Gaudy Night (Lord Peter Wimsey Series #10)

Gaudy Night (Lord Peter Wimsey Series #10)

by Dorothy L. Sayers


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When Harriet Vane attends her Oxford reunion, known as the "Gaudy," the prim academic setting is haunted by a rash of bizarre pranks: scrawled obsentities, 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.

Author Biography: Dorothy L. Sayers is the author of novels, short stories, poetry collections, essays, reviews and translations. Although she was a noted Christian scholar, she is most known for her detective fiction. Born in 1893, she was one of the first women to be awarded a degree from Oxford University. Her first book featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, Whose Body?, was published in 1923 and over the next 20 years more novels and short stories about the aristocratic amateur sleuth appeared. Dorothy L. Sayers is recognized as one of the greatest mystery writers of the 20th century.

Letter from the Editor:

Dorothy L. Sayers is recognized as one of the greatest mystery writers of the 20th century. In 1923, Whose Body?, her first book, featuring the aristocratic amateur sleuth, Lord Peter Wimsey, was published, and over the next 20 years more novels and short stories appeared. All 15 of Sayers' mysteries are available from HarperPaperbacks.

Now there is a new Dorothy L. Sayers novel. A long-lost partial manuscript titled Thrones,Dominions was discovered last year, and acclaimed mystery writer Jill Paton Walsh has completed it. St. Martin's Press will publish this book in February. This is a signal publishing event, and HarperCollins congratulates St. Martin's Press.

We are sure that Thrones, Dominions will delight Sayers' fans and find new ones for her, and in the process whet appetites for Sayers' other mysteries. A list of these books is attached. In the words of Dorothy L. Sayers herself, "Murder must advertise." So, in addition to an announcement about Thrones, Dominions in a recent issue of Publisher's Weekly, the next edition of the HarperCollins mystery newsletter, Deadline, will include a piece on the Sayers books, as will St. Martin's Press' newsletter, Murder at the Flatiron Building. HarperCollins will also feature information about the Sayers' backlist on its web page.

Dorothy L. Sayers died in 1957, but her books continue to enthrall readers today. Please help us celebrate the doyenne of the Golden Age of the Mystery, Dorothy L. Sayers.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060550226
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 06/01/1986
Series: Lord Peter Wimsey Series , #10
Pages: 469
Product dimensions: 6.50(w) x 1.50(h) x 9.50(d)

About the Author

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.

Date of Birth:

June 13, 1893

Date of Death:

December 17, 1957

Place of Birth:

Oxford, England


B.A., Oxford University, 1915; M.A., B.C.L., 1920

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.


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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Gaudy Night 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 43 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I have read all of Dorothy Sayers' books and this is my favorite, I have read and re-read it and have enjoyed it even more upon reread.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Vicious anonymous notes and multiple acts of spiteful sabotage are the focus of this mystery. In solving it, Sayers touches on many topics, including: the role of women in academia and the workforce, the necessity of supporting a family versus artistic or scholastic integrity, keeping one's identity in a marriage, eugenics and other pre-WWII political/social topics, etc. Also, Peter and Harriet finally talk to each other rather than at each other, and sort out their feelings for one another. The charming Miss Climpson of previous Wimsey books is mentioned but not utilized. We do meet Peter's oldest nephew.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
abbottthomas on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This multi-layered novel may easily disappoint the reader expecting the Lord Peter Wimsey by-line to produce a bloodied corpse. It is written in the literary style which attracted, unjustifiably in my view, some strong criticism when the book first appeared: Sayers was accused of pretentiousness. I think she is just a rather better writer than most of her contemporaries in the genre.There is a mystery, if lower key than usual in the Wimsey canon. An Oxford ladies¿ college, the alma mater of Harriet Vane, is beset by a writer of poison pen letters and some nocturnal vandalism. At first the worst effects of this are the insecurity engendered in the members of the Senior Common Room (SCR), most of whom are suspects, and the risk to the outside reputation of the College. As the story progresses, things become more sinister and physically threatening, and one is glad that Peter Wimsey had arrived on the scene.Since leaving Oxford after her degree, Harriet had lived an emancipated metropolitan life but she is close enough to the pre-War (WW1) attitudes to understand the difficulties that women still faced in the academic world and particularly how professional women found it hard to reconcile their work with the demands of marriage and child-rearing. These feminist issues are much discussed but have particular relevance for Harriet in respect of her equivocal feelings for Lord Peter. He has been proposing to her regularly since they first met and she has regularly refused him, not for want of liking, affection and love, but because she fears a subservient role as his wife hampered by her gratitude to him for rescuing her from the gallows. Her intellectual life is important; not for her is the current German view of a woman¿s place ¿ ¿Kinde, Kuche, Kircher.¿Another topic of conversation in the SCR is intellectual honesty in academic life. The idea that truth, regardless of the consequences, is of overwhelming importance in research is held by most of the Fellows (and turns out to be central to the mystery). It is also a shared principle of Harriet and Peter and both experience some of the accompanying pain as they resolve their relationship.So, a mystery, feminism, academic rigour and a love story ¿ in fact two love stories, for Harriet is enamoured of Oxford as well as Lord Peter. The glowing descriptions of the city and of University life remained quite recognisable in the Oxford of the 1960s and, for all I know, still do, despite cleaner stone, more traffic management and far more girls.This book is near the end of the Lord Peter Wimsey canon but can perfectly well be read before the earlier volumes ¿ necessary background is provided and there are no spoilers.
bookswamp on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Lord Peter No. 10, 1935; Harrit Vane not only solves the crime but finally (my, how we have been longing for this!) accepts Lord Peter's proposal.
rdm666 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Perhaps my favorite mystery, surpassing anything else written in her times. It takes her Sherlock Holmes-caricature hero and makes him almost human, all the while revealing, perhaps, the drives that push her to deepen her later mysteries. Plus she portrays the life of the mind [in her time] in a very penetrating way. Amazing to anyone who isn't addicted to today's preference for gore and frenetic activity in mysteries.
danibrecher on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
From a very early age, I can remember my grandmother staying up late into the night, reading Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. Much to my shame, it has taken me until now to read one, but once I did, I found myself reading until ungodly hours as well.Gaudy Night is the third mystery featuring Lord Peter Wimsey and his girlfriend, the mystery writer Harriet Vane, but it is entirely possible to read without knowledge of the other books. The large majority of the novel follows Harriet as she attempts to solve a mystery at her alma mater, Shrewsbury College in Oxford. Unlike most mystery novels, this one doesn't involve a murder (or, at least, a successful one). Instead, the mystery surrounds the identity of a "Poison Pen," who sends threatening letters to the female dons of the college and generally wreaks destruction around the quadrangles. Harriet takes on the case after she finds herself targeted during a reunion weekend (the titular Gaudy Night), staying in the college for the following year under the pretense of working on a piece on La Fanu. Only when things turn violent does Harriet call upon the debonair Lord Peter to help investigate the crimes.The novel is infused with a wonderfully strong sense of place, making the reader feel almost as if they know the Shrewsbury campus and its inhabitants. Set pieces with Harriet punting on the river or dining with the dons in the Hall enchant. Sayers has a wonderful eye for detail and has fully imagined this all-female college (which, in the introduction, she charmingly apologizes for constructing on the Balliol fields).To be fair, the mystery isn't the most exciting of all time, but things really perk up when Lord Peter arrives with his bon mots and sets off a more violent set of crimes. In some ways, Gaudy Night really succeeds more as a character study of the female dons and their students, who live in a world where they must decide between a intellectual career and a family. This sort of difficult choice remains familiar to career women today, and it is interesting to note how little things have changed in the last 75 years in this regard.There are many wonderful things to be discovered in Gaudy Night, from memorable characters like Lord Peter's overly privileged nephew Saint-George to the most amazingly egalitarian proposal scene of all time (it involves Harriet and Peter speaking Latin to each other).One word to the wise: Sayers uses the names of the female dons interchangeably with their titles, which can get awfully confusing. I found it helpful to make a list to keep track of who's who.
DowntownLibrarian on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I read all of the Dorothy Sayers mysteries years ago, and recall this was one of my favorites. Wonderful portrayal of Oxford at a certain time.
LaurieRKing on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Beautiful language, gloriously ridiculous plots, and the first to bring the emotional life of her characters into the fore of the mystery. (Even though she did insist on apologizing for it.)
GJbean on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Can't remember the book but I had a three star rating down.
dsc73277 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Gaudy Night, published in 1935, is billed as a Lord Peter Wimsey novel, but he barely makes an appearance in the first couple of hundred pages. His friend Harriet Vane is really the central character. In her early thirties, she returns to her old Oxford college for a celebration and ends up staying to investigate a mysterious series of events that start with poison pen-letters and become more destructive. An entertaining mystery with some interesting reflections on the academic life and whether it is of value, especially when compared with raising a family or manual labour.
TadAD on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is arguably the best of Ms. Sayers' books. The Nine Tailors and Murder Must Advertise rank right up there, but I admit to a preference for stories with Harriet in them. Harriet is certainly in this book...its her story with Peter only appearing for a short period. Nonetheless, this book really brings out their quirky and wonderful relationship.While the non-Harriet stories can be read in any order, this one should follow Have His Carcase.
Iralell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It's amazing how modern the issues are that are dealt with by the main character. She weighs mind over heart, career over marriage, even in 1935. Great book.
bugs5 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I liked this book but didn't love it. Just like D. Sayer's other book I read, it kept me interested but I wasn't left satisfied for some reason.
LisaMaria_C on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This was the first book I ever read by Sayers. Having read it for the second time after reading previous Wimsey novels such as the first, Whose Body and another featuring Harriet Vane, Have His Carcase as well as another without her Murder Must Advertise, I only appreciate this one the more. This is the third book with Harriet Vane, Lord Peter Wimsey's romantic interest, and indeed Gaudy Night is more centered on her, with Wimsey, although often on her mind, not appearing until over half-way through the book. Vane's a mystery writer herself, and at one point in this book Wimsey challenges her to delve deeper into her characters, and that she can do better than just writing puzzle pieces. That made me smile the second time reading through, and after reading other Wimsey books, because I do think this is both what separates this book from books earlier in the series, and say even the best of Agatha Christie. Purely as a mystery, I find this the most satisfying Sayers I've read--it kept me guessing to the end, it wrapped up the strange goings on at an Oxford women's college very neatly, and it didn't feel at all contrived or too clever. But it also was a lot more than a mystery. I loved the picture of Oxford in the mid-1930s. It was fascinating to read in a book published in 1936 all the hints of the war to come in references to Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy. It was amusing to hear the dons describe the generation of students in terms reminiscent discussing students of say the 1960s or today--rowdy, undisciplined, wild. The more things change... There was a feminist theme evident in Have His Carcass, but I'd say the entire theme of men, women and their relations is even more to the fore in Gaudy Night and I loved the way Sayers played with that. The novel has a richness and complexity befitting literature, and indeed even on second read I felt I hadn't peeled all layers and certainly haven't caught all the different literary and classic allusions. Wimsey is at his most appealing here, and I'd put his conversation at the end with Harriet high up in my personal list of favorite literary romantic scenes--all the more for how it fits the themes throughout the novel. Here's one bit of it I particularly loved:"Peter--what did you mean when you said that anybody could have the harmony if they would leave us the counterpoint?""Why," said he, shaking his head, "that I like my music polyphonic. If you think I meant anything else, you know what I meant.""Polyphonic music takes a lot of playing. You've got to be more than a fiddler. It needs a musician""In this case, two fiddlers--both musicians.""I'm not much of a musician, Peter.""As they used to say in my youth: 'All girls should learn a little music--enough to play a simple accompaniment.' I admit that Bach isn't a matter of an autocratic virtuoso and a meek accompanist. But do you want to be either? Here's a gentleman coming to sing a group of ballads. Pray silence for the soloist. But let him be soon over, that we may hear the great striding fugue again."I loved that idea of a marriage of true minds--neither submitting themselves to simply accompany another life, but both playing different lines of melody that together make for complex and rich music. I finished the book wanting to cry "Bravo!"
BenBennetts on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Along with "The Nine Tailors", this has always stood out amongst Sayers' other work. The plot is, as always with Sayers, entirely satisfying; but "Gaudy Night" goes further than her other books in exploring the humanity and complexity of her characters and their motivation. One of the great features of the book is Sayers' compassionate yet clear-sighted portrayal of Oxford - the university and its people. Above all, though, "Gaudy Night" stands out for Sayers' delight in the power and majesty of the English language. A crime novel this may be, but above all it is most certainly a literary classic.
Citizenjoyce on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I finished Gaudy Night and would have thought it would be my favorite Dorothy Sayers due to the subject matter: feminism with a touch of anti-Nazism; but it sure wasn't. I found it severely in need of editing and overly full of exposition. Perhaps in the '30's there was a need to go into detail about why a woman would choose not to marry, but I would have expected anyone as talented as Sayer to be able to work her ideas into the story without having to state them so bluntly.
delphimo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Sayers writes an interesting book about the emergence of women into the academic field. Sayers employs extensive description of the setting and characters and events that at times halts the flow of the story. The relationship between Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey seems unreal, but of course, the story is set in the 1930's. Slight mention is made of Hitler. The English higher education system is confusing, but Sayers patiently tries to guide the reader through the maze.
nrclibn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A bit too much immersion in upper-class British academe for my tastes. After slogging through all the Latin and the jargon, I was feeling some class/education based resentment and irritation, just like the guilty party in the book.
benfulton on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My mom was a big English mystery fan, and I devoured her library at an early age, but haven't really gone back to read them until my wife took an interest in Elizabeth Peters a few years ago, and followed with Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Patricia Moyes in a rather predictable fashion. I'd forgotten how good Ms. Sayers really is; Gaudy Night might be thought of as the third in a series of love stories with some incidental murders. By the time I'd gotten halfway through this one, I'd almost entirely lost interest in whodunit for wondering will they or won't they. Much better characterization than you usually get in standard mysteries.
Ysabeau on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My favorite of the Lord Wimsey books. Perhaps because he and Harriet finally come to an understanding, or maybe because the long-lost days of 1930s Oxford are so interesting.
medievalmama on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My favorite Sayers fiction and the only one that is a mystery but not a murder mystery. Ah, the joy of going back to one's college as an expert and the joys of academic politics. Good read.
June6Bug on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A series of frightening events at a women's college in Oxford are investigated by Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey. As usual, Sayers' work is engaging, intricate, and satisfying to read.
MrsLee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A much acclaimed favorite among Sayers fans, a good mystery, story and romance. I love it, though I also love several of her other Lord Peter novels as well.This book is from Harriet Vane's perspective, for the most part. She is still trying to cope with the devastating events in her life, and with that persistent man who wishes to marry her. In the midst of this turmoil, she is thrown into a different sort. Her beloved college, Shrewsbury is having a Gaudy. Attending with one of her old classmates, Harriet's feelings are torn between the comfort and security of Oxford and the feeling that one can never go back. She feels safe here, but is she? Someone is causing mischief at the college. Not just harmless pranks, but twisted, cruel things. Evil is intended, but for whom? Harriet is called upon for her experience and wisdom to help sort out the trouble and as she works at the knot she worries about her own intentions and motives. When Lord Peter arrives in the story, fireworks begin, not only for them, but for the college as well.