Vintage Post: MY FAVORITE Book - Gaudy Night


Gaudy Night, Dorothy Sayers (originally posted February 20, 2006)

Gaudy Night is my favorite book of all time. It is the penultimate* books in the Lord Peter Whimsey mystery series, but this one is less about the mystery (which involves the question of who is terrorizing a women's college at Oxford) than about love and the value of work for women, and whether one can have both the satisfaction of heart and head, or whether you need pick one or the other. It addresses serious issues about whether women can be satisfied in their careers and happy in marriage, and like The Odd Women emphasizes how important it is for marriage to be the marriage of true equals – and how hard that can be for intelligent and educated women. And while I think that things are much better today than they were in the thirties (which is when the book is set), smart women are still grappling with how to balance home and family and work and feminism, and this book speaks to that.

Which is not of all why it is my favorite book, of course. That would be the love story. Gaudy Night is the book in which Peter and Harriet stop dancing around each other and finally admit that they are in love after three books of talking about it. Or more precisely, Harriet admits she’s in love with Peter, and it's so, so swoony, in an uptight intellectual-can-I-fall-in-love-and-still-be-me-and-of-value sort of way. It’s a thinking girl’s love story – a love story in which we can be full of principles and prickly and difficult – and be adored for precisely those qualities.

I, of course, would never have been as difficult to woo as Harriet. First of all, because, I had no defenses at all for that sort of thing, and my style was to fall in love hard and obviously – not to be all full of repression, defenses and doubts. And even if I had more sense – who in their right mind would think twice about falling in love with Peter? Oh, Peter. Lord Peter Whimsey only happens to be the world’s perfect man. Smart, rich, charming, a little emotionally damaged (from the trenches, no less – could he be more tailored-made for me?), titled – and a detective to boot. Plus, you get Bunter to take care of you and the Dowager Duchess for a mother-in-law. Seriously Harriet – what were you thinking?

All the Peter Whimsey books rock – they are smart detective stories, and even better are really well written, with real character development, particularly as the series goes on. But Gaudy Night is really much more – its about love and why we fall in love and being true to oneself. And its funny and charming, and set in Oxford, and romantic. And it is my very favorite book of all time, so if you read it and don’t like it, don’t tell me.

*Unless you count the recent additions to the series by Jill Patton Walsh, which I do not. I have read them, and they are not bad books, but I am a traditionalist in such matters, and as much as I wish there were hundreds more books about Peter, Harriet, Bunter et. al., I stick to canon

© Carrie Dunsmore 2017