REVIEW: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers

REVIEW: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. SayersGaudy Night (Lord Peter Wimsey #12) by Dorothy L. Sayers
Published: Open Road Media (1935), eBook, 506pg
Source: Bought
Genres: Fiction, Mystery

Back at Oxford for her reunion, Harriet Vane, Lord Peter’s beloved, finds herself in mortal dangerSince she graduated from Oxford’s Shrewsbury College, Harriet Vane has found fame by writing novels about ingenious murders. She also won infamy when she was accused of committing a murder herself. It took a timely intervention from the debonair Lord Peter Wimsey to save her from the gallows, and since then she has devoted her spare time to resisting his attempts to marry her. Putting aside her lingering shame from the trial, Harriet returns to Oxford for her college reunion with her head held high—only to find that her life is in danger once again. The first poison-pen letter calls her a “dirty murderess,” and the ones that follow are no kinder. As the threats become more frightening, she calls on Lord Peter for help. Among the dons of Oxford lurks a killer, but it will take more than a superior education to match Lord Peter and the daring Harriet. (from Goodreads)

I have so many conflicted feelings about Gaudy Night! On the one hand, yay, Harriet and Peter. On the other hand, holy crap this book made me really nervous and anxious and not at all happy-relaxed like I usually feel while reading a Lord Peter mystery.

Part of my problem came from having seen the TV version before reading the book. So I totally knew who the baddie was, their motivation behind everything, (almost) all the major plot points. Obviously the book has more room for details and fun subplots– like with Peter’s nephew, St. George, who is totally adorable in a Bertie Wooster kind of way– but I still spent a lot of time picking out the clues and waiting for the next terrible thing to happen.

I think that ruined a lot of the fun of Gaudy Night! If you have a choice between the show and the book, read the book first. The show is very good, but it probably won’t make you a bundle of nerves if you watch it after the book.

Gaudy Night is a very different book from the other Lord Peter mysteries. I’m pretty sure I’m going to have to reread it a few times before I “get” it. It felt less like a mystery (or a romance) and more like Dorothy L. Sayers was working through a lot of things re:female education, universities, and the cloister-like effect of having a lot of people of the same gender living together in (supposed) celibacy.

There’s also things marriage, woman’s “place” in society, the feelings those things bring up in both men and women, PLUS working through all the things Harriet and Peter built up between them in the last three books they were in together. SO MUCH STUFF. So much heavy stuff! And I could feel every bit of it pressing down on the characters (and me).

Ugh, that cloud. I don’t think I mind authors working through things in their books, but I’d prefer it done in a way like Busman’s Honeymoon. Maybe it was the closed-community effect of the college which amplified everything?

The best “working through it” thing for me was the relationship between academia and romance/feelings/etc. The brain vs. the heart! It perfectly encompasses Harriet and Peter (Harriet’s brain being afraid of her heart, Peter’s brain shielding his) and their relationship, and what happens when you forget about your heart in favor of your brain (and vice versa!).

I so appreciated that Harriet and Peter finally DID work through (most of) their problems, and they were totally adorable and I love them. I also loved Harriet’s college friends, who seemed like delightful people when they weren’t being terrified. I also liked how it wasn’t a murder mystery for once; it was nice getting a break from a bunch of dead bodies.

Read: January 28-31, 2014

3 thoughts on “REVIEW: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers”

  1. Huh. I hope you can reread it sometime and maybe love it more? I agree that Dorothy Sayers was working through some stuff when she wrote this novel, but I also thought it was a complete success. I love all the stuff Harriet thinks about and does in this book — quite apart from the stuff with Peter (also good; the chess set!!), it’s lovely to see her having a few peaceful moments.

    1. The chess set!! omg, that whole thing was amazing. I’m definitely going to read it again– I’m actually planning on reading the whole series in order! Starting next month maybe.

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