Sunday, April 25, 2021

GAUDY NIGHTS AND DAYS

Recently, I finished re-reading Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers, the third in a series of four novels about her detective, Peter Wimsey and  Harriet Vane, the woman with whom he falls in love. It has always been my favorite of the four, although the last, Busman's Honeymoon, is a close second, and has one of the funniest scenes I have ever read.

Gaudy Night is set mostly at a fictional woman's college at Oxford and looks with a scholar's eye at the potential conflict between a scholar's work and one's responsibility to one's family. It could easily be expanded to an examination of what has been called work-life balance, which is being re-examined after a year of the pandemic lockdowns when working and studying at home have become prevalent and many of the things that were taken for granted are suddenly up for grabs.  I can remember when my beloved husband's company moved from the San Diego area to Orange County, and he negotiated to work from home 3 days a week, to avoid the hour and a half commute each way.  He told the CEO, that he thought he could be more responsive with that schedule than many lawyers could be when they were in an office where the CEO could walk in and talk to them whenever he wanted.  Every CEO balked at his suggestion but after a couple of weeks in which he exceeded his commitment, nothing more was heard of their concerns.  Now many companies are finding that having most or all of their employees working from home has not limited their ability to do their work.  

The question in Gaudy Night was not so much whether people should be able to work from home, but whether the integrity of one's scholarship was of more value than a person's commitment to his or her family.  

The woman who was the guilty party in this book gave an impassioned defense of what she had done. "You wouldn't have cared. You killed him and you didn't care.  I say you murdered him. What had he done to you? What harm had he done to anybody? He only wanted to live and be happy. You took the bread out of his mouth and flung his children and me out to starve. What did it matter to you?.... Couldn't you leave my man alone? He told a lie about somebody else who was dead and dust hundreds of years ago. Nobody was the worse for that. Was a dirty bit of paper more important than all our lives and happiness? You broke him and killed him--all for nothing."

In these days when lies and half-truths are being published and promulgated everywhere and people who differ with the prevailing philosophy are attacked as intolerant, it might be a good idea to look at these issues again and see which barricades we are willing to die upon.

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