English Seminar: Anne Rogerson, ‘Are Dons Monsters?: Dorothy L. Sayers’ Gaudy Night and the Aeneid’
Anne Rogerson, ‘Are Dons Monsters?: Dorothy L. Sayers’ Gaudy Night and the Aeneid’
The Aeneid echoes strangely through Dorothy L. Sayers’ Gaudy Night (1935). The poison pen letters that precipitate the story use Virgil’s horrendous Harpies as figures for the novel’s women dons, and throughout this classic work of detective fiction Virgilian allusions continue thick and fast. This paper argues that Sayers is not merely paying tribute to her Oxford setting, nor using quotation only to underscore her female characters’ unpleasant erudition and/or their failings as readers of clues. Nor is the novel’s engagement with the Aeneid restricted to quotation from Aeneid 3, as scholarly discussions to date suggest. I will uncover a network of Virgilian allusions throughout the novel, particularly to the Aeneid’s female characters, and will demonstrate how they aid in the work’s participation in contemporary debates about women’s education and marriage. Sayers’ complex engagement with Virgil’s epic reveals Gaudy Night as an important and under-examined example of the ways in which women writers of the 20th and 21st centuries use the Aeneid to speak of their own preoccupations and concerns. Her work mounts a challenge to the dominant voices not only of the misogynists in the text but also of her male contemporaries, when her heroine, Harriet Vane, offers her own artistic response to the Aeneid as she struggles with the tensions between a scholarly life and the emotions.
Anne Rogerson is the Charles Tesoriero Senior Lecturer in Latin in the Department of Classics and Ancient History at the University of Sydney. Her research focuses on Virgil’s Aeneid and on its reception from late antiquity to the present day.
This event will be held online via Zoom.
Contact: Liam Semler (firstname.lastname@example.org).