Energy, Reason, and a Twinkle in Her Eye

In her lifetime, she counted among her friends T.S. Eliot, Charles Williams, and C.S. Lewis, and after her death, she still holds the devotion of millions of mystery fans, as well as Christians who want the faith explained with energy, reason, and a twinkle in the eye.

Dorothy Sayers was an Oxford-educated apologist, a mystery writer, an ad woman, and translated Dante. Now that's quite a varied resume.

She created a successful ad campaign for Colman's mustard by writing stories about the fictional members of the "Mustard Club." She created the wonderful character Lord Peter Wimsey, an aristocratic crime solver. (One of my cats is named after the character Wimsey eventually married, Harriet Vane – who was modeled autobiographically.)

Sayers wrote about the value of classical education in "The Lost Tools of Learning," which has influenced many classical schools today. She wrote about theology and apologetics in a very down-to-earth way. 

She wrote in terms that were at once uncompromising, learned, and humorous. Concerning the problem of evil, one of the thorniest theological dilemmas, for example, she refused to get swallowed up in vague abstractions:

"'Why doesn't God smite this dictator dead?' is a question a little remote from us," says one of the characters in The Man Born to Be King. "Why, madam, did he not strike you dumb and imbecile before you uttered that baseless and unkind slander the day before yesterday? Or me, before I behaved with such cruel lack of consideration to that well-meaning friend? And why, sir, did he not cause your hand to rot off at the wrist before you signed your name to that dirty little bit of financial trickery?"

She drew a line under the tendency to frame the problem of evil in terms of evil out there, rather than why God doesn't stop us from the evil we're happy to commit. In her essay "The Greatest Drama Ever Staged," she wrote about God's final answer to evil – in Jesus, through the Incarnation, God "took His own medicine." Jesus suffered and then triumphed over evil to deal with it for good. 

Finally, after falling in love with Dante's Divine Comedy, she translated it "to help more readers delight in his great work."

You can read more about Dorothy Sayers here.


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Melinda Penner