Sunday, January 14, 2024

Telling the story

C.S. Lewis on Dorothy L. Sayers, mystery author:
Prigs have put it about that Dorothy in later life was ashamed of her "tekkies" and hated to hear them mentioned. A couple of years ago my wife asked her if this was true and was relieved to hear her deny it. She had stopped working in that genre because she felt she had done all she could with it. And indeed, I gather, a full process of development had taken place. I have heard it said that Lord Peter is the only imaginary detective who ever grew up — grew from the Duke's son, the fabulous amorist, the scholar swashbuckler, and connoisseur of wine, into the increasingly human character, not without quirks and flaws, who loves and marries, and is nursed by, Harriet Vane. Reviewers complained that Miss Sayers was falling in love with her hero. On which a better critic remarked to me, "It would be truer to say she was falling out of love with him; and ceased fondling a girl's dream — if she had ever done so — and began inventing a man."

There is in reality no cleavage between the detective stories and her other works. In them, as in it, she is first and foremost the craftsman, the professional. She always saw herself as one who has learned a trade, and respects it, and demands respect for it from others. ...

As the detective stories do not stand quite apart, so neither do the explicitly religious works. She never sank the artist and entertainer in the evangelist. The very astringent (and admirable) preface to The Man Born to Be King, written when she had lately been assailed with a great deal of ignorant and spiteful obloquy, makes the point of view defiantly clear. "It was assumed," she writes, "that my object in writing was 'to do good.' But that was in fact not my object at all, though it was quite properly the object of those who commissioned the plays in the first place. My object was to tell that story to the best of my ability, within the medium at my disposal — in short, to make as good a work of art as I could. For a work of art that is not good and true in art is not true and good in any other respect." ....
C.S. Lewis "A Panegyric for Dorothy L. Sayers," On Stories and Other Essays on Literature, 1966.

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