Saturday, July 3, 2021

"Tolkien's females are as you describe them"

So, I found out about a book on C. S. Lewis and Dorothy L. Sayers last year and got a copy to send my friend Richard West, a great fan of both Sayers and Lewis, thinking it might make good hospital reading for him while he was struggling with kidney failure. In the end Richard caught the Covid virus and passed away. I never did get the chance to ask if he ever read this book or enjoyed it, but he was very much on my mind as I was reading it. 

DOROTHY AND JACK: THE TRANSFORMING FRIENDSHIP OF DOROTHY L. SAYERS AND C. S. LEWIS by Gina Dalfonzo is a fairly quick read and relatively light in tone (e.g., a two hundred page book like this wd usually have an index). Here are a few of its more striking points.

First is a long quote in which Sayers states that she felt an affinity with Dante because they shared the same faith, whereas this was not true of herself and Milton (p.41). That struck me as bizarre.

Second, Dalfonzo is willing to consider that CSL had sex with Janie Moore (p.56) but asserts -- on the basis of no evidence at all that I can see -- that CSL cut off all carnal relations at the time of his conversion and henceforth was strictly celibate, from that time till his marriage with Joy Davidman (p.57). She repeats the claim ("a clean break") on p.111, again without citing any evidence.

At one point Dalfonzo has a discussion about Lewis and Sayer's disagreement about CSL taking on the role of 'Everyman's Theologian': "She felt that Jack . . . was a little too prone to step outside his area of expertise" (p.73). Since this was one of the key objections Tolkien had to Lewis's apologetics, it's interesting to see that Lewis himself had struggled with the issue, and at a much earlier date.

Dalfonzo's discussion of Charles Williams (p.109-115) makes it clear she considers him a predator, and it's hard not to agree. I was surprised to be reminded of how short a time Sayers knew Wms (just three years). I'll have to get a look at the appropriate volume of her Collected Letters sometime to read through their correspondence.

Here's a quote I wish we had more context for: 

"I hadn't really thought about it before, 

but of course Tolkien's females

are as you describe them

—(p.118; emphasis mine)

This comes from CSL's reply in a 1955 letter to Sayer, but since Sayer's letter does not survive we have no way of knowing what was her critique, just that Lewis agreed. 

Finally, it's interesting to note that while Sayers and Lewis corresponded for about fifteen years, they only met four times that we're sure of (there may be a few more unrecorded visits). By the end of that time they had grown close enough to confide in each other about the alcoholism of CSL's brother and of Sayers' husband.

--John R.

--current reading: a light novel (=Japanese young adult fiction), and THE THIRD INKLING

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