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Gaudy Night - More Than a Mystery Novel

Updated on October 23, 2014

Blue Plaque where Dorothy L. Sayers Lived

Blue Plaque commemorating Dorothy L. Sayers on the house where she lived between 1921-1929
Blue Plaque commemorating Dorothy L. Sayers on the house where she lived between 1921-1929 | Source

Gaudy Night - A Long-Remembered Favourite

I first read Gaudy Night: A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery with Harriet Vane by Dorothy L. Sayers about 35 years ago. In fact, I went through a period of working my way through all of this author's novels because I enjoyed them so much.

Gaudy Night was one of my favourites and recently I read it again. I'd forgotten most of the story although bits came back to me as I read it.

I was worried I might be disappointed after all these years but I need not have worried. If anything, I enjoyed it even more than when I read it originally.

It's more than a simple mystery. It's a novel about people and their lives and emotions. The characters and their reactions to the situation in which they find themselves is the engine that drives the story. It's not a simple 'whodunnit' - something which most readers can probably work out long before the end.

Dorothy L. Sayers and Why I Like Her Novels

Dorothy L. Sayers was a well-educated woman. Her father was a chaplain and a headmaster so she had an advantage for a woman born in 1893 when women were not generally educated to a high standard.

She studied modern languages and medieval literature at Somerville College, part of Oxford University. When she graduated, women were not given degrees but she was given one some years later when the rules were changed. Later she also studied for and received a Master's Degree.

She worked as a teacher and also in an advertising agency. She is credited with creating the "Guinness is good for you" slogan and she used the agency experience in her novel, Murder Must Advertise.

Her university and literary background comes through in her novels too, particularly in Gaudy Night, set in the women's college of a university.

Some people find her novels long-winded. Generally the background and characters are well written rather than quick sketches. Most of her novels are not just quick 'who dunnits' but real stories with people we can believe in. This is why I like her writing and why her books can be read again with pleasure.

The Plot of Gaudy Night

The Plot

Much of the story revolves around the feelings of Harriet Vane and her relationship with Lord Peter Wimsey. He wants a relationship with her, she feels she isn't worthy of him.

As to the basic plot - Harriet Vane returns to her college at Oxford University for a special reunion weekend. Some weeks later, the head of the college contacts her because they are having trouble with a destructive mischief maker who must be a member of staff or a student. They ask Harriet Vane to help them discover the culprit.

Lord Peter is away abroad, working for the Foreign Office (a British Government department) and she doesn't want to ask him for help anyway. This means he doesn't make a real appearance in the novel until about halfway through.

Although it's not that difficult to work out the guilty person, the explanation of how the mischief was accomplished without giving away the person's identity was intriguing. The ending was satisfying because of the way the personal relationship between Harriet and Lord Peter comes to a head.

Busman's Honeymoon (A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery)
Busman's Honeymoon (A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery)

This was a favourite of mine so I have bought it to read next.


More Lord Peter Wimsey Novels

I'm now going to read my way right through the other novels of Dorothy L. Sayers starting with the ones below.

I'm going to read them out of order simply because I'm reading the ones I enjoyed most first but I will work my way right through them all.

Lord Peter Wimsey Adapted for Television

Some of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels were adapted for television by the BBC. The first series was broadcast in the 1970s and the second in the late 1980s. Here's are two excerpts from those series.

Video Clip from 'Have His Carcase'

Have His Carcase (Lord Peter Wimsey)
Have His Carcase (Lord Peter Wimsey)

Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane investigate the murder of a body washed up on a beach. I'll read this after Strong Poison.


Video Clip from Five Red Herrings

Have you read any of the Lord Peter Wimsey novels?

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© 2014 Carol Fisher


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    • Stazjia profile image

      Carol Fisher 3 years ago from Warminster, Wiltshire, UK

      @Paul Ward: That's what I did, Paul. It was another of my favourite LPW books.

    • Paul Ward profile image

      Paul 3 years ago from Liverpool, England

      You might want to read Busman's Honeymoon after the others you mention - not that it really matters.

    • aesta1 profile image

      Mary Norton 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      I haven't yet read Wimsey so this got me interested.

    • SusannaDuffy profile image

      Susanna Duffy 4 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      I must read these again. It's been at least 35 years ago for me too