenge and lots of blogging about places I've visited all over the world.
Sayers created an entire womens college (called Shrewsbury) in the large complex known as Oxford University. It is near an associate college called Queens and also near Balliol College, which is where Lord Peter Wimsey attended his university years. Harriet Vane is invited to her class reunion, known as a Gaudy. Then, she receives a letter from the Dean of Shrewsbury, Miss Martin, who tells her about some ominous incidents that have been occurring since Gaudy Night. Lord Peter is away on the continent Rome and Warsaw and as Harriet Vane progresses in her investigations, she documents the details in a notebook. I love it when these books include both Lord Peter and Harriet Vane. Sayers and her own set of classmates were simply decades ahead of the rest of the world.
But this book is rightly and greatly Harriet Vanes, as she returns to the Oxford college of her education to do some academic work, write her next novel, and investigate some nasty disturbances around the college. This is a book about pain, about the heart and the mind working in opposition, about academia, about the perils of being an intelligent woman, about the perils of unthinking feminism, about mistakes, about love. Harriet has been trampled over by the world and left in the mud, and I love how Sayers understands the way she would snap and snarl at the first hand that reached out to help her, and resent its very kindness. Harriet wants to stop hurting, and she thinks she knows how. Peter is learning the same thing from the other side of the coin, as Harriet refuses his proposals again and again and again and he comes to know that simply wanting and asking are an exercise of privilege, and not the extent of love. I think, above all, the thing I admire most in this book is the way it practices what it preaches. Harriet, her partial avatar, is also learning that the heart is required in equal measure in writing as in love in any work of importance. The beauty of this book is the way Sayers is here, unashamedly, honestly, with enough distance to be lucid and thoughtful, but enough heart still in it to hurt, and to matter.
I have always heard that Gaudy Night was her best novel and so I was really intrigued to read this book and was interested to see how the character of Harriet Vane would develop. Indeed, Harriet is the central character in this novel, which sees her returning to Oxford, to attend the Shrewsbury Gaudy, after being invited by a friend who was about to go abroad for an operation. Harriet always loved her time at Oxford, but was nervous about returning, especially after events covered in a previous book, where she was accused of killing a former lover.
After all, isnt Harriet Vane just an obvious stand-in for her creator, making Lord Peter nothing more than a vehicle for the vicarious fulfilment of Dorothy L. Although Harriet Vane surely reflects her creator to some degree (something Sayers vigorously denied), it would be reductive to regard the character as nothing more than an author avatar. And while I personally find it hard to take Lord Peter seriously, at least he has the virtue of being vaguely amusing, and nowhere near the kind of pompous ass that Inspector Linley manages to be. Lord Peter is relatively scarce, so Harriet is center stage for most of the story. Despite the odd lapse (placement of the telling historical detail is sometimes a little heavy-handed, the high-minded purity of motivation of Maisie and her friends can be excessive at times), Ms Winspear delivers the goods stories in the series are reliably entertaining. The unremitting bleakness of the emotional landscape Ms Winspear imagines for her protagonist is really starting to get me down, though I understand she may be making a point about life after the Great War for women in Maisies demographic cohort.
Somewhere I read that Sayers is known for her attention to detail. In Gaudy Night I think she has given it just a little too much attention. Harriet Vane returns to Oxford for Gaudy Night with some trepidation, and is drawn into solving a Poison Pen mystery.
Sayers's beloved series of Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. It's one of the last in the series and thus hard to talk about without spoiling earlier books, as it deals with the resolution of the relationship between Lord Peter and Harriet Vane, the mystery writer first introduced in Strong Poison and seen again in Have His Carcase.
Dorothy Leigh Sayers was a renowned British author, translator, student of classical and modern languages, and Christian humanist.