For big readers who talk about their reading with friends a favorite topic is our favorite books. My favorite book is a mystery novel by Dorothy Sayers titled “Gaudy Night”. Gaudy is a story about a woman named Harriet Vane. Vane is herself a mystery writer and is quite successful. The first thing you notice about this book is, unlike Sayers other novels, this is not a murder mystery. It is a mystery but the essential element is not death.
The real tale is the battle that the heroine, Harriet Vane, goes through to understand what she desires. This is a battle for her because she tends to couch her choices in either/or terms. Her choice are 1) to go back to the academic world (she has a Master from Oxford) and forsake her past life and suitors for marriage or 2) accept the offer of marriage from her antagonist, Peter Wimsey. She doesn’t feel that staying in her current life is acceptable.
In one of Sayers’ earlier books Wimsey saves Harriet from being convicted of the murder of her lover(quite shocking for 1935 England). She doesn’t trust sex and men. She offers to become Wimsey’s lover and keep up her successful writing career but Wimsey rejects this solution out of hand. But he doesn’t stop wooing her. She is attracted to him but the messiness of sexual relationships with marriage has made her wary.
Becoming a old maid professor looks attractive because it will let her concentrate exclusively on her work without personal entanglements.
In short, the book is about becoming clear on how to live her life. The journey of the mystery is making clear who she is so that her choice becomes clear. Many people see this book as romantic. In fact it is a practical expression of how to make things clear to her self.
How does this come about? She finds out what she believes. What she believes is that her work, her writing, is the most important thing to her. She also comes to believe that it is impossible for her to cut herself off from intimate relations.
Then she asks what does she expect her life to be like? Her answer is the daily joy of making something clear with her writing. She expects her life to be full of love and joy and intimacy. She expects to spend her life with a companion who respects her and embraces the choices she makes for her self about love and career.
Finally she answers what does she love? She loves the daily grind of story telling in a long setting. She loves figuring things out either in the real world or in her writing difficulties. She truly loves working with people. Lastly, at the end, she realizes she loves Wimsey.
In the end it looks like the triumph of love over everything. In reality it is the accomplishment of the process of clarity that illuminates her path.
Besides all of that, the book is a brilliant piece of complex writing. She is one of my true teachers. I recommend it. There are many more nuances in the plot I haven’t touched on because I’m focusing on the skeleton.