6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
Crime has consequences,
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This review is from: Gaudy Night: A Lord Peter Wimsley Mystery (A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery) (Paperback)I first read `Gaudy Night' about 40 years ago and I have re-read it many times since. It's a book which can be read on many levels. First for the mystery of who is writing the poison pen letters; second for the growing relationship between Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey; thirdly for the position of women in 1930s society; and fourth for the consequences of a crime on those connected with both criminal and victim.
Set in a fictitious Oxford College - Shrewsbury - the story features an outbreak of graffiti and poison pen letters sent to students and staff at the college. Shrewsbury is Harriet Vane's alma mater and she is asked to try and help the dons unravel the mystery. Harriet returns to Oxford to attend the college Gaudy (reunion) and finds no one pays attention to her own chequered past (see `Strong Poison'). When she receives an unpleasant anonymous letter the thing becomes personal and she feel compelled to get involved.
There is tension around the issue of married women not putting their jobs before their families and much ill feeling between certain members of the college on this issue. Should women have careers or should they have families? Can they have both and do both well? There are examples, good and bad, of all situations in the novel. Truth and honesty are also philosophical questions which are involved in the story. Should people be punished for suppressing facts which interfere with their theories especially if the punishment adversely affects their dependents?
Relationships between men and women and the proper basis for these are also explored. Harriet values honesty in herself and others and does not see her role in society as looking after a man and bringing up his children. Should women always put their husband and children first? This is a novel way ahead of its time as it foreshadows the questions posed by the second wave of feminism in the 1960s and 1970s.
If you read this novel solely for the crime element you may be disappointed as there is no murder and the crimes involved are relatively minor. The book needs to be read in the context of the mores and morals of the 1930s rather than applying the standards of the 21st century to the behaviour of the characters. That said, there is much in this complex novel which is still of relevance in today's world and it is well worth reading several times in order to appreciate its structure and the way the clues and red herrings are placed. It is a masterpiece of plotting and its sheer craftsmanship far outweighs the odd jarring note which may be apparent to modern readers.