‘I will build up my house from the stark foundations,
… and search unwearying …
for stones or better stuff.
Though here be only the mortar and rough hewn granite,
I will lay on and not desist
Til it stand and shine as I dreamed it when I began.’
The above is an excerpt from a well-written biography of Dorothy Sayers22, which captures the musical score of a mysterious inner heartbeat that inspires much of her work. The author paints an elegant and honest picture of this quick-witted and delightful lioness of language and literature who loved to sing in choirs, laughed at sanctimonious sermonisers, bemused and worried her colleagues by wearing outrageous bird-cage earrings carrying green parrots, and sewed large red roses to her hat and blouse.
Not surprisingly she won the respect of her contemporaries Chesterton and Lewis, and like them, infuriated the literary world by agreeing with Chesterton’s definition that ‘heresy is the fashionable literary position of the day’. A damning charge that suggested their writings—rather than being the much vaunted work of brave and honest souls—were conceived by nothing more than a desire for the approval of their peers. Peers who all did obeisance to the ‘sacred cow’ of literature: ‘we don’t care what you write about as long as you do not commit the unpardonable sin of taking the Christian Messiah seriously.’ This impulse was well described by James Joyce (a contemporary of Dorothy’s) in a letter when he said that he wanted a ‘special odour of corruption, which I hope floats over my stories.’23
At the same time as disturbing her literary friends, this loudly laughing and cigarette-smoking woman of letters rattled, scarified and re-invigorated Christendom by making it remember what it is always trying to forget: that God is the god of chocolate, of flowers and of jokes; and of wine; a being who doesn’t just love human beings, but likes them, is besotted by them and so-oo delights in them enjoying the little things. This self-forgetful pleasure in everything is highlighted in a few lines that Dorothy wrote when she graduated from Oxford.
‘Now that we have gone down …
I would not hold too closely to the past …
thou enchanted town … leave me, clutch me not so
‘the thing that I remember most of all