December 30, 2013 by PatLeach
The title refers to a reunion event at Harriet's college (deliciously named Shrewsbury), modeled on the women's college at Oxford. It is just a few years since the notorious case involving Harriet's lover's death by arsenic. While at Shrewsbury, she receives a poison pen letter, and comes across another ominous communication. Later she is invited back to investigate ongoing alarming behaviors among the all-female faculty, students, and staff. Although Lord Peter's secret work for the British government has him away on the continent, eventually he joins up with Harriet and the mystery is solved.
The character of Harriet Vane is generally considered an autobiographical depiction of Sayers, who completed degree requirements at Oxford in the years before women were granted degrees there. In "Gaudy Night," discussions of women's education go on and on, as do reflections on the impact of education on women's fitness for marriage and motherhood, and consideration of of the degree to which a woman's scholarly rigor would hold up against her personal loyalties. Some consider this the first feminist mystery.
Sayers' own classical education is much on display, with Latin phrases sprinkled throughout, and quotes from classical authors introducing each chapter. Her writing is both lovely and lively; she seems to enjoy poking fun at convention. The incipient romance between Harriet and Lord Peter adds emotional energy to the already charged atmosphere, even as they conform to academic and societal proprieties.
A thin thread in the story refers to events in Germany at this time, particular eugenics and the role of women there, topics addressed in a book I recently finished, "Hitler's Furies."
As I was reading "Gaudy Night," I sensed the datedness of some of the discussions, and wasn't sure that it had aged well. But as I've reflected on it further, I've realilzed how unresolved and relevant many of the issues remain. I recommend "Gaudy Night" to mystery fans, and to students of popular writing or feminism.
Tagged in: fiction, mysteries, Dorothy L. Sayers, Lord Peter, Harriet Vane,
January 26, 2010 by PatLeach
I've been thinking lately about how we all make reading choices. In the library, we realize that a LOT of our circulation comes from the items that we have out on display. Those book jackets that are displayed face-out provide all kinds of enticement and advertisement. Several people have mentioned to me that they seldom get beyond the displays and into the stacks (librarian lingo for shelves).
Earlier this month, though, I found myself in the fiction area, deep into those shelves because I had a yen to re-read an old favorite author, Dorothy L. Sayers. I took home "Strong Poison," which is when Lord Peter Wimsey falls for his true love, the wrongly accused Harriet Vane, and "Murder Must Advertise," which I remembered enjoying some time ago. These are classics of the mystery genre. Lord Peter is an amateur detective, a high-class Lord with stellar upbringing, kind heart, and impeccable manners. His experience of the world leaves him never completely surprised.
These stories were written in the 1930's, and that era combined with their British setting creates some excellent escapist reading.
Dorothy L. Sayers wrote so well. Many selections deserve to be read aloud just to savor her rich vocabulary and sense of the droll. As I've confessed before, I seldom try to work out a mystery as I read, but I had a strong sense of her weaving a web of clues and red herrings.
I noticed that the copies of these books that I checked out were added to the Lincoln City Libraries collection in 1968. I find myself wondering who else has read these copies, wondering what was happening in our world at that time, and pondering the timelessness of this excellent writing.
As the saying goes, "So many books, so little time!" For many of us, those displays at the front of the library are all we need, and may be all we have time for. However, my happy reacquaintance with Lord Peter reminds me to remind you to consider what gems may be awaiting you just a little farther into the library.
Tagged in: Dorothy L. Sayers, Lord Peter Wimsey, mysteries,
April 24, 2008 by sdc
In April, we returned to a "classic" mystery author, in Dorothy Sayers. Our selected title is part of her Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vale series -- Gaudy Night. In this Lord Peter Wimsey whodunit, mystery writer Harriet Vane attends her Oxford reunion, known as the "Gaudy". But the festivities are haunted by a series of ghastly warnings which threaten murder. Soon Harriet and her paramour, Lord Peter Wimsey, find themselves ensnared in a nightmare of terror. Originally published in 1936.
This title was discussed at the Just Desserts meeting on April 24, 2008. We encourage you to share your own thoughts and opinions about this book in a reply comment to this blog post, below!
Tagged in: Just Desserts, mystery, discussion group, Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night,