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Ralph C. Wood
Dorothy Sayers's Workshop
Barbara Reynolds--Dorothy L. Sayers's longtime collaborator, biographer, and disciple--has assembled "all the letters devoid of obscenity, malice, or libel" from the first 43 years of the writer's life. They contain neither any startling revelations about Sayers the woman and writer nor many timeless observations about God and human life--in the fashion, for example, of Flannery O'Connor's The Habit of Being. These letters serve, instead, as a documentary companion to Reynolds's biography of 1993, Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul. A second volume from the last two decades--when Sayers ceased writing detective novels and became a celebrated Christian apologist, translator, and playwright--will follow. Yet since Reynolds quotes the choicest passages from Sayers's correspondence in her biography, this reviewer was left wondering whether a single volume, more disciplined in its selection, might have sufficed. Even so, there are important new things to be learned from this collection.
In a letter commenting on the central theme of Gaudy Night, Sayers explained to a friend that her novel is not about the "dreaming-spires" atmosphere of Oxford, but about "the ultimate and unforgiveable sin . . . the sin against intellectual integrity. To make a deliberate falsification for personal gain is the last, worst depth to which either scholar or artist can descend in work or life." These letters reveal how fully Sayers practiced her own preachment. For her, the deadliest of all falsifications lies in giving emotional assent to what one does not thoughtfully believe. From her earliest years, she thus developed a salutary scorn for all false sentiment, especially in matters religious.
Every sign of treacly piety was an abomination to Sayers. She wrote home from Oakhurst School, at age 17, to confess that she loathed the collects she had to memorize, and that she liked morning worship because there was but a single hymn, and because the Scripture readings and prayers were short. She ...