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Posts Tagged ‘Gaudy Night’

all souls college oxford towers

There, eastward, within a stone’s throw, stood the twin towers of All Souls’, fantastic, unreal as a house of cards, clear-cut in the sunshine, the drenched oval in the quad beneath brilliant as an emerald in the bezel of a ring.

Behind them, black and grey, New College frowning like a fortress, with dark wings wheeling about her belfry louvres; and Queen’s with her dome of green copper; and, as the eye turned southward, Magdalen, yellow and slender, the tall lily of towers; the Schools and the battlemented front of University; Merton, square-pinnacled, half hidden behind the shadowed North side and mounting spire of St. Mary’s.

Westward again, Christ Church, vast between Cathedral spire and Tom Tower; Brasenose close at hand; St. Aldate’s and Carfax beyond; spire and tower and quadrangle, all Oxford springing underfoot in living leaf and enduring stone, ringed far off by her bulwark of blue hills.

Gaudy Night, Dorothy L. Sayers

oxford towers wisteria queens lane

I harbor a deep love for Oxford, this city of towers and walled gardens, of books and cafes and quiet afternoons and long, winding, often cobblestoned streets. It is a city of dreams and realities, often mixed together so thoroughly that it becomes difficult to tell where one leaves off and the other begins.

I read and loved Gaudy Night during my first semester in Oxford, as part of a class in which we discussed the architecture, history and literature of Oxford through the centuries. It proved just as brilliant and captivating on my recent reread. Nine years has only increased my love for Oxford and its denizens. I adore Sayers’ feisty writer-sleuth, Harriet Vane, and her love interest, the gentleman detective Peter Wimsey, but my favorite character in the novel remains Oxford itself.

Sayers was born in Oxford and later earned a degree from Somerville College; a wall on Brewer Street bears a round blue plaque with her name and dates. She knew Oxford’s streets, towers and libraries intimately, and wrote about them with deep respect and love.

Gaudy Night is set in a fictional Oxford college, but its surroundings are entirely real, and the scene quoted above, set atop the Radcliffe Camera, provides a panoramic view of the city’s heart. I know every one of the colleges Sayers names; I have walked in their gardens and snapped pictures of their towers, drinking in the interplay of green and gold, shadow and light, sky and stone.

I haven’t been back to Oxford in several years, but tramping through it again with Harriet Vane — through the Bodleian and down the Isis and across Magdalen Bridge — felt, as it always does, like going home.

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