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Gaudy Night (1935)

by Dorothy L. Sayers

Other authors: See the other authors section.

Series: Peter Wimsey & Harriet Vane (3), Lord Peter Wimsey (12)

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
5,2091421,841 (4.31)1 / 518
Fiction. Mystery. HTML:

When Harriet Vane attends her Oxford reunion, known as the "Gaudy," the prim academic setting is haunted by a rash of bizarre pranks: scrawled obscenities, burnt effigies, and poison-pen letters??including one that says, "Ask your boyfriend with the title if he likes arsenic in his soup."

Some of the notes threaten murder and one of them involves a long Latin quotation, which makes Harriet suspect that the perpetrator is probably a member of the Senior Common Room. But which of the apparently rational, respectable dons could be committing such crazed acts? When a desperate undergraduate, at her wits' end after receiving a series of particularly savage letters, attempts to drown herself, Harriet decides that it is time to ask Lord Peter Wimsey for help. And when the mystery is finally solved, she is faced with an agonizing decision: Should she, after five years of rejecting his proposals, finally agree to marry Lord Peter?… (more)

  1. 50
    A Civil Campaign by Lois McMaster Bujold (PhoenixFalls)
    PhoenixFalls: A Civil Campaign is Lois McMaster Bujold's attempt to replicate Gaudy Night -- with an infusion of Georgette Heyer -- in her long-running Vorkosigan Saga.
  2. 30
    The Late Scholar by Jill Paton Walsh (merry10)
    merry10: The Late Scholar is Jill Paton Walsh's further exploration of Dorothy L. Sayers' themes in Gaudy Night.
  3. 20
    Death Among the Dons by Janet Neel (littlegreycloud)
    littlegreycloud: A murder mystery, an academic setting, an unusual heroine, a knight in shining armour (although John McLeish is more believable than Lord Peter;): check, check, check and check. But most importantly: really good writing.
  4. 20
    A Monstrous Regiment of Women by Laurie R. King (zembla)
    zembla: Both feature good banter, a mystery set in a mostly-female environment, and a tentative romance between the sleuth protagonists.
  5. 20
    Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis (kraaivrouw)
  6. 10
    Death at the President's Lodging by Michael Innes (themulhern)
    themulhern: "Death at the President's Lodging" is a more fun book about people running about an English college in the 1930s in the middle of the night.
  7. 32
    A College of Magics by Caroline Stevermer (bmlg)
    bmlg: lively and engaging depiction of the community of women scholars
1930s (93)
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» See also 518 mentions

English (134)  Danish (3)  German (3)  Swedish (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (142)
Showing 1-5 of 134 (next | show all)
Dorothy L. Sayers was a snob of the highest order, and not at all my cup of tea. Don't get me wrong, I have nothing wrong with authors who are antiquated in style (Proust, one of my homeboys) or problematic (Woody Allen's comedy) or indeed high-and-mighty, antiquated, and problematic (my bookshelf is a shrine to Lawrence Durrell) but something about Sayers puts me off.

Is it her half-page epigraphs at the commencement of each chapter? Her rambling style? Her characters' proclivity to burst into Latin without a footnote, even in a modern edition (not necessarily a problem for a classicist such as myself, but still annoying)? Or the sheer audacity of a 520-page mystery novel? I mean, even at their best, these things - whether by Christie, Marsh, Tey, or Innes - were designed to be amusements to pass the time, not Tolstoy. Perhaps it's Harriet Vane's unwillingness to really get involved in solving the mystery, and leaving it up to her bf.

Either way, I didn't enjoy Sayers in highschool and I still don't care for Gaudy Night but I appreciate that - much like my willingness to get lost in Pym or Zola - for some, Sayers fits their heart and soul specifically. I'll stick to the other Golden Age crime writers, thanks. (Delectable speech by the non-murderer at the end, though!) ( )
1 vote therebelprince | May 1, 2023 |
Book on CD read by Ian Carmichael
2.5***

Book # 10 in the Lord Peter Wimsey series focuses not on Peter, but on Harriet Vane.

Harriet arrives at Shrewsbury College, Oxford, for the annual celebration known as Gaudy Night. She is one of the alumnae, though hardly typical, remaining single and earning her living as a mystery writer, while keeping company with Lord Peter Wimsey, whose proposals of marriage she keeps declining. But what promised to be a pleasant, if sometimes awkward, homecoming, turns decidedly ominous with a series of destructive “pranks” and malicious, vile graffiti.

This seemed very slow and plodding for a mystery, and I wasn’t terribly interested in much of it. Lord Peter is off on some secret assignment, and difficult to reach, though Harriet does manage to get him to come to her aid when she’s unable to capture the “poltergeist” on her own.

There were times when I was ready to applaud Sayers’ efforts at focusing the story on the women – not just the students and staff of Shrewsbury, but the alumnae who were also present. There certainly were plenty of suspects and the perpetrator seemed able to vanish without a trace. But the series is focused on Lord Peter Wimsey, after all, so he had to make an appearance. Still, I was irritated that it was HE who finally solved the case. And the speech the culprit gave once caught, a diatribe on “women’s place at home, caring for her man and not taking jobs as should be his,” just set my teeth on edge.

Ian Carmichael is a talented actor, and he plays Lord Peter in the BBC series based on these books. But with the focus on Harriet and the women of Shrewsbury, I think the audiobook would have been better if narrated by a woman. ( )
  BookConcierge | Feb 27, 2023 |
Re-read, November 2021: There’s so much to take in with this book, and even though I’ve read it 3 or 4 times now, every time it still feels like a fresh peeling back of the layers and trying to understand. It’s a bit more complex than what I can competently parse, but I do love it so.
——————————
Original review:

The dialogue and prose in Gaudy Night is some of the richest I have ever read. It's very dense and it takes time to understand it, but that's what creates such a connection between me and this book. Hours after finishing the last page, phrases from it still roll around in my head to be savored.

This volume contains the resolution for a romantic relationship three books in the making, and, incidentally, one of the most thoughtful adult relationships I can recall in fiction. Much as I enjoy reading about the Mr. Darcys and Mr. Rochesters of the literary world, you can have them all and leave me Lord Peter Wimsey. He's the one with the real power of mind, heart, and words.

I have heard that Dorothy Sayers, having created her detective and slowly endowed him with great complexity, more or less fell in love with him, and created a match for him in "Harriet Vane," a stand-in for herself. It wouldn't surprise me at all. His blend of intelligence, compassion, wit, honesty, affectation, nervous energy, and control is unique, contradictory, and hardly imaginable in the real world, but very appealing.
I also love Harriet Vane a lot. Her honest analytical mind is only enhanced by her all-too-relatable emotions as she tries to work out whether it is possible to balance the demands of brain versus heart.

Favorite passage:
"I suppose one oughtn't to marry anybody, unless one's prepared to make him a full-time job."
"Probably not; though there are a few rare people, I believe, who don't look on themselves as jobs but as fellow-creatures." ( )
  Alishadt | Feb 25, 2023 |
paperback
  SueJBeard | Feb 14, 2023 |
A notable contender for 1st place of "Jenny's Favorite Books" ( )
  JMigotsky | Jan 27, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 134 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (68 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dorothy L. Sayersprimary authorall editionscalculated
Carmichael, IanNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
George, ElizabethIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Juva, KerstiTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ledwidge, NatachaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Ludwidge, NatachaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
McDowell, JaneNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
The University is a Paradise. Rivers of Knowledge are there. Arts and Sciences flow from thence. Counsell Tables are Horti conclusi, (as it is said in the Canticles) Gardens that are walled in, and they are Fontes signati. Wells that are sealed up; bottomless depths of unsearchable Counsels there.

John Donne
Dedication
First words
Harriet Vane sat at her writing-table and stared out into Mecklenburg Square.
[Introduction] I came to the wonderful detective novels of Dorothy L. Sayers in a way that would probably make that distinguished novelist spin in her grave.
[Author's Note] It would be idle to deny that the City and University of Oxford (in aeternum floreant) do actually exist, and contain a number of colleges and other buildings, some of which are mentioned by name in this book.
Quotations
'The social principle seems to be,' suggested Miss Pyke, 'that we should die for our own fun and not other people's.' 'Of course I admit,' said Miss Barton, rather angrily, 'that murder must be prevented and murderers kept from doing further harm. But they ought not to be punished and they certainly ought not to be killed.' 'I suppose they ought to be kept in hospitals at vast expense, along with other unfit specimens,' said Miss Edwards. 'Speaking as a biologist, I must say I think public money might be better employed. What with the number of imbeciles and physical wrecks we allow to go about and propagate their species, we shall end by devitalising whole nations.' 'Miss Schuster-Slatt would advocate sterilisation,' said the Dean. 'They're trying it in Germany, I believe,' said Miss Edwards. 'Together,' said Miss Hillyard, 'with the relegation of woman to her proper place in the home.' 'But they execute people there quite a lot,' said Wimsey, 'so Miss Barton can't take over their organisation lock, stock and barrel.'
`Were you really being as cautious and exacting about it as you would be about writing a passage of fine prose?’
‘That’s rather a difficult sort of comparison. One can’t, surely, deal with emotional excitements in that detached spirit’.
‘Isn’t the writing of good prose an emotional excitement?’
‘Yes, of course it is. At least, when you get the thing dead right and know it’s dead right, there’s no excitement like it. It’s marvellous. It makes you feel like God on the Seventh Day – for a bit, anyhow.’
‘Well, that’s what I mean. You expend the trouble and you don’t make any mistake – and then you experience the ecstasy. But if there’s any subject in which you’re content with the second-rate, then it isn’t really your subject.’
All the children seem to be coming out quite intelligent, thank goodness. It would have been such a bore to be the mother of morons, and it's an absolute toss-up, isn't it? If one could only invent them, like characters in books, it would be much more satisfactory to a well-regulated mind.
Detachment is a rare virtue, and very few people find it lovable, either in themselves or in others. If you ever find a person who likes you in spite of it--still more, because of it--that liking has very great value, because it is perfectly sincere, and because, with that person, you will never need to be anything but sincere yourself.
...never again would she mistake the will to feel for the feeling itself.
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Fiction. Mystery. HTML:

When Harriet Vane attends her Oxford reunion, known as the "Gaudy," the prim academic setting is haunted by a rash of bizarre pranks: scrawled obscenities, burnt effigies, and poison-pen letters??including one that says, "Ask your boyfriend with the title if he likes arsenic in his soup."

Some of the notes threaten murder and one of them involves a long Latin quotation, which makes Harriet suspect that the perpetrator is probably a member of the Senior Common Room. But which of the apparently rational, respectable dons could be committing such crazed acts? When a desperate undergraduate, at her wits' end after receiving a series of particularly savage letters, attempts to drown herself, Harriet decides that it is time to ask Lord Peter Wimsey for help. And when the mystery is finally solved, she is faced with an agonizing decision: Should she, after five years of rejecting his proposals, finally agree to marry Lord Peter?

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