enhanced] DD-B

Book Note: Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night

I read this book about 15-Sep-2002. I've read this book before. The book is copyright 1936. This note was last modified Thursday, 22-May-2014 19:43:13 PDT.

This is book 12 of the "Lord Peter Wimsey" series.

This note contains spoilers for the book.


First part of the triumphant conclusion of the story of Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. Harriet goes back to Oxford, after something like ten years (during which she has become a successful novelist, lived with a man she's not married to, and been tried for murdering him (Strong Poison)) and gets over a number of hurdles.

And gets involved with the search for a "prankster", a seriously disturbed person, who is harrassing the students, faculty, and in fact the entire college. And Lord Peter eventually gets involved too, and works with her on it.

The atmosphere and attitudes in Shrewsbury College are in many ways the core of this book. The central problem seems to be the question of people's "proper job" -- the thing they're allegedly ideally constituted to do. In the context of a Women's College, and in 1936, the question of women's proper jobs is unavoidably central.

I find this a very attractive theory. And I'm sure it's wrong.

I find this a very attractive theory. And I'm sure it's wrong. It may be right for a number of people -- driven people, who won't be happy unless they do one specific thing. I don't think it's right even for very intellectual people -- like me. I've been doing computers for 33 years now, still love it; but I can easily imagine other things I could have spent my life on, including cinematography, photography, computer science as opposed to software engineering, for example. And I think for most people, people not primarily intellectually driven, it's even further wrong. There is some discussion in the book about how for some women another person may be their proper job, but this smells very much like a patch for a perceived flaw, and it doesn't seem to me to cover the case.

Still, the thrust of the book as I see it is Harriet finally having recovered enough from her life to date to start to take herself seriously. This in turn enables her to take Peter seriously, and pay more attention to him (he's been proposing marriage to her for 5 years at this point). And she realizes that Peter actually values the same things she does, clear vision, intellectual honesty, and the like. And is quite willing to value them in a wife (in fact, insists on it).

It's a fascinating process, one of the best stories that really seems to show the construction of an intimate relationship in a believable and meaningful way.

There's a fair amount of play for Lord Saint George, Peter's nephew and the current heir to the Duchy. He's up at Oxford, kept badly short of money relative to his expectations (and the people he's expected to associate with), and generally causing himself and the world a lot of trouble. Harriet meets him by chance, and gets an interesting view into the family dynamic through him.

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David Dyer-Bennet