Monday, December 15, 2008

A piece of Dorothy's mind

Well, I finished Unpopular Opinions by Dorothy L Sayers on my ride home this evening. I highly recommend this book as an eclectic and extremely well-written view into a very interesting woman's mind.

Dorothy Sayers was a contemporary and friend to C. S. Lewis. She's celebrated as a feminist author, was a successful writer of detective novels, and was clearly seen as something of an interesting speaker: many of her "essays" are actually transcriptions of speeches she made.

She uses the word "obstreperous" in a sentence, and argues for plain English. I'm delighted!

The book is broken into three sections:

  1. Theological

  2. Political

  3. Critical

The Critical section is actually interesting, in a strange way. It largely consists of applying "Higher Criticism" to the Sherlock Holmes stories. She works on timelines and chronologies; on determining Holmes' university, college, and major; and on establishing the details of Watson's personal life. I still can't decide if I enjoyed that section.

I definitely enjoyed Political the best. These were largely WWII-era speeches, and are certainly patriotic in extolling the virtues of the English. In fact, her essay "They Tried to be Good" is perhaps the best of the book. She argues that Hitler came to power not because England was incapable of stopping him, but because they'd fallen into political correctness (not that it was called by such an appalling euphemism back then) that kept them from calling a spade a spade: that made it a crime to be English and to have an empire. As someone who works in higher education, I found her analysis and subsequent morals and warnings apropos, almost frightening in their clarity and perspicuity.

In the political essays were also two or three feminist articles that would be hailed as misogynist these days. Funny how standards change. Like Ayn Rand, she warned against allowing the individual to be reduced to a representative of a group. Sadly, the collectivists have won, and individual dignity is now generally regarded with contempt. We have earned the consequences that shall certainly come on us...

But the most compelling essays were her Theological, which are clearly written from a conservative Anglican (perhaps even Tractarian) viewpoint. I shan't even attempt to sum them up: they are worth the time and effort of getting this book. They are humourous, thoughtful, and terribly important.

My favourites in this section are "Christian Morality" and "A Vote of Thanks to Cyrus".

I'd never read Sayers before, although I'm a huge fan Charles Williams and C. S. Lewis---names almost always mentioned with hers. It was a wonderful read: I really feel like I've discovered a great mind.


Shan said...

No, I've never read Sayers before, either, though of course the name is terribly familiar - didn't know the Lewis connection though and anything Lewis is Okay By Me.

KingJaymz said...

I much prefer your new profile pic. It looks good.

Now I need to go check this out. I may avoid the critical section, but it sounds like the rest of the book was pretty good (and timely for us).

Strong words. However, you make me hope that Obama isn't the next Neville Chamberlain. I see that slippery slope as a real threat.