Theory and Practice of Classic Detective Fiction

By Jerome H. Delamater; Ruth Prigozy | Go to book overview

16
A Suitable Job for a Woman:
Sexuality, Motherhood, and
Professionalism in Gaudy Night

Jasmine Y. Hall

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, quoted in Sayers 1)

The quotation that opens Dorothy L. Sayers' Gaudy Night sets up an opposition between heart and mind that is central to the dialogue, plot, and even genre of the novel. From the first “gaudy night” that Harriet Vane spends contrasting the relative happiness of intellectual and emotional women, to the near fatal gaudy night in which Harriet is struck on the head and Miss de Vine has a heart attack, this conflict is repeatedly emphasized as having a special meaning and danger for women. As Gayle Wald has suggested, the genre of the novel itself reenacts the conflict by breaking one of Sayers' golden rules: It grafts the genre of the heart (the love story) onto the genre of me mind (the detective story) (98).

Wald correctly points out that Sayers expresses a fear of excess here, an excess that will not be fully controlled by the formulaic detective plot. That excess is the detective's desire, which in Gaudy Night drives both the detective and the romance narratives. Sayers wrote of the challenge she had set herself in combining these two stories of desire that “the new and exciting thing was to bring the love problem into line with the detective problem, so that the same key should unlock both at once” (Sayers, quoted in Wald 106). Sayers imagined, then, a “key” that would paradoxically lock up the excesses of love and crime by unlocking a common element between the two stories. I would suggest that

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