Sunday, 8 July 2018

Gaudy Night

Dorothy L Sayers was one of the first generation of women to receive her degree from Somerville College in Oxford.  She described her Oxford days as her happiest and created a fictional women's college for her greatest novel Gaudy Night which provides a fascinating insight into what life must have been like for female academics in the 1930s. 
 
Pre-occupied by the life of the mind, the female dons only concern on a more mundane level is how to stop the undergraduates sunbathing in only 'a brassiere and a pair or drawers' on the Quad. That is until the college is troubled at night by what appears to be a poltergeist who sends poison pen letters and leaves an alarming effigy in an academic robe hanging in the library.

When Harriet Vane visits her old alma mater for the gaudy (an Oxford alumni celebration) she is asked to stay on and investigate the poison pen letters.  Harriet's only real experience is as a writer of detective novels, but the college is anxious to avoid publicity, particularly as it appears that the poison pen is a member of staff.  When Harriet feels that events are getting beyond her control she calls in her friend Lord Peter Wimsey.


It is thought that Dorothy L Sayers had fallen in love with her main character the infamous Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey. Monocled blue-blooded aristocrat and amateur sleuth.  Discovered to be a brilliant all-round natural cricketer at Eton.  Accomplished musician who read History at Balliol.  A man of sensitivity who was mentally scarred by the Great War and regularly proposes to Harriet - he manages to get all the female dons in Gaudy Night in a flutter, too!


It has to be said that the dialogue in Gaudy Night has dated and there is also class snobbery, but it is still my favourite novel and full of memorable scenes and imagery including the 'poltergeist' running through the college at night switching all the lights off, the antique ivory chess set purchased by Peter for Harriet and the memorable final scene where Harriet and Peter sit on a turret at the top of the Radcliffe Camera gazing out over Oxford shining after the rain.

11 comments:

Cath said...

I loved the boating scene in it, but it's an all round excellent read. I've just come across one the LPW short stories in a collection of railway crime yarns. So good. Then realised I actually own a book of Wimsey short stories with that one in it. Also need to read Busman's Honeymoon. I think that might be my next read.

Vintage Reading said...

Cath, I was just thinking about reading Busman's Honeymoon because it follows in sequence. I'm reading Strong Poison at the moment because I want to know the back story of Harriet and Peter. Do you recommend any of the other Wimsey books?

Audrey said...

It was my first Dorothy L. Sayers and still my favorite...you're temptinug me to read it again soon!

Cath said...

Nicola, when I first started to read them I was advised to read the Harriet Vane ones first, so I started with Strong Poison, then Have His Carcase, and Gaudy Night. In the meantime I also went back and read Whose Body?, Clouds of Witness and The Nine Tailors. All were very good but I particularly enjoyed Clouds of Witness and Have His Carcase. I'll read Busman's Holiday next and definitely a few of the short stories. I'm trying to spread them out a bit as they are quite limited in number.

Kat said...

I love this book too. I suppose they ARE snobs, but this never occurs to me. I think of them as equals dining together and concersing about what they care about. Of course there is also the Poison Pen.

Vintage Reading said...

Cath, finished Strong Poison, I'm quite taken with Peter's mother Honoria Lucasta Delgardie! I believe there is more of her in Busman's Holiday so I'll try and get that at the weekend. Yes I want to read The Nine Tailors after that - that's the one set on the Cambridge fens I think. Let me know what you think of Busman's Holiday.

Vintage Reading said...

Audrey, yes I love the Oxford setting but my summer reading plan is to aquaint myself with the rest of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels.

Vintage Reading said...

Kat, I suppose the problem when you read a lot of retro fiction is keeping a sense of time and place. I do intend to write a post on the Laura Ingalls Wilder controversy but I can't find the words at the moment.

Yes, Gaudy Night is a great book.

Bellezza said...

This was recommended in Real Simple for July, in their book section; it caught my interest as I have not read Dorothy Sayers, but would like to. So glad you suggest it, too, as I'd rather have your opinion than a magazine's! xo

Becky said...

This was my first introduction to Sayers, bought in a second hand bookshop in Oslo. I was there for a conference, had run out of books and this was about the only one in English that the shop had. It's still my favourite.

Cath said...

Nicola, halfway through Busman's Honeymoon and it's wonderful. Rather different to the others but huge fun.