Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers
Where I got it and why: Library. I actually picked this up at the same time as Strong Poison, because I was under the strange impression it was the next one. Oops.
Recommended? Oh my god, yes, to everyone in the world. Women and scholars and mystery fans and romance fans and everyone.
Review: This book, you guys, THIS BOOK. I finished it almost a week ago and have not been able to write my review about it until now because all I can think to say is THIS BOOK. This book is amazing.
Harriet Vane was introduced to the Lord Peter Wimsey series in Strong Poison, returned in Have His Carcase, and has her time to shine here in Gaudy Night. She’s been invited to her Oxford college’s Gaudy, a sort of reunion weekend, and when she gets there she finds (as you do) that everything is exactly the same and everything has changed. She no longer has much in common with her old best friend, but her old professors are as delightful as ever. The college is still filled with students, younger and more modern but with much the same problems. Oh, and someone is sending horrible threatening letters to students and faculty and wreaking havoc whenever possible.
This is most definitely a mystery novel, but it’s also a deeply feminist novel. The whole thing is from Harriet’s point of view, as she contemplates returning to academia, her career as a mystery novelist, her obligation to investigate the crimes at the college on behalf of a faculty who’s terrified of what the bad publicity would do to one of the few women’s colleges in existence, and her potential romance with Lord Peter Wimsey. The plot keeps the whole thing going with plenty of suspense, but it’s the depth and intelligence of Harriet that makes this one of the best books I’ve ever read.
I’m often disappointed when I read period feminist books, not because of anything to do with the book most times but because I’m disappointed that it still seems so relevant today. Surely feminism ought to have progressed since 1935? I don’t feel that way about Gaudy Night, though, and I think part of the reason is that the book is feminist because of its subject matter, but it deals with issues that everyone ought to care about, but seem to become women’s issues by default. The question of what happens when professional standards and ethics intersect with family and romantic interests is a very different one when applied to men than when it’s applied to women.
Also, I am not ashamed to admit that I squeed like a fifteen-year-old fangirl at all of the scenes with Harriet and Peter together. Punting! Picnicking! Reading one another’s books! Discussing literature! I do believe they have one of my favorite relationships in fiction, and I cannot wait to start Busman’s Honeymoon when they will both finally agree with me.