Book Review: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey, 12)

Gaudy Night is a mystery novel by Dorothy L. Sayers, featuring the characters of Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey. The novel was first published in 1935 and is the tenth in the Lord Peter Wimsey series.

The story begins with Harriet Vane returning to her alma mater, the all-female Shrewsbury College in Oxford, to attend the Gaudy celebrations. However, the festivities are disrupted by a series of malicious acts, including anonymous poison-pen letters, vulgar graffiti, and vandalism. The college’s dons are reluctant to involve the police, but Harriet persuades them to allow her to investigate the incidents with the help of Lord Peter Wimsey.

As they investigate, Harriet and Lord Peter face a number of suspects with complex motives and hidden secrets. The tensions between the traditional and modern values of the academic community are explored, as are the changing roles of women in society. The novel also delves into the personal relationship between Harriet and Lord Peter, which is complicated by their conflicting desires for independence and commitment.

As the investigation progresses, Harriet and Lord Peter find themselves facing numerous suspects with complex motivations and hidden agendas. They discover a web of resentments, rivalries, and old grudges that seem to have boiled over into violence and destruction. The tension escalates as the incidents become more dangerous, culminating in an attack that leaves one of the dons seriously injured.

Throughout the novel, Sayers explores themes of gender, education, and the changing role of women in society. The tensions between tradition and modernity are highlighted by the conflict between the conservative dons and the more progressive students, as well as by the personal struggles of Harriet, who is torn between her love for Lord Peter and her desire for independence and self-determination.

The novel is notable for its intricate plot, which combines elements of the traditional English country-house murder mystery with a psychological and social commentary. Sayers’ attention to detail and her skillful use of clues and red herrings keep the reader engaged and guessing until the very end.

Ultimately, Gaudy Night is a compelling mystery novel that offers a nuanced portrayal of a complex social and intellectual milieu. Gaudy Night is widely regarded as one of Sayers’ finest works, notable for its intricate plotting, social commentary, and nuanced portrayal of the academic community. It is also a testament to Sayers’ own pioneering role as one of the first women to earn a degree from Oxford and to break into the male-dominated field of crime fiction.

You can purchase your copy of Gaudy Night here.


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