Gaudy Night

Gaudy Night

I was digging through some old boxes today, looking for a particular photograph, and I found some of my old journals. I started flipping through the notebook and found many things I had no memory of writing.

Looking at the phone numbers scrawled on the notebook’s cover and the papers stuffed inside (among them an old phone bill) as well as at the contents, I think this journal was from 1998 or 1999 when I was still living and working in the Dallas area (having graduated from college in 1996). I thought I’d have fun and transcribe some of the pieces that seem worth keeping and since I’m doing the work of typing them in, why not share them with the world. It struck me that had blogs existed back in 1998 all this stuff would probably have made it to the blog anyway. Maybe. I think of my journals as a sort of proto-blogging. My first blog after all was just a digital form of my notebooks, kept on LiveJournal. I’ve evolved as a blogger, and as a writer. What if my blog’s archives reached all the way back to 1998, though? This kind of thing would be out there.

This piece perplexed me. It seems to be the beginning of an essay on Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night written on the discarded beginning of a letter to a college friend. I could definitely see this being a blog post today. However, it might also be notes transcribed from something I was reading? Keep in mind this snippet is fifteen years old and I was fresh out of college with the ink hardly dry on my BA in English. There are three paragraphs written in different handwriting as if at different times. The first is in cursive, the second printed, the third printed and in all caps. I tend not to use much punctuation when I write by hand and so I’ve added a bit in here, but have left some of the run on sentences and phrases as written.

The academic mystery of Gaudy Night is the canvas on which Dorothy Sayers draws her inquiry into the possibility of a formal intellectual life for women. Below the whodunnit plot and the budding romance of Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Whimsey broods the question of whether women can sustain as serious an academic life as men. When the fictional Oxonian women’s college of Shrewsbury is thrown into turmoil by a poison pen that attacks its very existence as unnatural, it forms a test case not only for women’s rights and equality and women’s education but for women’s entre into the Great Conversation, the quest for Truth, not as helpmeet and support but as peers with the greatest minds of the ages.

the murderer is the personification of the criticisms of women’s academics, the neglect of kinder, kirche, and kuche, and also represents the dangers of neglecting women’s education and formation. She is literate but lacks formal education the job was half done. Her passions have not been schooled. They take over, undisciplined. She places personal loyalty above professional duty and honor—the central accusation of women by those who would hold them inferior. In Harriet Vane Sayers presents a woman whose passions are schooled and formed so that they balance her intellect—just as Whimsey’s are balanced. Men and women equally need balance—only when she finds her balance can she enter into life and love the academic life of the mind not excluding the personal of emotion.

(marginal note: ethos for women’s education)

Sayers answers the suspicions about women’s academics: won’t it turn them into emotionless dried up old maids unable to enter into life? not only does academic training not warp the nature of women, it forms character. A developed intellect frees the mind from being passion’s slave. The disordered women who places personal loyalties above professional honor and duty, who is passion’s slave, is so because she has denied intellectual discipline.

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