Anglican Notables – Dorothy Sayers (Musicians, Authors, & Poets) – 17 December

[This is a series of biographical sketches of Anglican men and women whose lives have been exemplary in virtue and/or have made significant contributions to Anglicanism’s expression of the Gospel.  Written from the perspective of full communion with the See of St. Peter, including such papal statements as St. John Paul II’s encyclical on ecumenism, Ut Unum Sint, this series will occasionally acknowledge differences between Anglicans and Catholics where they exist and will do so in a spirit of charity and respect.  However, the intent is to focus less on differences than on opportunities for mutual enrichment between the Anglican and Catholic traditions and on shared spiritual treasures that already unite us.]

Dorothy Sayers

Born 13 June 1893 (Oxford, England) – Died 17 December 1957 (Witham, Essex, England)

Author, Novelist, Playwright, Essayist, Translator.

[The image is of Sir William Oliphant Hutchison’s “Portrait of Dorothy L Sayers” (1949-1950).]

C. S Lewis described Dorothy Sayers as “gleefully ogreish,” which makes me think she might have been not entirely unlike another one of the fine minds of Christianity, St. Jerome, who has been described as God’s grouch.  But there’s a fuller context to the “ogreish” description, which reads as follows:

“For all she did and was, for delight and instruction, for her militant loyalty as a friend, for courage and honesty, for the richly feminine qualities which showed through a port and manner superficially masculine and even gleefully ogreish–let us thank the Author who invented her.”[1]

My guess is that both St. Jerome and Dorothy Sayers could be ogreish (terrifying) because of their intellects alone.  But combined with such insightful intellects was the fact that neither of them had time for “existential illusions” that can have such a deleterious effect on our spiritual lives. “Perhaps this is one of the reasons [Sayers] presented an ungilded truth (and Truth!) that can come across as brisk and unexpected. Perhaps, unlike most people, she saw the significance in not doing ‘damage to [your] own soul,’ and the need to value ourselves and others as appropriately ‘precious’ because God sees us as such.”[2]

It seems odd to write this about someone best known for writing mystery novels and short stories.  But in my opinion, one of Sayers’s finest accomplishments is her book-length essay, _The Mind of the Maker_.  (She “considered her translation of Dante‘s Divine Comedy to be her best work.”[3])  I urge all who love literature and are interested in how it relates to theology (and who have not already read Sayers’s essay) to read it.

But as Carole Vanderhoof has shown in _The Gospel in Dorothy L. Sayers: Selections from Her Novels, Plays, Letters, and Essays_, even those who only read Sayers’s novels are presented with “such Christian themes as ‘Sin and Grace,’ ‘Forgiveness,’ ‘Belief,’ ‘Work,’ and ‘Resurrection.’”[4]

Br. John-Bede Pauley O.S.B.

[1] C. S. Lewis, “A Panegyric for Dorothy Sayers,” in On Stories, and Other Essays on Literature (New York : Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1982).

[2] Dorothy L. Sayers’s Tough Love | The Russell Kirk Center

[3] Dorothy L. Sayers – Wikipedia

[4] Dorothy L. Sayers’s Tough Love | The Russell Kirk Center

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