Le Cœur et la raison (Gaudy Night) by Dorothy L. Sayers, Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 2012.
Translated into French by Daniel Verheyde, introduced by Suzanne Bray
Associate Professor Paris 2-Panthéon-Assas
Published in 1935, Gaudy Night is a turning point both in the careers of Dorothy Sayers and in the lives of her sleuths, Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. In this novel, the dons of Vane’s all-female alma mater, Shrewsbury College in Oxford, have asked her to investigate on a series of mischief, poison pen letters and obscene graffiti in the college. However, as violence escalades, Harriet Vane asks Lord Peter to help her investigate.
As strange as it may seem, Gaudy Night had, for almost 80 years, never been translated into French. Was it because of the literary references that the publisher thought did not correspond to the French readership’s not so great expectations? Was it because the debate on women’s rights, in the 1930s and 1940s, was a particularly hot topic? In 1906, French representative Paul Dussaussoy had unsuccessfully tried to introduce a bill allowing them to vote and insults and threats had been thrown at proponents of the bill in the Senate. One year after Gaudy Night was published the French lower chamber had voted in favour of a similar bill but the Senate never put it on its voting agenda. As a result, women still did not have the right to vote when the Front populaire (left-wing coalition) appointed three of them as junior ministers (one of them being Irène Joliot-Curie, daughter of Pierre and Marie Curie.) In other words, the subject of women’s right to vote might have been considered too sensitive by Sayers’ French publisher Le Masque when the novel was first published. French women were only granted the right to vote on April 21st, 1944, and they voted for the first time twice the following year.