Why I love Dorothy L. Sayers

Thou blind man’s mark, thou fool’s self-chosen snare,
Fond fancy’s scum, and dregs of scattered thought,
Band of all evils; cradle of causeless care;
Thou web of will, whose end is never wrought:
Desire!  Desire!  I have too dearly bought
With price of mangled mind, thy worthless ware.

~Sir Philip Sidney

Wow.  That, on the first page, introducing Chapter 1 of Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers.  Sayers often puts some bit of verse, or some obscure quote at the start of each chapter of her books.  This one really spoke to me; it’s just where I’m at right now, warring with my flesh, attempting to place my very subjective desires under the objectivity of Christ-like life and thought.  Mangled mind, indeed.

I have no idea who Sir Philip Sidney is.  I probably should know, which brings up another thought I had, upon cracking this book — my 11th by Sayers this year (though a few books of short stories, she had published as individual works;  I read them in one large collection.):  I’ve read too much junk in my life.  I was an absolutely voracious reader as a child.  I most loved mysteries, and secondarily, historical fiction, horse stories, and fantasy.  Most of it, just fluff, especially the mysteries, which outnumbered all others at least 4 to 1:  Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, The Three Investigators, Trixie Belden, Encyclopedia Brown…  Not bad, any of it.  But I do wish that my mom (or someone!) had given me just a little bit of direction to broaden my reading horizons, and to challenge me, at least a little bit.*  All that time spent reading, my life could have been immeasurably enriched, instead of just time passed almost compulsively reading just what appealed to my base nature.

The last 5+ years, it’s been my goal to read nothing that isn’t worthwhile.  “Worthwhile” of course, is a matter of personal judgement.  To me, Sue Grafton isn’t worthwhile, but Sayers is.  They probably fall in the same genre, detective fiction.  But they’re worlds — WORLDS! — apart.  Sayers’ works satisfy what seems to be a deep desire in me to solve mysteries, but also satisfies my longing to have my love for (worthwhile!) knowledge grow.  Almost any book that I’m reading where I have to keep a dictionary close at hand, to me, is worthwhile.  Almost any book that

  • stirs some… higher thought

  • sweeps some of the cobwebs from my brain

  • both challenges and confirms the reasons for my Christianity

  • has some profound beauty

  • is thoughtfully written

  • PLUS entertains

 is, IMO, worthwhile.

To me, silly girl that I am, the “entertainment” part is still important, especially when reading a novel.  I mean, I could pull off the shelf any academic, dry book of, say, comparative world religions and it would fit most of my “worthwhile” criteria.  But a novel still needs to entertain, to be absorbing. 

Another lovely thought from Ms. Sayers:

Tall spikes of delphinium against the grey, quiveringly blue like flames, if flame were ever so blue.  


* That’s what I do with my boys, ages 10, 8, and almost-6.  They like when I pick out their library books, as I still almost always do.  I know they have a need for adventure, for pirates and war and the Wild West and survival and mysteries, too.  But, I try to give them a mix of fiction and non-fiction, of books that I know will be a breeze for them, and books that are maybe a little more challenging, which they wouldn’t have thought to pick for themselves, but which, ultimately, they’re glad they’ve read, once finished.  


About Karen Joy

I'm a partially-homeschooling mother of six -- 3 boys ages 19, 17 and 15 years old, and three girls: 11, 8, and 3. I like birding, reading, writing, organic gardening, singing, playing guitar, hiking, the outdoors, and books. I very casually lead a very large group of homeschooling families in the Phoenix area. I have a dear hubby who designs homes for a local home builder and who is the worship pastor of our church. I live in the desert, which I used to hate, but now appreciate.

Posted on August 24, 2007, in Books for children, Books I'm Reading, Christian Living, God/Christianity/Church, Homeschooling, Introspective Musings, Poetry, Writing. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. i always enjoy authors that write or include some verse and lyrics in the story along the way.

  2. I’ve never read anything of hers – I’ll have to look for her stuff.

    I loved what you said at the end about picking stuff for your kids to read. There have been times that my kids have complained about some of the books I’ll pick for them – simply by looking at the cover – but then once they read it they will (sheepishly) admit that they liked it. I love when that happens. 😛

  3. Gosh, that brings some memories back – basically of school where they had them in the senior boys’ library. I read them all – big fat volumes with yellow paper jackets. It was the style and the characters that were so captivating (though I later read that the continuity was frequently hilariously askew – Sayers was also more interested in style and characters than conventional Agatha Christie-style novel-as-jigsaw-puzzle type mysteries). Must read one again to see how they feel nearly thirty years on…

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