Gaudy Night (A Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery)

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Overview

When Harriet Vane attends her Oxford reunion, known as the Gaudy, the prim academic setting is haunted by a rash of bizarre pranks: scrawled obscenities, burnt effigies, and poison-pen letters, including one that says, "Ask your boyfriend with the title if he likes arsenic in his soup." Some of the notes threaten murder; all are perfectly ghastly; yet in spite of their scurrilous nature, all are perfectly worded. And Harriet finds herself ensnared in a nightmare of romance and terror, with only the tiniest shreds...

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Gaudy Night

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Overview

When Harriet Vane attends her Oxford reunion, known as the Gaudy, the prim academic setting is haunted by a rash of bizarre pranks: scrawled obscenities, burnt effigies, and poison-pen letters, including one that says, "Ask your boyfriend with the title if he likes arsenic in his soup." Some of the notes threaten murder; all are perfectly ghastly; yet in spite of their scurrilous nature, all are perfectly worded. And Harriet finds herself ensnared in a nightmare of romance and terror, with only the tiniest shreds of clues to challenge her powers of detection, and those of her paramour, Lord Peter Wimsey.

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Editorial Reviews

Times Literary Supplement (London)
Gaudy Night stands out even among Miss Sayers’s novels. And Miss Sayers has long stood in a class by herself.”
Saturday Review
“Very skillfull writing. Miss Sayers has done a real tour de force, and done it with ease and grace.”
The Spectator
“A royal performance.”
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061043499
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/28/1995
  • Series: Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery Series
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 512
  • Lexile: 870L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 4.18 (w) x 6.75 (h) x 1.28 (d)

Meet the Author

Dorothy L. Sayers

Dorothy L. Sayers was born in 1893. She was one of the first women to be awarded a degree by Oxford University, and later she became a copywriter at an ad agency. In 1923 she published her first novel featuring the aristocratic detective Lord Peter Wimsey, who became one of the world's most popular fictional heroes. She died in 1957.

Biography

Dorothy L. Sayers, the greatest of the golden age detective novelists, was born in Oxford in 1893. She was one of the first women to be awarded a degree by Oxford University and worked as a copywriter in an advertising agency from 1921 to 1932. Her aristocratic detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, became one of the most popular fictional heroes of the twentieth century. Dorothy L. Sayers also became famous for her religious plays, notably The Man Born to be King, which was broadcast controversially during the war years, but she considered her translation of Dante's Divine Comedy to be her best work. She died in 1957.

Author biography courtesy of St. Martin's Press.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Dorothy Leigh Sayers (full name)
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 13, 1893
    2. Place of Birth:
      Oxford, England
    1. Date of Death:
      December 17, 1957

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One



Thou blind man's mark, thou fool's self-chosen snare,
Fond fancy's scum, and dregs of scattered thought,
Band of all evils; cradle of causeless care;
Thou web of will, whose end is never wrought:
Desire! Desire! I have too dearly bought
With Price of mangled mind, thy worthless ware.

SIR PHILIP SIDNEY



Harriet Vane sat at her writing-table and stared out into Mecklenburg Square. The late tulips made a brave show in the Square garden, and a quartet of early tennis-players were energetically calling the score of a rather erratic and unpracticed game. But Harriet saw neither tulips nor tennis-players. A letter lay open on the blotting-pad before her, but its image had faded from her mind to make way for another picture. She saw a stone quadrangle, built by a modem architect in a style neither new nor old, but stretching out reconciling hands to past and present. Folded within its walls lay a trim grass plot, with flower-beds splashed at the angles, and surrounded by a wide stone plinth. Behind the level roofs of Cotswold slate rose the brick chimneys of an older and less formal pile of buildings--a quadrangle also of a kind, but still keeping a domestic remembrance of the original Victoriandwelling-houses that had sheltered the first shy students of Shrewsbury College. In front were the trees of Jowett Walk, and beyond them, a jumble of ancient gables and the tower of New College, with its jackdaws wheeling against a windy sky.

Memory peopled the quad with moving figures. Students sauntering in pairs. Students dashing to lectures, their gowns hitched hurriedlyover light summer frocks, the wind jerking their flat caps into the absurd likeness of so many jesters' cockscombs. Bicycles stacked in the porter's lodge, their carriers piled with books and gowns twisted about their handle-bars. A grizzled woman don crossing the turf with vague eyes, her thoughts riveted upon aspects of sixteenth-century philosophy, her sleeves floating, her shoulders cocked to the academic angle that automatically compensated the backward drag of the pleated poplin. Two male commoners in search of a coach, bareheaded, hands in their trousers-pockets, talking loudly about boats. The Warden--grey and stately--and the Dean--stocky, brisk, birdlike, a Lesser Redpoll--in animated conference under the archway leading to the Old Quadrangle. Tall spikes of delphinium against the grey, quiveringly blue like flames, if flame were ever so blue. The college cat, preoccupied and remote, stalking with tail erect in the direction of the buttery.

It was all so long ago; so closely encompassed and complete; so cut off as by swords from the bitter years that lay between. Could one face it now? What would those women say to her, to Harriet Vane, who had taken her First in English and gone to London to write mystery fiction, to live with a man who was not married to her, and to be tried for his murder amid a roar of notoriety? That was not the kind of career that Shrewsbury expected of its old students.

She had never gone back; at first, because she had loved the place too well, and a clean break seemed better than a slow wrenching-away; and also because, when her parents had died and left her penniless, the struggle to earn a livelihood had absorbed all her time and thought. And afterwards, the stark shadow of the gallows had fallen between her and that sundrenched quadrangle of grey and green. But now--?

She picked up the letter again. It was an urgent entreaty that she should attend the Shrewsbury Gaudy--an entreaty of the kind that it is difficult to disregard. A friend whom she had not seen since they went down together; married now and remote from her, but fallen sick, and eager to see Harriet once again before going abroad for a delicate and dangerous operation.

Mary Stokes, so pretty and dainty as Miss Patty in the Second-Year play; so charming and finished in manner; so much the social center of her year. It had seemed strange that she should take such a fancy to Harriet Vane) rough and gawky and anything but generally popular. Mary had led and Harriet had followed; when they punted up the Cher with strawberries and thermos flasks; when they climbed Magdalen tower together before sunrise on MayDay and felt it swing beneath them with the swing of the reeling bells; when they sat up late at night over the fire with coffee and parkin, it was always Mary who took the lead in all the long discussions about love and art, religion and citizenship. Mary, said all her friends, was marked for a First; only the dim, inscrutable dons had not been surprised when the lists came out with Harriet's name in the First Class and Mary's in the Second. And since then, Mary had married and scarcely been heard of; except that she haunted the College with a sick persistence, never missing an Old Students' Meeting or a Gaudy. But Harriet had broken all her old ties and half the commandments, dragged her reputation in the dust and made money, had the rich and amusing Lord Peter Wimsey at her feet, to marry him if she chose, and was full of energy and bitterness and the uncertain rewards of fame. Prometheus and Epimetheus had changed their parts, it seemed; but for one there was the box of troubles and for the other the bare rock and the vulture; and never, it seemed to Harriet, could they meet on any common ground again.

"But, by God!" said Harriet, "I won't be a coward. I'll go and be damned to it. Nothing can hurt me worse than I've been hurt already. And what does it matter after all?"

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 16 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 16 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 18, 2014

    One of the most interestig plots wthout a murder

    A classic setting and a very literate read one of these days will try t find out who le faun was buska

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 30, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    A look at English university life of the 1930's

    I read my first Dorothy Sayers' book just a few years ago. I found Peter Wimsey one of the most interesting sleuths I've ever encountered in my reading. He's right up there with Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot and Miss Marple. I read all the Wimsey books in order and while this one isn't my favorite for the plot (that would be 'Have His Carcase'), I found Gaudy Night to be a very fascinating look at Oxford College life at a time when women were just beginning to be accepted at University although definitely still in a second-class sort of way. The plot is a mystery, of course, but it also adds a degree of tenseness that kept me reading quickly to see what would happen next. Peter and Harriet further their relationship to a point that is not surprising but quite sweet. The locations in Oxford are for the most part real except for the fictional women's college where much of the action takes place. I was able to use Google Maps and found many of the locations she wrote about in this book. It made it seem more real to me to see places like Balliol College, the Bodleian Library and the Magdalen Bridge with the boats on the Cherwell. Harriet Vane is quite competent and she may could have solved the mystery without Peter so she found having him there both satisfying and frustrating which pretty much sums up her feelings about him up until the end of this book. Solving the mystery resolved the tension and allowed her to come to understand how she really felt about Peter. This leads to the next Wimsey book, Busman's Honeymoon, which I also recommend.

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  • Posted April 27, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    excellent audio version

    Ian Carmichael provides the definitive audio versions of the Lord Peter works of DLS. Gaudy Night is no exception. For the devotees of Ms. Sayers, this provides the key to how Lord Peter and Harriet finally overcome her resistance to their union. A lovely listen.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2006

    A fascinating study of the human mind.

    Having read all of the Lord Peter Whimsey mysteries, I can safely say this one is my favorite, and not just because of the romance part, either. This story is more than a mystery, it is a contemplation of how people think, and how other people don't understand them. It is a dense book, but in a good way. As much as I loved the t.v. version, it didn't touch the surface of the actual book. And to see how the character of Lord Peter changes from her earlier books to this one is very interesting. He becomes very real. It really is a study of phsycology rather than a mystery, but you certainly won't be disappointed. You'll be blissfully taken off to Oxford and her dreamy spires, and punted down the Cherwell with Harriet and Lord Peter showing you the sights. It's a lovely trip.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 21, 2004

    Pretentions at Literature Most Welcome

    The detection in this novel takes second seat to the heroine's personal life, which was fine by me since her personal life included the hilarious and intriguing Lord Peter Wimsey. This was my first Sayers, and most hopefully not my last. I only picked it up after reading The Oxford Book of Oxford (in which there was a Gaudy Night excerpt that got me interested), and I don't regret my choice in the least. There was plenty of Oxford to go around, and plenty of educated rambling. The conclusion (on a mystery level) was not quite a satisfactory shocker, but quite satisfying on matters of principle. Sayers doesn't hold a candle up to Christie for her detection element, but surpasses Christie in characterization. Great read if you're in the mood for something slightly frivolous and all 1930's.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted December 29, 2003

    This IS literature.

    At about the same time that Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett were founding the American detective tradition -- and with at least as much skill -- Dorothy Sayers was founding the subtler British tradition. Uniquely, another sort of mystery threads from HAVE HIS CARCASE through STRONG POISON to culminate in GAUDY NIGHT: Will sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey ever win the hand of mystery writer Harriet Vane, whom he saves from a false murder charge in the first book of this trilogy? Refusing to exploit the debt she owes him, he woos Harriet with a delicacy and respect unknown to modern sex-in-the-city-type courtship. The crime-solving is terrific, too. Agatha Christie and P.D. James are among Sayers's many literary heirs.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 23, 2002

    Attempting to be 'Literature'

    While it is an okay read, it tries too hard to be 'literature' and not the typical detective novel. The mystery takes a backseat to Harriet's mental chaos.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted November 26, 2009

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