I’ve been reading (and enjoying) Barbara Reynold’s biography of Dorothy L. Sayers. Much as I enjoy some of the other Peter Wimsey novels, it’s Gaudy Night that I love, so much that I’ve had trouble staying objective and professorial in seminar discussions with students who don’t get how completely fabulous it is (see? hardly dispassionate). I very much appreciated, then, this letter from Sayers to her publisher that shows she too felt the novel was something special:
It is the only book I’ve written embodying any kind of a ‘moral’ and I do feel rather passionately about this business of the integrity of the mind–but I realise that to make a ‘detective story’ the vehicle for that kind of thing is (as Miss de Vine says of the Peter-Harriet marriage) ‘reckless to the point of insanity’. But there it is–it’s the book I wanted to write and I’ve written it–and it is now my privilege to leave you with the baby! Whether you advertise it as a love-story or as educational propaganda, or as a lunatic freak, I leave it to you. It may be highly unpopular; but though I wouldn’t claim that it was in itself a work of great literary importance, it is important to me, and I only hope it won’t be a ghastly flop!
For the other Sayers fans out there, by the way, back in the early days of Open Letters Monthly (August 2007, to be precise), Joanna Scutts wrote a very nice feature essay on Dorothy Sayers that’s well worth reading.