Dorothy L. Sayers’ Gaudy Night Essay

5778 words - 23 pages

Dorothy L. Sayers’ Gaudy Night

When Gayle Wald wrote, “Sayers’s career writing detective stories effectively ends with Gaudy Night” (108), she did not present a new argument, but continued the tradition that Gaudy Night does not center on the detective story.  Barbara Harrison even labeled Dorothy Sayers’s Lord Peter/Harriet Vane books, Strong Poison, Gaudy Night, and Busman’s Honeymoon, as “deliriously happy-ending romances” (66).  The label stretches the definition of a romance, but Gaudy Night indeed has very little to do with crime.  Sayers encrypted the real story within her detective novel.  This story behind the story narrates love and human relationships.  In fact, the crimes in Gaudy Night only supply a convenient way for Sayers to place Lord Peter and Harriet Vane on equal footing to bring closure to their relationship.  So the story does not focus on the solving of a crime, at least from Sayers’s point of view.  Lord Peter, however, sees it differently.  As a character in the book, rather than the omniscient writer, Lord Peter, in fact, obsesses about solving the crime.  Sayers underlines this conflict between the writer and the detective by making us see Lord Peter entirely through the eyes of another character, Harriet Vane.  In Gaudy Night,  Sayers also provides the reader with a weak plot, at least compared to the rest of her opus, and a lack of details concerning the mystery, especially the content of the letters.  The story itself contradicts one of Sayers’s long held beliefs, that mystery and love stories do not, and should never, mix.  These facts, coupled with the grandiose detail given to us about Peter and Harriet’s personal interaction, show that Sayers had her mind more on love than on crime.

    We read Gaudy Night, then, as a love story entombed in a mystery.  To understand the import of this encrypting, we must look at the meaning of tombs and crypts.  We usually think of crypts as graves or coded messages, similar to the letter in Have His Carcasse.  The notion of a crypt, however, contains a deeper psychological meaning.   Crypts deal with the ideas of introjection and incorporation.  These concepts identify the alternative ways in which the psyche handles trauma.  When the psyche introjects a trauma, the trauma melds into the subconscious.  If the psyche successfully assimilates the trauma, it unites with the rest of the psyche, much like a cube of ice (the trauma) melting in a glass of water (the psyche).  Incorporation occurs when trauma embeds itself into the psyche, but remains separate and, therefore, separable.  If we return to the idea of the psyche as a glass of water, incorporation resembles what happens when a Ping-Pong ball (the trauma) drops into a glass of water.  The ball remains a lump in the psyche. Jacques Derrida wrote about the crypt “sealing the loss of the object, but also marking the refusal to mourn . . . I pretend to keep the dead alive, intact, safe (save) inside me, but it is...

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