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This is my favourite of Dorothy Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey novels, and has continued to be since I first came across it in my teens.

It doesn't have much in the way of a crime plot, but is very much a story of its time: one which provides a rather wonderful picture of women in academic life, written with the real understanding of someone who has been part of this environment. The book also gives Sayers' best and most sympathetic depiction of Harriet Vane, who (as in `Have His Carcass') is the focal point for much of the novel.

In this book, Harriet has returned to her former Oxford College (the fictitious Shrewsbury) in order to engage in some serious research and academic reflection. As well, perhaps, as to puzzle out what she ought to do about the attentions of a certain, persistent, aristocratic suitor. She seems to be fitting back in quite well with her quiet, intellectual surroundings. Until a series of vitriolic stunts, accompanied by venomous quotations citing female academics as unnatural and unwomanly harpies start to make themselves known.

To put the setting of this novel into perspective: women had only been permitted to obtain degree qualifications from Oxford since 1920 (Sayers herself having been one of the earliest granted a degree), just 15 years prior to the book's first publication. High-ranking and respected women academics, whose qualifications were equal to those of their male counterparts were thus a relatively recent phenomenon.

In academia, women were breaking through into serious careers - though it's clear from the rather cloistered environment of the Shrewsbury Senior Common Room that a woman's decision to pursue this path in the long term could only be at the cost of family. As academic opportunities re-appear for Harriet there is a very real sense of Peter's understanding that she might choose to follow this path and be lost to him, but that if this is her honest, intellectual choice then she must be allowed to make it.

Sayers' stance on the importance of equality in women's educational opportunities rings true throughout this book, though her pro-women platform is not blind to the kinds of cattiness and jealousies that can arise amongst groups of women. There's even some criticism of the university: Sayers evidently opposed the quota restricting the number of women who might enter the institution (introduced in 1927), her fictitious college suppressing the caps imposed by university statute. In this she was ahead of the university by over 20 years.

The courtship between Peter and Harriet also takes a somewhat intellectual turn. There's wooing in the form of Metaphysical-style poetry, and a lyrically-written scene where Harriet sees Peter for the first time as an attractive man. It's a moment of mutual awareness in an idyllic setting - a picnic on the banks of the Isis.

Overall, a rather splendid novel that's perhaps better viewed as a piece of social and educational commentary than as a work of detective fiction.
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on 26 April 2017
I am quite elderly and enjoy revisiting times past. O.K. not that old. But still enjoy being enveloped in a past Britain. Having said that, I rediscovered aspects I am quite happy to have left behind. I also enjoy detective stories, though this one was very complicated. An interesting point addressed was the eternal question of how much a woman should lose of her career and independence for a man, though she love and admire him very much. Sayers balanced this argument with descriptions of women who were totally immersed in their men and households and completely happy with it. Horses for courses?
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on 12 April 2014
I bought this because my paperback has been read so many times that it has finally disintegrated. I love Sayers as a writer and I particularly love the stories involving Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. I am loving having these on my Kindle easily accessible whenever I want them. Only trouble is the Kindle does not fall open at the best bits!
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on 28 February 2015
Truly one of the great writers of mystery and intrigue. Wimsey is such a great character.Great story all round intelligent.
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on 18 March 2015
Harriet returns to her Oxford College to find herself embroiled in a mystery. The next stage in the Vine-Wimsey romance. A well written book,full if literary references which to tge modern reader like me, are somewhat obscure. But I enjoy this book. Second time of reading.
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VINE VOICEon 2 January 2017
This is a very unusual crime mystery. Throughout is the feeling that something really terrible is about to occur – but readers hoping for murder and mayhem may be disappointed.

The setting is a women’s Oxford college in the 1930s. Some female staff are receiving obscene and offensive letters. Harriet Vane (a graduate of the college) is asked to help find the culprit without including the police as any negative publicity is bad for the college and women’s education in general. It is only comparatively recently that women could receive degrees and their numbers are restricted. There are many long interesting discussions about whether women can be mothers as well as having a working role in society and whether marriage will destroy a woman’s ambition. There is even a fascinating discussion about eugenics with some tutors supporting the ideas being currently promulgated by the new government in Germany. (Sayers wrote Gaudy Night in 1935)

I confess I found the various female characters (apart from Harriet) hard to differentiate but this did not particularly spoil it for me. Lord Peter Wimsey appears later in the book to support Harriet – and to continue to woo her. Again, long discussions on male-female relationships and whether Harriet would be happy as a wife.

The culprit is finally caught out, of course. Even though I had worked this out it was a very satisfactory ending.

A cerebral crime mystery....
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This is my favourite Lord Peter Wimsey novel, though the very different 'Busman's Honeymoon' which followed it is pretty good, too. Written in 1935, 'Gaudy Night' is the tenth and almost the final book in the series which made Dorothy Sayers famous. (She is one of the 'Big Four' women novelists who wrote during the heyday of the detective novel in the 1930s and 1940s, the others being Agatha Christie, Marjorie Allingham and Ngaio Marsh.) Harriet Vane, the heroine of this novel, featured in the final four of them.
The title cames from a phrase from Shakespeare's 'Antony and Cleopatra.' (The word 'Gaudy' is derived, apparently, from a Latin word, 'Gaudium' and an Old French word, 'Gaudie', which mean 'merry-making'. A college 'gaudy' is a formal get-together for past students.)
The story is set in 'Shrewsbury College', an all-female Oxford college. Sayers claimed to have invented it, but it is very likely to have been based on her old college, Somerville, especially as Harriet Vane is a thinly-disguised Dorothy Sayers. Vane has returned to attend the Gaudy. Someone is doing malicious and apparently irrational things, clearly intended to frighten the dons in particular. Harriet begins to fear that the college will be embroiled in scandal and that murder may be the next step. She invites Lord Peter Wimsey to investigate.
The situation is complicated by the fact that Wimsey is deeply in love with Vane and she has repeatedly refused to marry him. However, she is not prepared to release him from their platonic relationship completely, either. Despite his wealth and influence and his intelligence, wit and popularity with women, he is sensitive and is suffering intensely in this complicated relationship. (I have read that he is based on one of Sayers' lecturers, with whom she fell in love when she was at Oxford).
This is a long and complex novel written in beautiful, luminous prose. Sayers examines the issue of sexuality and its relationship with crime, revenge and also with the intellectual life. In those days, male dons could marry and continue their careers, but women dons could not, because of the expectations of women within marriage. The tone of the book is unhappy. Harriet Vane (who was once tried for murder and who owes her acquittal and therefore, in those days of the death penalty, her life to Wimsey) is confused and unhappy. The burden of gratitude that she owes Wimsey is too much for her and too much for their love affair, if such it is. In those days, it was thought that a celibate life placed inordinate stress on the emotions and psyche and could lead to mental imbalance. Although we do not think like that any more, her picture of the strain placed upon the two main characters is psychologically compelling. The book depicts, too, the struggle of women to achieve careers and independence in the face of traditional expectations of them to devote their lives to a husband. There is a strong feminism in the writing which probably reflects Dorothy Sayers' own struggles.
There is no murder in Gaudy Night and the only significant death takes place before the action begins. This makes it an unusual whodunit! There is plenty of suspense, however and a satisfying mystery and denouement. However, this book is much more than a mystery story; it is a very good novel in which the author discloses her own struggles and preoccupations. It is a book which can be read and re-read. Brilliant!
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on 11 April 2015
I have never read a book written or translated by Dorothy L Sayers of which I didn't wholeheartedly approve, and this is one of the best. Beautifully written, intelligent and fascinating, with a great and very different mystery as well as an enchanting love story, I can't see how this book could fail to please again and again.
The only downside is that this Kindle edition is poorly proof read. It's annoying and distracting, more so than in a less elegantly composed work. Shame on the person resposible for skimping on the work!
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on 5 December 2016
I Love The Lord Peter/Harriet Vane stories and this is another great one but do start at the beginning and work your way through all Dorothy L. Sayer's Lord Peter stories with all the sharp observation and unthinking (and offensive!) racism/anti semitism - and then follow on with Jill Paton Walsh's more up-to-date stories of their later lives. This is a story taking both characters back to 'their' University and environment and it's a great, amusing, well written and fast moving yarn.
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This year I finally decided to read all of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels. I have read the first few many times, but, for whatever reason, I never continued the series. I have always heard that “Gaudy Night” was her best novel and so I was really intrigued to read this book and was interested to see how the character of Harriet Vane would develop. Indeed, Harriet is the central character in this novel, which sees her returning to Oxford, to attend the Shrewsbury Gaudy, after being invited by a friend who was about to go abroad for an operation.

Harriet always loved her time at Oxford, but was nervous about returning, especially after events covered in a previous book, where she was accused of killing a former lover. Gathering her courage, Harriet decides to go and actually enjoys her time there, although it is marred when she discovers an anonymous note which is less than flattering. Back in London she receives a letter from the Dean, inviting her to the opening of a new library wing and mentioning that the college has had an outbreak of a poltergeist and a poison pen writer; suggesting that Harriet’s own note was not a one off.

When Harriet returns to the cloistered world of academia and the women’s college she previously studied at, it is clear that things are not well. Someone is mischief making and, before long, Harriet wishes she could consult Peter – who is away in Europe, dealing with the difficult political situation unravelling abroad. This novel reminded me a little of Nicholas Blake’s, “Malice in Wonderland,” which also involves a prankster (although set in an early holiday camp, rather than a fictitious Oxford college), whose tricks gradually gets more and more out of hand. Like this, that novel is set in the 1930’s, with the threat of war as an undercurrent and, like this, the novel also features crimes which are not the usual murders and mayhem, but are unpleasant nonetheless.

Although this is not a traditional murder mystery, I found this a really riveting read. I thought the insight into how women’s education was viewed between the wars very interesting; either the women were seen as unnatural or they were viewed with a benign tolerance. Likewise, this is the novel where the relationship between Harriet and Peter changes, which is obviously especially interesting if you have followed the books in order. I enjoyed meeting the female scholars and other characters, including Peter’s nephew. I also loved the Oxford setting and thought it worked really well. A really interesting read and, if not my favourite of the books so far, certainly among the best.
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