August 31, 2010

Placet: It Pleases Me

The Dining Hall in Christ Church

So, I finally finished Gaudy Night, the Harriet Vane mystery by Dorothy Sayers.  I know.  I know.  I am a discredit to my sex, as well as my anglophilia, to have waited this long to have read this marvelous mystery.  Well, I am glad I waited.

Last week my Aunt called and invited me up to her apartment for a little wine and cheese get together.  She was an English teacher in the excellent public high school system of Montgomery County for over 30 years.  And all my life (especially of course now that I live nearby), I have heard about her colleagues at the school--dear and fascinating friends who have shared an entire life together. 

Well one of them, L, had recently spent 4 weeks in England--one in Bristol, one in London, and two at Christ Church College in Oxford.   He brought his laptop to the party (these retirees are so tech savy!) and showed us all around England.  What was especially marvelous, though, was his time in Oxford.  He was taking part in two continuing education courses offered as part of The Oxford Experience, a summer school housed at Christ Church college every year, and presided over by Oxford dons.  (This is now, clearly, on my bucket list.) 

One of the courses he took while there was...The Oxford Mystery.  I cut him off mid-sentence, and asked "Did you read Gaudy Night?"  He smiled: "Our Don thought Gaudy Night was the archetype of all Oxford mysteries (and perhaps all mysteries).  We read it first, and compared all the others to it."

What a treat, then, to sit back and watch all these photos, with his erudite and engaging commentary.  He showed not only the parts of Oxford that figure in the book (Magdalene Tower, a formal dining hall, etc.), but also things that interested him, and that he knew would delight his old friends and former colleagues. He would mention the grave of Robert Burton, or the tower designer by Christopher Wren, and then everyone would begin discussing this poem or that building or this novel.

And there I sat, younger than everyone in the room by an entire generation, sometimes two, soaking it all in.  These friends had had a similar party in 1981, when the final episode of Brideshead Revisited came on (and loved my anecdote about how the cast didn't have a screenwriter, but just read their lines from the books).  They reformed the curriculum (freshmen, reading Homer!), and went to the theatre, and, over the last 40 years, shared their travels, their inspirations, their support and their friendship with each other.  It was marvellous to sit there.  And more marvellous to be part of those conversations because of our shared love for great literature.

And I don't think it would have been quite so pleasing, if I hadn't just finished Gaudy Night.

Dorothy L. Sayers


  1. Ahhhhhh! That sounds AMAZING! Gorgeous photo, too. I decided to visit Oxford in '04 because of the Eagle and Child Pub, never having read Brideshead Revisited though it was on my syllabus that very semester. Anyways, Oxford was completely enchanting when I knew almost nothing about its history, and had no Waugh education, and I am dying to go back again.

  2. Trena2:55 PM

    I've heard of those programs at Oxford, I've always wanted to go. Its not too expensive. . .

  3. Hmm... we've never met, but 1) we seem to have several friends in common, 2) Dorothy Sayers is wonderful and Gaudy Night is fantastic, and 3) I would LOVE to do the Oxford Experience. I'm sitting here literally drooling over the course descriptions. If you need someone to go with...

  4. It really is the best idea! Email me and let me know how we're connected--I'm terribly curious!