Odd Saint: Harriet Vane
February 17, 2009 1 Comment
I wasn’t sure whether to title this one to the grand Dorothy Sayers, or to her body on the page, Harriet Vane. Sayers is sure to get her own Odd Saint tribute soon (did you know she wrote Guiness ads?), but it is Mizz Vane that is making me dizzy at the moment. As you introduced me to her snarling, well draped wit, I offer a list of why I sigh when I read about her:
- Harriet is a muddle: she’s at several crossroads, and they are as muddled as any life decision is. They have the full weight and reality of shaping a life and I love that they are not glamorous, but they are chewy and frustratingly unhelpful in solving themselves.
- Harriet is self-conscious in a real, and unweak, way. She knows what looks good on her. She gets pissed when her napkin keeps slipping off of her satin dress. She has style, but she’s not a shit about it.
- She is torn between what she might have been, and what she is. The book starts with her heading down to a college reunion. It’s a brutal read.
- She cannot explain why she does things that she does. Her temper flares and she says phrases that work against her meaning, not as opposites, but as strange organic disruptions that thwart!
- Her frustration and grappling with what it means to be an adult female. The landscape in front of her suggests she can either be married with children and lose her mind/work, or celibate, productive, and satisfied in a way she is supposed to constantly rationalize. Or, she can win the lottery and marry a fellow that digs her exact level of independence (like the character Phoebe who leaves her kids at the in-laws, and studies the world with archaeologist husband while desperately hoping her children don’t turn out to be morons). This could read dated, but it doesn’t. That grapple with work and domesticity and power (Hrothgar’s dilemma) is what’s on the table here, and dear Harriet can see all the swords as they hang on the wall.
- She could walk right into The Golden Notebook, except I think she would carry a lighter load than those ladies. I don’t think Vane ever dabbles with the Communist party.