I’m celebrating Women’s History Month in a number of literary ways.
First, in staying true to my Austen addiction, I (along with a talented musician friend) am presenting a Jane Austen program at the local public library.
In addition, I’m reading, along with my friends here at the Dark Jane Austen Book Club, Mary Wollstonecraft’s A Vindication of the Rights of Women.
Lastly, I’m re-reading Are Women Human? A short book of essays on the role of women in society by the wonderful Dorothy L. Sayers in which she conveys her conviction that men and women are first and foremost human beings; and in being true to our humanity — not our sex — we find common ground.
From page 26 of Are Women Human? Sayers states:
When the pioneers of university training for women demanded that women should be admitted to the universities, the cry went up at once: “Why should women want to know about Aristotle?” The answer is NOT that all women would be the better for knowing about Aristotle – still less, as Lord Tennyson seemed to think, that they would be more companionable wives for their husbands if they did know about Aristotle – but simply: “What women want as a class is irrelevant. I want to know about Aristotle.”
Austen. Wollstonecraft. Sayers.
It only now occurs to me that I may have a fascination with female English writers of the nineteenth century. All of them, human.
Born at Oxford in 1893, Dorothy L. Sayers published her first novel in 1923 introducing the charming hero detective, Lord Peter Wimsey. The Lord Wimsey stories are clever mysteries set in Yorkshire, London, and the English countryside; complete with dead bodies, church bells, cemeteries, fog, good wine, and of course…Bunter.
But her work, like any great thinker/artist is divergent. Her work does not end with detective fiction. Novels, poetry, theology, theatrical plays, and — having been long intrigued by Dante’s writings — Sayers wrote a translation in terza rima of The Divine Comedy which she considered her greatest work.
It was only a few years ago that I was introduced to the author. After I opened a Facebook account, I discovered — by doing my own detective work — that the most popular books amongst my friends were The Great Divorce, Pride and Prejudice, The Alchemist, The Kite Runner, Catcher in the Rye, and The Nine Tailors.
I had not read the last, nor ever heard of it.
So, I ordered The Nine Tailors (one of the Lord Wimsey mystery novels) and recognized that I had found something (or someone) special; even if English mystery novels are, well…not my cup of tea. But, as I said, Sayers offers more than just crime stories.
Leaving church one day (around the same period as my personal facebook book poll), I mentioned to a friend that I had just finished a book by Dorothy Sayers. His eyes opened widely as he asked, “The Mind of the Maker? “
“No,” I replied. “Why? Is that any good?”
“It’ll blow your mind,” was his answer. Well, naturally, I ordered a copy from amazon, pronto!
How to explain, The Mind of the Maker? This is difficult.
In a nutshell (and oh, this is soooo not “in-a-nutshell” book), Sayers exams the creative mind at work; the artist’s mind; relating the divine to the artist’s imagination and unfolding a philosophy (Christian, and yes, I am admittedly one) that explores a creative trinity (and Trinity) of the artist through the creative/creation process of Idea, Energy, and Power.
In other words…it’s a trip.
It’s wonderful when we discover an author like Dorothy L. Sayers who continues to inspire, entertain, and challenge both men and women. Or rather…human beings.
… a woman is just as much an ordinary human being as a man, with the same individual preferences, and with just as much right to the tastes and preferences of an individual. What is repugnant to every human being is to be reckoned always as a member of a class and not as an individual person. – Dorothy L. Sayers, Are Women Human?
*Photo: Hands by Kirsty Andrews, obtained through Flickr.