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22 May 2017

Book Review - Gaudy Night

Gaudy Night (Lord Peter Wimsey, #12)Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I mean, was there a mystery here?

Don't get me wrong. It was fun to read along while Harriet finally falls for Lord Peter, but the pace was ponderous and the clues few and far between.

I also found myself wishing for a cast of characters to refer back to, like one finds in certain editions of Agatha Christie books. I couldn't keep all those learned ladies apart.

Written in 1936, this book spends quite some time thrusting forth early feminism, the world wherein it is preferable to stay single and study than get married and procreate.

"It would have been such a bore to be the mother of morons, and it's an absolute toss-up, 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."

Not that Sayers looks too fondly on some of the female scholars; "...that curious little creature dressed in unbecoming pink, who looked as thought she had been carelessly packed away in a drawer all winter and put into circulation again without being ironed..." It's as if she is judging them for not being feminine, though she judges for being feminine, too.

And the men? Well, the men are mostly treated kindly; "He had the appeal of a very young dog of a very large breed--a kind of amiable absurdity."

But Sayers is still stuck; a product of her time. Trying to walk that tightrope of having a bevy of strong, independent female characters who, in the end, still rather want to get married.

"I once got engaged to somebody," one of the female scholars expounds. "But I found I was always blundering--hurting his feelings, doing stupid things, making quite elementary mistakes about him. In the end I realized that I simply wasn't taking as much trouble with him as I should have done over a disputed reading. So I decided he wasn't my job."
"I suppose one oughtn't marry anybody, unless one's prepared to make him a full-time job," another character replies.

Enter Lord Peter, with his cosmopolitan description of the political state in Europe in the 1930s, "The old bus wobbles one way, and you think, 'That's done it!' and then it wobbles the other way and you think, 'All serene;' and then, one day, it wobbles over too far and you're in the soup and you can't remember how you got there," but, in the next breath, wishing to trade his role as a diplomat for the simpler life of the scholar; "Here's where real things are done, Harriet--if only those bunglers out there will keep quiet and let me go on. God! how I loathe haste and violence and all that ghastly, slippery cleverness. Unsound, unscholarly, insincere--nothing but propaganda and special pleading and 'what do we get of this?' No time, no peace, no silence; nothing but conferences and newspapers and public speeches till one can't hear one's self think. If only one could root one's self in here among the grass and stones and do something worth doing, even it it was only restoring a lost breathing for the love of the job and nothing else."

And, of course, Lord Peter is an enlightened man. At one point, when asked if he approves of education for women, he replies, "You should not imply that I have the right to either approve or disapprove." We should all remember that little tidbit as we are navigating the comment threads of various social networking sites.

"Lord, teach us to take our hearts and look them in the face, however difficult it may be."


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