Saturday, May 19, 2012

"Placetne, Magistra? Placet."

US paperback edition cover

Gaudy Night  by Dorothy Sayers has been in my 2-b-read pile for a couple of years but I’ve been intimidated. Thankfully, I got over myself, with a little prompting from my friend Caitilin (thank-you, Girlfriend!) and it immediately soared to the best 5 books read in my lifetime list. The theme centers on women’s issues-is a woman fit for intellectual work, does focusing on the intellect pervert her fundamentally, or is a women’s job to stand by her man? Do fundamental principals such as truth, justice and honesty adhere regardless, or does the relationship to a man, her man, trump all other principals? One might think this dog has been whipped to death but Sayers has a profound way of getting to the heart of the matter. It’s a timeless question, as any educated women with a significant other knows (I mean, an educated woman understands the struggle if it's truly wrestled with, rather than cheated).
Not only does Sayers tackle a difficult subject matter, but she does so with wit and charm. Your intellect will be challenged as you glimpse a time long gone, an educational system that no longer exists (if you want to catch a glimpse of an educated intellectual, read Sayers. She was the first woman to graduate from Oxford; classical education, baby. Character development is fantastic and if you are a writer and want to understand how to use dialog, study the works of Sayers. She can do dialog. The mystery, as always, had enough foreshadowing to keep the reader on the trail, but not such a give-away that is was a cheesy. Sigh. My biggest regret in finishing the book is that it’s over.
 But the ending…majestic. We’ve already solved the mystery, but we still don’t know if Lord Peter wins the heart of Harriet. It’s an intellectual exercise in principal, because Harriet was saved from the gallows by Lord Peter in Strong Poison where she violated her own principals and for shame, and for honor she struggles with another relationship. A sweet resolution and one not easily come to. Sayers takes things to their logical conclusion; no cheesy cheat, no dues ex machina, just what it is; what you or I might have come to; or would have with Sayers guiding us. Good writing; a feast for your mind.   


Faith said...

I read this a couple years ago and I guess I just didn't get into it. I'm glad you could appreciate it. I actually laughed out loud at the ending, which probably wasn't intentional. I guess I'm just not high brow enough. My very favorite Sayers is The Nine Tailors. I think I like the ones that don't have Harriet in them better than the ones that do.

Caitilin said...

See! I knew you would like it--and now you know why I don't like potboilers! ;)