Classic Circuit: Dorothy L. Sayers

I’m happy to be participating in Classic Circuit’s The Golden Age of Detective Fiction. I’m sure you already know of my devotion to this age via my obsession with reading all the Agatha Christie novels.  But for the Classic Circuit I chose to read a Dorothy L. Sayer’s novel. I read somewhere that if you could only read one Dorothy Sayers novel, pick Gaudy Night. That turned out to be a good recommendation.

Set in the 1930s, Gaudy Night is the story of Harriet Vane and her beau, Lord Peter Wimsey. Harriet has become famous as a writer of detective fiction. She agrees to attend a reunion, a “Gaudy”, at her old college at Oxford.

While at the school Harriet learns the school has been experiencing some nasty problems. Someone is sending cruel messages, defaming the campus buildings, and other acts of vandalism.

The professors are sure it is someone within the all-girl college. The director asks Harriet to help them solve this mystery. They believe that, since Harriet has experience writing about detectives, she can use her detective skills to solve the mystery.

Harriet agreed to stay at the college for a few months under the guise of doing research. She chats with the professors, the students and staff, carefully sifting through information. There doesn’t seem to be a motive. But then the vandalism escalates and Harriet finds herself in danger.

Meanwhile, Lord Peter Wimsey has been out of the country on government business. (He works for the foreign office.) On his return, he drives to the college, to check on Harriet. [Wimsey is in love with Harriet and wants her to marry him, but Harriet has been putting him off.] Now that Peter has come to the college Harriet asks him to help her find a solution to all the problems.

Of course, Peter and Harriet solve the mystery, and Harriet grows a bit more fond of Peter. It was a satisfying story and was also a very well written mystery. It was both smart and sophisticated. There was no murder involved which was refreshing. There was still plenty of intrigue to keep any mystery buff satisfied. I loved the dialogue and the descriptions of the school and the various characters. It definitely had that 1930s feel to it.

I checked a copy of the book out from the library and, I swear, it was the original book from 1936. The cover was plain gray with black binding where it had been repaired. Every page laid flat and looked worn. It even had that “old book” smell. The best part was the library envelope in the front of the book with inserts with the dates the book has been checked out. That really added to the whole Golden Age experience.

The library also had a copy of the video made by Warner Brothers. It featured Edward Petherbridge as Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Walter played the part of Harriet Vane. The costumes and the setting added significantly to the book. If your library carries the video, I’d suggest viewing the video in addition to reading the novel.

I hope you’ll visit more of the blogs who are featuring the Golden Age of Fiction. Today is just the second day of the tour so you have plenty of time to catch the whole tour. The complete schedule is at Golden Age of Fiction.

This post fulfills several of my challenges: Mystery and Thrillers, Read the Book, See the Movie, Awesome Authors, and the 1930s Challenge.

This entry was posted in 100+ Book Challenge, A Book, Awesome Authors, Book Challenges, Books, Classic Circuit, Library Challenge, Movies, Mysteries and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

19 Responses to Classic Circuit: Dorothy L. Sayers

  1. Linda says:

    Thank you for your review. I’m reading Gaudy Night for this challenge and love a mystery setting with a background in academia. I’m reading from a 1936 edition inherited from my Uncle. Both my Uncle and my Mother had a collection of golden age mysteries from this period and especially enjoyed Sayers.

  2. cerrin says:

    That seems like it would be a great read. Not sure if it has enough action in it for me though. But the film would be fun to watch.

  3. Stephanie says:

    I have never heard of Dorothy Sayers until this Classics Circuit round. This particular book sounds great!

  4. This sounds like a charming book and I think you experienced it the perfect way – with an old copy.

  5. I’ve heard so much about this series. I do want to try one so maybe I’ll try this one. I think I’ll look for a newer copy of the book, however! :–)

  6. Word Lily says:

    Glad to hear you enjoyed (your first foray, was it?) reading Sayers! I’m a big fan.

  7. This goes on my TBR. My new personal challenge is to pick up a book or author that I’ve heard about but never read each time I go to the Library. And Dorothy Sayers qualifies. I’m enjoying these new-to-me reads so much, along with re-reading Agatha Christie, that I’ve really cut back on reading new novels. The oldies are easier to find at the Library too! Thanks again for all the good ideas.

  8. Aarti says:

    I’ve heard so much good about Sayers, and I have several of her Wimsey books, but all of them prior to the arrival of Harriet Vane. I’m glad this one was so good, and also that it didn’t involve a murder at all 🙂 And I LOVE those old copies of books, too! I wish libraries still had those check-out cards. I don’t like the new systems, where they just print stuff out for you and you can’t tell when the book was last checked out.

  9. Rebecca Reid says:

    I’m thinking I may need to keep reading! I enjoyed my first Peter and Harriet novel this month…

  10. Cat says:

    Dorothy Sayers seems to be receiving positive comments so I might have to try one of hers. I had to laugh – my Ngaio Marsh library book sounds very like yours. Very old and tatty and the librarian had to search for it out in the back room. 🙂

  11. ML Robson says:

    As a Dorothy L. Sayers’ fan, I’d like to recommend that if you want to tackle the Wimsey/Vane story, that you have to do it in order. Gaudy Night is the best of that story line, but without reading Strong Poison, Have His Carcass first and then Gaudy Night, you miss the development of their relationship. Also reading the Wiki on Sayer’s personal life will give you a good idea of how complex Harriett’s relationship with herself and with “our hero Lord Peter” really is. Sayers finishes their story with Busman’s Honeymoon a light hearted murder mystery, which makes me laugh always, and two short stories, “The Haunted Policeman” and “Tallboys”. Jill Paton Walsh got permission to finish Sayers unfinished manuscript Thrones, Dominations, which left me wishing that I could tell what Sayers had actually written and what JPW filled in. All that said, Sayers’ other Lord Peter Wimsey books are just as good and stand alone. My favourite after Gaudy Night is The Nine Tailors, which should be read over the Christmas Holidays!

    Finally, I love (and own) the BBC video but it doesn’t do justice to the complexity of Gaudy Night, the book!

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dorothy_L._Sayers

    Thanks for the Classics Circuit for introducing Dorothy L. Sayers to a new generation of readers!

  12. Teresa says:

    I do love Sayers, and I’m so glad that you enjoyed it, too! This is by far my favorite of her books. As your review shows, it’s possible to enjoy the book in isolation, but I agree with ML Robson above that it’s even richer if you read the books leading up to it. By the end of Gaudy Night, my heart was in my throat regarding what would happen between these two marvelous characters because I’d been following them so long.

  13. I have to chime in to say how much I love Gaudy Night. I think Sayers really stepped it up for this one, doing for Wimsey/Vane what Harriet did for Wilfrid. I have returned to this book over and over, and it never ceases to thrill me.

  14. Dona says:

    The warden and Harriet Vane in the film are superb. But the movie eliminates every funny part of the book. I called my father late at night when I first read the Latin phrase near the book’s end–in those pre-Internet days, I had to know the outcome. Tremendous book. The sequel, “Busman’s Honeymoon” (1937), is also very good.

  15. Les Blatt says:

    Among Sayers’s titles, let me also recommend “The Nine Tailors,” which I think is brilliant. I agree with the above comment by ML Robson that it’s a book best read over Christmas, and it is as much about the art of bell-ringing as about murder. I also enjoy “Murder Must Advertise,” which has another ingenious and complex plot, “Unnatural Death,” which has one of the cleverest (if not very likely) methods of murder I’ve ever encountered, and “Busman’s Honeymoon,” which manages to be both quite funny and extraordinarily moving.

  16. Katrina says:

    Sayers is definitely my favourite crime writer and Gaudy Night is her best, I think. I love the videos too. I used to work in Witham and my office looked into what had been Dorothy’s back garden.

  17. I picked up a double book by Sayers from my library sale so it’s nice to hear that you enjoy this author!! I look forward to reading her works!

  18. Beth F says:

    I love, love, love, love, love the Harriet Vane books and Lord Peter. I really should reread Sayers since I’ve been seeing reviews this spring and I loved those books (did I mention that yet?) so much

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