Vocation in Gaudy Night

Essay by Aliska7University, Master'sA-, October 2014

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Gaudy Night was written by Dorothy L. Sayers and published in 1935. It is the tenth novel of the Lord Peter Wimsey's detective series and the third novel featuring Harriet Vane. It can be classified as being part of the "cosy detective story" genre. In this novel, Harriet goes back to her former university, Shrewsbury College at Oxford, in order to attend a Gaudy which is a reunion of former students dressed in academic gowns attending a formal dinner at university. There, Harriet meets her former fellow students and sees what have become of them. She also meets her former teachers as well as new ones who has come to teach at Shrewsbury College. Shortly afterwards the Gaudy, Harriet is called back again to the college because since then, the dons have received poison-pen letters. Harriet is required to investigate who the culprit might be given that the dons do not want to call an official detective so as to avoid creating a scandal.

Women students were indeed still a delicate subject in the 1930s. In addition to the detective story, Gaudy Night questions of vocation. During the first two decades of the twentieth century, people were wondering what the value of a woman graduate would be to her husband and sons. The idea of "[q]ualification was important - vocational and non-vocational - but so, paradoxically, was the idea of intellectual accomplishment as some sort of moral ornament." In England, less than a quarter of undergraduates were women, and when they got their diploma, "they were still encouraged to choose between a profession and marriage." This point of view was still going on between the two world wars. Yet, after 1918, colleges were a means for women to escape "oppressive or unsympathetic families", college was a place for them to...