Wisdom from Dorothy L. Sayers

The Inkling Who Wasn't There: Dorothy L. Sayers - VoegelinView

Dorothy L. Sayers, best known as one of the best mystery novelists of all time, was at one time in her career called upon to defend Christian writers in Britain in particular, and Christianity in general, from blistering attacks by atheists. Yes, they were doing it back then, too–in the 1950s. You know: after God raised up Winston Churchill to deliver Britain from an enemy that was stronger than she. But they proved no more thankful to Churchill than they were to God.

In 1953 one Kathleen Nott published a book critical of Sayers and other Christian writers. How did Sayers answer it? Like so:

“No one can say that ‘the Church’ as a whole has ever stood for truth and… charity.

“Well, the church does in fact lay a good deal of stress, not only [on] truth, but on love and charity… But it is no use talking as though love and charity were easy. You cannot buy them in the market and slap them on a situation like plasters [band-aids]. If Miss Nott were here now, she and I could establish the Kingdom of Heaven between ourselves immediately–that is, we could if we could. It is quite simple: she has only to love me as well as she loves herself, and I have only to love her as well as I love myself, and there is the Kingdom. It is as simple as that–but would it be easy? Acknowledging myself to be worm-eaten with original sin, I acknowledge that I might find it difficult; and although Miss Nott is presumably without sin (since she does not admit the existence of sinfulness), it is conceivable that for one reason or another she also might encounter a little difficulty. Yet it would be useless for her to protest that one cannot love an unlovable object, since charity is precisely a readiness to love the unlovable. That is the trouble with the Christian graces–that without Grace they are impossible.”

[From Dorothy and Jack, by Gina Dalfonzo, Baker Books, 2020–a wonderful book about the friendship of Dorothy L. Sayers and C.S. Lewis]

Works of the flesh are relatively easy. Works of the spirit are hard. But we have a God whose own Spirit works in us that grace may abound. Works of the flesh do not build the Kingdom of Heaven, but works of the spirit do.


This Book’s a Winner

Murder Must Advertise (The Lord Peter Wimsey Mysteries Book 10) by [Dorothy L. Sayers]

One of the things keeping me out of the booby hatch lately is a crackerjack mystery novel, Murder Must Advertise, by Dorothy L. Sayers. I’m re-reading it and I don’t want it to end.

Lord Peter Wimsey gets called in to solve a murder at an advertising agency, where he goes undercover as a copy-writer. Dorothy Sayers worked for several years as an advertising copy-writer, and she knows all the ins and outs of the business. In fact, her depiction of the agency is so fascinating, you almost don’t care about the murder.

Just to show you what the author knows, Ms. Sayers considered this one of her least best books, didn’t like it much. She never realized what a terrific book it was!

I’d like to say more, but again the computer’s giving me fits and I don’t know whether I’ll be able to post this or not. Suffice it to say that this is one of my all-time favorite mysteries–and it does a superb job of taking your mind off whatever’s bugging you.

Book Review: ‘Murder Must Advertise’

This is as good a time as any to catch up on one’s reading. And if you like murder mysteries, you’ll probably love Murder Must Advertise by Dorothy L. Sayers, featuring Lord Peter Wimsey. He goes undercover in an advertising agency, posing as a junior copywriter as he tries to solve the crime.

To show you how much writers know, Dorothy Sayers considered this gem “not one of my better efforts.” We beg to differ.

The only problem with this story is that the background setting, the advertising agency, is more fascinating than the murder. I kept finding myself forgetting there was a murder to be solved, I was so intrigued by the actions and interactions in the agency. Sayers actually worked for an advertising agency for almost ten years, so she was writing about something she knew intimately. All these captivating characters! I could hardly wait to see what each of them would do next.

Advertising copywriters try to persuade people to buy things they may not really want, and do things that they may not want to do. Sort of like politics. How they go about it is an absorbing study in itself. It was so interesting, I didn’t want the book to end. Murder, schmurder–how do you get people to buy and smoke those not-really-all-that-good cigarettes?

I do love a good detective story, and the Wimsey series is classic, top of the line. As an interesting side note, Margery Allingham created her own aristocratic detective, Albert Campion, as a parody of Wimsey. Her books turned out to be so popular that they kept her busy writing them for many years. I like them almost as much as I like the Wimseys.

Books like these make time pass unnoticed, and pleasurably. It’s why they’re still popular today. If you need a nice distraction, you can’t do better than Murder Must Advertise.

When ‘Science’ Sounded Like Himmler

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You wouldn’t think I could get into much trouble, reading a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery by Dorothy L. Sayers. The one I’m reading now is Gaudy Night, set at a women’s college in Oxford. It’s important to remember, at all times, that this was published in 1936.

Consider this bit of conversation. One character, opposed to capital punishment, says murderers must be “kept from doing further harm. But they ought not to be punished and they certainly ought not to be killed.”

To which one of her fellow academics replies, “I suppose they ought to be kept in hospitals at vast expense, along with other unfit specimens… Speaking as a biologist, I must say I think public money might be better employed. What with the number of imbeciles and physical wrecks we allow to go about and propagate their species, we shall end by devitalizing whole nations.”

“Miss Schuster-Slatt [an American] would advocate sterilization,” said the Dean.

“They’re trying it in Germany, I believe,” said Miss Edwards [the biologist]. ****

Hello? Did someone invite Heinrich Himmler to give a series of guest lectures at this college?

Well, no. They were just talkin’ eugenics, which was Settled Science once upon a time, between the world wars. The West–primarily Britain and America–was talkin’ it, and passing laws against reproduction by “the unfit”; but in Nazi Germany they shifted eugenics into high gear and started killing people. After all, it’s a sure way of getting rid of the unfit.

And Margaret Sanger founded Planned Parenthood, to get rid of the unfit by means of abortion.

So we had all this Nazi stuff floating around in our culture, believed in by the best and smartest people, no one dared venture into Eugenics Denial for fear of being mocked and cast out of polite society.

A lot of people shut up about eugenics after it became well known how the Nazis put it to work. The word “eugenics” fell out of use. Nobody wanted to sound like Himmler.

But it was there–respected, exalted, socially acceptable, absolutely a part of our culture. In Gaudy Night we see it in Britain in 1936, before the Nazis started bombing London.

We see it even more vividly in Agatha Christie’s Curtain, written during World War II but not published till 1975. The ideas most commonly associated with the Third Reich were deemed respectable in Britain–even while the Germans were attacking and it was an open question whether Britain would survive.

The evils of our own day have deep roots. Very deep indeed.

May Jesus Christ defend us.


‘Old Books, New Delights’ (2014)

Image result for images of the third omnibus of crime

To my knowledge, The Bargain, by A.M. Burrage, is the only story ever written about a haunted stamp collection. Guaranteed to give you the willies!

Old Books, New Delights

We found it in a banged-up old book that my wife bought for 25 cents–The Third Omnibus of Crime, edited by Dorothy L. Sayers: 800 pages of classic crime and ghost stories.

You can still get this book from a used book service, but it’ll cost you a lot more than 25 cents.