The Remarkable Dorothy L. Sayers – page 3


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From the Summer 2018 issue of Knowing & Doing:

The Remarkable Dorothy L. Sayers

by Lindsey Scholl, Ph.D.
Educator and Writer, Trinity Classical School

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The Christian

  Sayers seems to have fallen in love with the idea of writing drama before she became excited about writing specifically Christian drama. Busman’s Honeymoon was due to turn into a stage production when the dean of Canterbury Cathedral asked her to write a play to be performed in the church. Her predecessors for an invitation of this caliber were no less than T.S. Eliot and Charles Williams.7 She cautiously accepted the offer, and the result was a performance titled The Zeal of Thy House, in which Sayers uses a twelfth-century workaholic to explore the twin themes of quality craftsmanship and excessive pride. The play was popular, and Sayers found herself asked over and over about her Christianity. Her answers were pugnacious rather than personal, and she eventually put her thoughts into a Sunday Times article titled “The Greatest Drama Ever Staged Is the Official Creed of Christendom.” Dorothy L. Sayers, best-selling detective novelist and literary celebrity, had stated her faith in no uncertain terms. That the article caused a stir was, in Sayers’s opinion, not a compliment to the state of Christianity. What a tragedy that the Christian world was enraptured by “the spectacle of a middle-aged female detective-novelist admitting publicly that the judicial murder of God might compete in interest with the corpse in the coal hole.”8
  Nevertheless, Sayers had hit upon a thesis that was to drive both her fiction and nonfiction Christian works. Christianity was interesting and not only interesting; it was the best story ever told. This was not a new idea to Christendom, as anyone familiar with G.K. Chesterton knows, but Sayers gave it a twist. If the story of Christianity really was the most remarkable of tales, and if Jesus was a dangerous firebrand, then it was the responsibility of Christians to keep the romance alive. Yet the opposite had happened. Overuse of ecclesiastical language, stale curates, and excessive talk of Christ being meek and mild had made the Lion of Judah boring. She was blunt on this point. “Nobody cares…nowadays that Christ was ‘scourged, railed upon, buffeted, mocked and crucified’ because all those words have grown hypnotic with ecclesiastical use.” But if one wrote that Christ was “spiked upon the gallows like an owl on a barn-door,” this would not only get people’s attention, it would recall what actually happened to Him.9
  Sayers had a chance to work out her thesis further with a BBC radio serial on the life of Christ. Her efforts to make Christ’s story more accessible, however, did not go unopposed. The Man Born to Be King involved a furious exchange of letters between Sayers and the BBC. Sayers had maintained that the apostles and Christ were to speak like regular persons and not “talk Bible … even at the risk of a little loss of formal dignity,” whereas the BBC was anxious to avoid unnecessary controversy.10 Sayers won most of the skirmishes, and the result was a lively radio drama in which Jesus speaks like a normal person, the apostle Matthew has a cockney accent, and the apostle Philip has no business sense. A snippet from the beginning of the fourth broadcast is a good indicator of Sayers’s style. Philip has just been cheated out of some money, and the apostles are unhappy with him.


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