Last week I pulled Dorothy Sayers’ Gaudy Night off my shelves and began to reread it. It’s been so long since I read it that I can’t remember whodunit. Last time I read it for the mystery; I came back to it this time for the love story. But what I am reading is neither mystery nor love story– I am reading instead the story of a woman who is trying to reconcile brains and heart (her words). This theme runs through the book overtly: in conversations between Harriet (the Oxford alumna cum novelist) and the females dons in her college– and in Harriet’s musings; and covertly, in the portrayals of all the women in the book.
One passage that struck me particularly is a conversation between Harriet and a fellow alumna, a talented scholar, who had married a farmer and left the academic life. She describes herself as a razor used as a plough, and now has found herself too dull to be a razor any more. There is a striking passage as well about the farmer’s wife’s thoughts about the nobility of farming, and Harriet’s response: "I’m quite prepared to admit that… A ploughshare is a nobler object than a razor. But if your natural talent is for barbering, wouldn’t it be better to be a barber, and a good barber– and use the profits (if you like) to speed the plough? However grand the job may be , is it your job?"
It fits my melancholy mood regarding my work (not to mention my time on the CSA). For many years, I have been torn between my work as a physician and my calling as a wife and mother. They are both calls, both gifts, both noble duties. I wonder sometimes if I am the razor, used as a plough– or a plough who tried to be a razor.