‘It’s a Good Thing to Take an Interest’: Care and University Women in Dorothy L. Sayers’s Gaudy Night and Barbara Pym’s No Fond Return of Love

Alexandra Peat*

*Corresponding author for this work

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This essay explores evolving discourses of academic care labour in the university novel. It focuses on Dorothy L. Sayers’s Gaudy Night (1935) with further discussion of Barbara Pym’s No Fond Return of Love (1961), two novels written at transformational moments when women’s participation in higher education was increasing and the emergence of the welfare state was transforming ideas about the social function of the university. While care has always been understood, albeit in amorphous ways, as a vital part of learning, thinking, and educating, it has also become an implicit form of academic labour, which often goes unaccounted for in academic contracts and disproportionately falls to women. This essay considers how academic work has transformed in the wake of what Arlie Hoschchild terms the growth of the ‘care sector;’ it explores the forms of academic care labour as well as the spaces, both institutional and symbolic, in which such labour is undertaken. As the novels depict women academics who are ambivalent about performing care labour, they prefigure ongoing debates about whether the public sphere can be transformed by a feminine ethics which values emotion and relationship building or whether such an ethics of care may enable the exploitation of caregivers and perpetuate a history of female exploitation.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)350-369
JournalWomen: A Cultural Review
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2023
Externally publishedYes

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