May. 9th, 2017

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I had a quiet day. I walked the one mile loop by myself and then with M. I spent a good chunk of the day reading _Gaudy Night_ (this month's book group pick). A., R. and I all went to Julie's Place for dinner.

I used to reread many books, fairly regularly, but several things in my life conspired to more or less put a stop to the practice. First, it has become ludicrously easy for me to find enjoyable books to read that I have not already read -- a fair amount of rereading was driven by I Want Something Good I Can't Find Something New That Is Good So I'll Go Back to An Old Favorite. Second, I've been reading less in general (intentionally and, finally, somewhat successfully, altho it has been a stunningly difficult habit to chip away at, and one which I often think I've made more progress on than I actually have). Most importantly, however, I have a lot of trouble now with books that I once loved, and I find it largely pointless to reread many of the books I have read for the first time more recently. It's a pretty simple explanation: I've become a much more observant reader now than I once was, so there is a lot less to get on rereads than there once was.

I had expected -- based on reviewing my recollection of the book in my head -- that I would dislike Harriet Vane much more this time than on previous reads. And I was largely right in _why_ I disliked her. She has so little curiosity outside her limited range of interests (and of that curiosity, so little of it is devoted to understanding other people). In itself, an all too often accurate depiction of a certain kind of person -- my kind of person -- but when combined with what I perceive to be heartless judgmentalism, I find it a little tough to take. Fine, be incurious, but then don't tell me how awful the person is who you can't take the trouble to understand from their perspective.

But she is a really, really well written character, complex, nuanced and very believable, so I don't endorse a lot of other people's criticisms of Harriet.

I wasn't completely certain I would remember the plot in any detail -- and there were chunks I had comprehensively forgotten (notably, the interactions with Freddy Arbuthnot. Really, Harriet? You think Arbuthnot does money purely based on instinct? What a lack of respect.). But while I could not have told you about the Newland storyline before rereading it, as soon as she made her first appearance on Magdalen Tower, it unrolled in all its sordid glory. Well, not all of it -- I had completely failed to understand when younger the tickets representing students and the betting pool (?) associated with it. What a delightfully horrifying thing for the Senior Common Room to engage in annually! I am simultaneously charmed and repulsed, which is not a usual combination for me.

Reading _Gaudy Night_ in 2017 is a wonderful exercise in Finally Finding Out What All Those References Mean (altho not in enough detail to get an actual recipe for a Hobnailed Liver, when it is a hangover cure from an apothecary). From the bit about Groupists drinking cocoa to O.U.D.S. to the written-in-Latin bylaws for student behavior, it is finally once again possible to more or less Get all the things that readers in the intervening decades despaired of ever deciphering. Not sure whether it is worth the effort, but at least the effort is not great.

Reading _Gaudy Night_ in 2017 is _also_ an interesting exercise in class analysis (the porter and trades people liking Hitler, but the upper class fans of eugenics are portrayed as misbehaving by their class standards, and the connection to Hitler in that misbehavior is pretty clear as well), a review of the evolution of women's rights (in this case, that transition from Making Careers Possible to Making Careers AND Marriage possible at the same time), and a real shocker in terms of the total absence (I was looking, and I found _maybe_ one relationship) of coded same sex relationships. You would think the fictional women's college would have at least a couple, but if they are present, they are too deeply disguised for me to suss them out. Perhaps the focus on the marital theme/can you be dedicated women academics and NOT become crazy swamped any possible signal of a Boston Marriage.

On the whole, however, it is an incredibly strange book. Written in the mid 1930s, the gathering war storms are on the horizon, but the deep depression of the time is barely visible. While the Ottawa Conference is mentioned, and Arbuthnot is worried about the 'Change, you'd never know the degree of unemployment suffered in other parts of the country and world. True, by the time of this writing, things were booming around London and the Home Counties, with houses sprouting up all over (mentioned in the book) -- and Harriet Vane is nothing if not oblivious to larger trends outside her immediate scope.

I'll be curious to see how the group responds to this. I don't think they will like it. It is long. It leans heavily on the relationship between Harriet and Peter, a lot of which is developed in other books they will not have read. The extensive references make for tough going, if you don't have a reflex for looking things up (and then _not_ getting lost in pursuing related research!). The major themes are ones that have, for nearly everyone, gone by long ago. More importantly, I don't see this group being very forgiving of the hoary, in this book relentless, and only currently finally being laid to rest hypothesis that all Intelligent, Educated Women must surely only want to marry a man who is like them, only more so.

And that's leaving aside Harriet's obsession with Brain vs. Heart, as if these were twain.

It was a lot of fun to take a look back at my younger self, tho, who loved this book with a G.P., as Harriet might have said.

ETA: Things I didn't mentioned. Facts! OMG, the worshipping at the shrine of Facts! Really!?! I suppose as a detective novel of the 1930s, I should not be so surprised at it, but Goddess, that is incredibly annoying. Also, the barely inspected nostalgia and the contempt for Young Persons. *sigh*

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