Book Pairing: The Mutual Admiration Society + Gaudy Night

The Mutual Admiration SocietyThe Mutual Admiration Society
by Mo Moulton
Rating: ★★★½
Publication Date: November 5, 2019
Genre: non-fiction
Pages: 384
ReRead?: No
Project: halloween bingo

A group biography of renowned crime novelist Dorothy L. Sayers and the Oxford women who stood at the vanguard of equal rights.

Dorothy L. Sayers is now famous for her Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane detective series, but she was equally well known during her life for an essay asking "Are Women Human?" Women's rights were expanding rapidly during Sayers's lifetime; she and her friends were some of the first women to receive degrees from Oxford. Yet, as historian Mo Moulton reveals, it was clear from the many professional and personal obstacles they faced that society was not ready to concede that women were indeed fully human.

Dubbing themselves the Mutual Admiration Society, Sayers and her classmates remained lifelong friends and collaborators as they fought for a truly democratic culture that acknowledged their equal humanity.

Gaudy NightGaudy Night
by Dorothy Sayers
Series: Lord Peter Wimsey #10
Publication Date: January 1, 1935
Genre: mystery: golden age (1920-1949)
Pages: 528
ReRead?: Yes
Project: 2024 read my hoard

When Harriet Vane attends her Oxford reunion, known as the Gaudy, the prim academic setting is haunted by a rash of bizarre pranks: scrawled obscenities, burnt effigies, and poison-pen letters, including one that says, "Ask your boyfriend with the title if he likes arsenic in his soup." Some of the notes threaten murder; all are perfectly ghastly; yet in spite of their scurrilous nature, all are perfectly worded. And Harriet finds herself ensnared in a nightmare of romance and terror, with only the tiniest shreds of clues to challenge her powers of detection, and those of her paramour, Lord Peter Wimsey.

My second book pairing is focused on Dorothy Sayers and her circle of friends at Oxford during WWI. I read The Mutual Admiration Society last year and really enjoyed it a lot. It’s not just focused on Dorothy Sayers, who is definitely the most well-known of the women who are profiled with its pages, but it also followed the lives of her other friends and associates. They lived during a time of extraordinary culture change, and the book chronicled how they reacted to, and benefited from, those cultural changes as individuals who sought meaning in their lives.

Any of Dorothy Sayer’s Lord Peter Wimsey series would pair well with this book, but I chose Gaudy Night specifically because it is Sayer’s manifesto, arguing that educating women is valuable, that women can be scholars, that work is work whether it is performed by a man or a woman, that intellectual work is valuable and that women should have the personal agency to do the work they are best suited to do, whether that work involves marriage and children, or not, and whether society approves of women doing that work, or believe it should be reserved for men. It is a book that I have read, and re-read, and will continue to read in the future.

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