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What We Keep

That Old Academic Feeling

Spring is here, the daffodils are up, and my college class is having its 45th reunion next month. So naturally I am re-reading Gaudy Night in preparation.

One of my favorite books about the joys (and occasional ghastliness) of the academic life, it’s set at a women’s college in Oxford and is the only one of Dorothy Sayers’ mystery novels that doesn’t have a corpse. Instead it has a seriously creepy somebody with a grudge against women dons. Or maybe a woman don herself. That’s the trick, because it’s not that easy to figure out.

It’s an excellent book for those pondering whether you can have a life of the heart and a life of the mind. To write well must one be an alcoholic/drug addicted male with serial wives or a depressed female with head in the oven? Or is it possible to balance, if only precariously, on that angelic pinhead and have both work that matters and a love life that matters, without one being the servant of the other?

An awful lot of people have said no, or otherwise proven its impossibility through bad behavior, neuroses, psychoses, depression, and generally going up in flames. And it may be that one has less to write about, or make art from, lacking the flaming rows and institutionalizations of the notorious. But Gaudy Night is such a sensible and convincing blueprint, and Sayers herself was reputed to have achieved it.
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