Sacred and Secular: Change-Ringing in The Nine Tailors

This is the third and final post in a series written by students in Dr. Christine Colón’s Dorothy L. Sayers literature course at Wheaton College.

Most people have never heard the word “change-ringing” before or, if they have, they have almost no idea what it means. Dorothy L. Sayers, however, in her novel The Nine Tailors exposed the niche interest of bell-ringing to the world, and the novel became one of the lasting icons of the change-ringing society for this very reason. At the Wade Center there is even a whole archive dedicated to change-ringing in which one can learn about the curious people who have been “bitten by the bug” of campanology.

So, for those like myself who before reading The Nine Tailors had no idea what change-ringing is I will provide a quick rundown. The definition provided by the North American Guild of Change Ringers is that change-ringing is:

“a team sport, a highly coordinated musical performance, an antique art, and a demanding exercise that involves a group of people ringing rhythmically a set of tuned bells through a series of changing sequences that are determined by mathematical principles and executed according to learned patterns” (Source: http://nagcr.org/pamphlet.html).

As this definition highlights, ringing bells is an art as much as it is a mathematical formula, and interestingly, the newspaper article, “Factorial Mathematics and the Art of Change Ringing” reveals that those in charge of the change-ringing group at Kalamazoo College are either retired mathematicians or computer software designers.

Why are those so left-brained interested in the art of bell ringing? Well, change-ringing depends upon knowing combinations, permutations, and patterns in order to known when each person should ring their bell. The bells, for their unique combination of being both intellectually and physically challenging while also being musically rewarding, have an intoxicating effect on those who wish to get involved. In the article, the father of change-ringing at Kalamazoo College, Dr. Jefferson Smith, notes, “Not everybody is susceptible to change ringing, but if you can find a student who gets caught up in it, they burn with a hard blue flame” (The Chronicle of Higher Education. September 19, 1997, pp. B10-11. The Change Ringing Archive, Folder 6. Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL).

It’s intriguing that the people who become interested in change-ringing seem to become “foolhardy aficionados” who can’t stay away from the bells; and since the bells are almost always located in a church, what better mission outreach?

This is where we have a unique intersection of the sacred and secular. People who don’t usually attend church now have to in order to ring the bells. And although the ringer might be involved with change-ringing simply for the math or the exercise or the music, it is unavoidable for him/her to partake of the sacred duty of the bells. These duties include calling people to worship and ringing tolls at peoples’ deaths (from tradition this would help the souls ascend to heaven by warding off evil spirits). In The Nine Tailors, the sacred duty of ringing the bells becomes even more pronounced as the bells seem to act as the hand of God enacting judgment on Deacon, an unrepentant criminal. Were the bell-ringers responsible for killing Deacon? To what extent do the ringers get wrapped up in the spiritual nature of the bells?

Brian Ashurst wrote an essay titled, “A Thousand Years of Bells: For centuries their mysterious harmonies have expressed the joy of the Gospel” which delves into the intimate connection between the church and the bells. He goes so far as to say that, “the swinging tower bell stands as a symbol of the church second only to the cross” (The Anglican, 10.38 Summer, 1979. The Change-Ringing Archive, Folder 2. Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.) He tracks the dense history of the bells from their early use in pagan rituals to their association with superstition to their modern use with the church and as a hobby. When talking about the bells today, he recognizes that, “there is a growing enthusiasm in this country [England] for change-ringing, as its mysterious attractions for those outside the church as well as for worshipers are seen to justify the cost and effort put in.” Could Sayers’s novel The Nine Tailors have played a role in this increasing interest in change-ringing? And if so, does this make her novel evangelical?

Even before Sayers had ventured into writing explicitly about the Christian faith, The Nine Tailors may have had missional possibilities simply for its use of change-ringing. Sayers herself would have agreed that any good writing could glorify the Creator even if it isn’t explicitly Christian. This being said, her use of the bells and their inseparableness from the church reinforce this unique meeting place for the sacred and the secular, and thereby, provide an outreach opportunity to all interested in change-ringing.

RachelRachel Post is a senior at Wheaton College studying English Literature and Art History. While taking the Dorothy L. Sayers class, she enjoyed learning how Sayers herself was interested in both art and literature and how she often drew/sketched out images to go along with what she was writing – whether it be a detective novel or religious play. She enjoyed researching in the Wade Center, and finding Sayers’s sketches (often of cats) pop up in her letters with various people!

The Art of Change-Ringing

This is the second in a series of three posts written by students in Dr. Christine Colón’s Dorothy L. Sayers literature course at Wheaton College.

“The art of change-ringing is peculiar to the English, and, like most English peculiarities, unintelligible to the rest of the world.”

– Dorothy L. Sayers, The Nine Tailors

9780151658978-uk-300The year 2004 marked the 70th anniversary of the publication of Dorothy L. Sayers’s novel The Nine Tailors. And this occasion certainly did not go unmarked by a very unique group of nine people. It all began when the Dorothy L. Sayers Society, a large fan base for the author, wanted a special peal of bells rung for the anniversary. In fact, it was to be the Kent Treble Bob Major, the same peal rung on New Year’s Eve by Lord Peter Wimsey and the group of worthy village men for nine hours. The society wanted someone named Tailor to be one of the ringers, just as an extra touch. But here the true devotion of these fans showed through. It was not enough that they were ringing this complicated peal, or even that only one of the ringers was named Tailor. Oh no. Nothing would do, but that each of the nine ringers would be named Tailor, or some variation on the spelling of the name. Remarkably, perhaps the most remarkable part of the whole story, it was done. E-mailing through the bell-ringers e-mail list, they managed to find nine bell-ringers named Tailor/Taylor. In three hours, they managed a neat job of ringing 5,088 changes, ringing on the nine bells of All Saints’ in Basingstoke, Winchester diocese.

When I first came across the article mentioning this story in the Wade Center archives, I was struck by two things: first, that bell-ringers have an e-mail list. Second, that their devotion and the devotion of the Dorothy L. Sayers Society was so great that they would even think to have rung this special peal – let alone in the manner that they did. But this article really speaks to the power and popularity of The Nine Tailors, especially among those few people who are proud to call themselves change-ringers.

Change-ringing is definitely what one would call a niche interest. By definition it is the rhythmic ringing of a set of tuned bells, in a changing sequence set out according to mathematical principals and executed by learning the pattern. But if that’s too much of a mouthful, one could really refer to it as a very loud, very long noise. It combines all the best aspects of a hobby in that it is simultaneously an antique art that has existed for hundreds of years, a highly coordinated musical performance, and a team exercise.

Typically, a peal is done on a set of six to ten bells, more bells meaning more possible permutations and thus longer peals.  Bell-ringing takes a long time to learn and an even longer time to master – ringers who want to ring peals must memorize the distinct patterns that make up the peal, and be able to ring them continuously without error. Those who dedicate a part of their life to learning this craft are likely to find a group of people with whom they can share a lasting friendship.

Outside of the bell-ringing community, virtually nothing is known about the art. In Sayers’s time, the general public would likely have had a better idea of what change- ringing was than readers today, as church bells were still typically used as a call to worship, as an announcement of a death in the community, as a celebration of a holiday or special occasion. This may seem even stranger to readers from the United States, where communities aren’t always built around a church fitted with bells for this purpose. It was in England, not America, where all church bells were silenced during WWII until they could ring in the peace once the war was ended (www.bellringing.org/history/). As I quoted earlier, Sayers notes that change-ringing is “peculiar to the English.”

Even with this being true, The Nine Tailors was a huge dose of publicity for a community that was virtually unknown even in England. According to Sayers herself, her interest in the art was sparked when she picked up a secondhand copy of Troyte’s Change Ringing and saw the immediate possibility for a cipher in a diagram laying out the method for ringing a particular peal. Geoffrey Lee Alan, in an unpublished paper on The Nine Tailors written for the Dorothy L. Sayers Society, speculated on the strange fascination the art must have inspired in Sayers: “She did nothing by halves, and her determination to master an esoteric and, to her, uncongenial discipline speaks volumes for the fascination that the complex numerical patterns of change ringing exercised upon her mind. It is to this determination, this mastery, that The Nine Tailors owes so much of its coherence and power” (Lee, Geoffrey Alan, “Lord Peter Rings the Changes; A Study of Change Ringing in The Nine Tailors.” Hurstpierpoint, West Sussex, England: The Dorothy L. Sayers Society. Unpublished manuscript. Wade Center Article File).

Indeed, one only need look at the reaction of the change-ringers themselves to understand the significance of The Nine Tailors for their community. Sayers received many letters about the book after it was published, and many of those came from different members of the change-ringing community. One admiring campanologist – an individual who studies change-ringing – sent Sayers a letter expressing his admiration and enclosed a pamphlet for a machine he had invented which would work out the mathematical permutations for a peal, once the number of bells and the type of peal had been entered. He also took the liberty of including an itemized list of mistakes he had noticed regarding change-ringing or a peal sequence in the novel – Sayers replied with a vague promise of fixing them in the next edition.

Admiration came even from some of the more distinguished, professional members of the bell-ringing community. On 21 October 1936, Gillet and Johnson, makers of church bells, wrote to Sayers and said,

“As a Bellfounder and also a Bellringer I read your well known book ‘The Nine Tailors’ with unusual interest, and I venture to express my admiration for the skill with which a really stirring story of a murder was interwoven with a faithful picture of a Parish in the Fen District and of the country Parson and, last but not least, with an accuracy of the foibles of change-ringing that would impel one to believe that the authoress was herself a bell ringer.” (Letter from Gillet and Johnson to Dorothy L. Sayers, 21 October 1936. Dorothy L. Sayers Papers Folder 102, p. 6, The Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton, IL).

This, to a woman who had, at that point in her life, never even heard a peal rung! Sayers, as the daughter of a minister, doubtlessly had heard bell-ringing before. But the sheer amount of work involved in memorizing the sequences to be rung and practicing those sequences for a peal means that these impressive feats of bell-ringing are only done on special occasions.

To be considered a peal, there must typically be between 5,000 and 5,280 changes, which can take over four hours to ring. The Kent Treble Bob Major – so named because it was first rung in June of 1774 at Leeds, Kent – has 15,840 changes. In the novel, this takes nine hours – nine hours of endlessly ringing bells. Think about what this must mean for the people on the other end of the ropes! They must control their bells and ring them in their correct sequence. The same person must ring the same bell for the whole peal. Sayers evidently thought this was going too far, as she allows her bell-ringers the scandalous privilege of resting while they ring the Kent Treble Bob Major on New Year’s Eve, by having different people swap places from time to time. This was the worst mistake regarding bell-ringing in the book, if the reaction of bell-ringers in letters is to be believed. (It must be a point of pride for the community). On top of the physical stamina required, the ringers must have the sequences memorized well enough that they will make not a single error – a flawless peal is one of the requirements for recognition from the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers, according to their website.

That the 70th anniversary of the book’s 1934 publication should merit the honor of having such a peal rung speaks to the power of Sayers’s writing, and her understanding of the unique interest of change-ringing. One might think that since they were ringing to commemorate the novel, the nine ringers who rang the 5,088 changes would have given themselves a break the way Sayers gave her characters one. But apparently, these ringers were made of stronger stuff than Lord Peter Wimsey.

Sayers’s immense respect for change-ringing earned her enough respect and love from the bell-ringing community that they would even think to undertake ringing such a peal for her novel, which speaks to how impactful it was for the community.  However, Sayers’s famous wit does not fail to see the ridiculous side to change-ringing. She muses upon how funny practicing for a peal must appear at the beginning of the novel, reflecting that “to any disinterested spectator, peeping in upon the rehearsal, there might have been something a little absurd about the eight absorbed faces; the eight tense bodies poised in a spell-bound circle on the edges of eight dining-room chairs; the eight upraised right hands, decorously wagging the hand-bells upward and downward…” (Sayers, Dorothy L. The Nine Tailors. London: HBJ Book, 1962. Print, p. 18).   

ElenaElena Basiletti is a senior at Wheaton, studying English Literature with a Minor in Studio Art. She thinks one of the most interesting things about going through Sayers’s materials at the Wade Center has been reading the sheer volume of correspondence Sayers was able to keep up with friends, family, or fans – and finding all the hidden gems of humor and wisdom with which she peppered her letters.

Exploring the Wade Center’s Dorothy L. Sayers collections

This is the second in a series of posts reflecting on Dorothy L. Sayers and her detective novel, The Nine Tailors. It is introduced by Dr. Christine Colón, Professor of English, Wheaton College.

A few years ago, the Wheaton College English Department created a Wade Center Authors course that would provide students the opportunity to conduct original research using the Wade Center’s extensive collection of primary materials. In this course, students are required to use these materials as the foundation for a substantial project that offers their audience new insights on the author’s work.

This type of research can be challenging for students since it doesn’t follow the typical pattern for research projects that they have used in many of their other classes. Rather than investigating what scholars have said about a topic and then building their own essay as a response to that conversation, students must instead pour over letters, manuscripts, unpublished talks, annotations in books, videos, etc. to see what catches their fancy and provide them with a starting point to discover something new. Anyone who has done this type of research knows the time that it takes to find something that forms the basis for a worthwhile project.

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Students in Colón’s class researching in the Wade Center Reading Room.

In my version of the course, which focuses on Dorothy L. Sayers, students have a particularly rich collection of materials to work with at the Wade Center, which can be both a blessing and a curse. I can pretty much guarantee that students will eventually discover something interesting, but I can’t guarantee that they will be able to find it quickly. With that in mind, I try to help my students become accustomed to this potentially cumbersome process with a short project that we do early in the semester.

I begin the course with Sayers’s detective novel The Nine Tailors (1934), so we use that as the foundation for our initial research. The Nine Tailors, which is considered by many to be Sayers’s best detective novel, contains a number of interesting avenues for research. The mystery, which revolves around the body of an unknown man discovered in a country churchyard, opens up intriguing questions regarding technique, as Sayers both utilizes and subverts conventions of detective fiction. The mystery also has fascinating theological resonances as Sayers uses a number of coincidences surrounding the death and investigation to encourage her readers as well as her detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, to think about providence and divine justice. And, perhaps most famously, the mystery is embedded in the traditions of bell ringing, which Sayers studied very carefully in order to craft her novel. The title of the novel refers to the tradition of tolling a church bell nine times to indicate the death of a man in a parish, and with it Sayers indicates just how important the bells will be in the mystery that follows.

After reading and discussing many of these issues in class, students then have the opportunity to explore the Wade Center’s collection and see what interesting information they can find that might provide them with new insights. This year, students were challenged to present that information in blog posts for the Wade Center so that they could share their findings with an audience outside of the class. In the posts that follow, three of my students present the results of their research.

View More: http://maasphotography.pass.us/groupsChristine Colón is Associate Professor of English at Wheaton College. She is currently completing a book entitled Writing for the Masses: Dorothy L. Sayers and the Victorian Literary Tradition to be published by Routledge. She will also be presenting three lectures on Sayers for the 2017-2018 Hansen Lectureship entitled Community or Chaos?: Searching for Clues in the Works of Dorothy L. Sayers. All three lectures will be recorded and available for viewing on the Wade website, and eventually published along with faculty responses by InterVarsity Press Academic. The first lecture in this series, “Dorothy L. Sayers’s Vision for Communities of Action” will be given on November 2, 2017.


Following is the first in a series of three posts written by students in Dr. Colón’s Dorothy L. Sayers literature course.

Wimsey’s Character Integrity in The Nine Tailors BBC series
by Carolyn Greco

51P6BMH31HLWhen the BBC decided to make a series based on Sayers’s detective stories, they were faced with the task of portraying Lord Peter Wimsey, Sayers’s detective, on screen. Lord Peter is a pretty steady character throughout the first part of the series, but later, beginning with The Nine Tailors, he undergoes a gradual humanizing process that expands and deepens his character. As a writer, Sayers was always extraordinarily dedicated to preserving the integrity of her characters. In The Mind of the Maker, she speaks of the importance of allowing the characters to develop naturally and freely, without any jarring shifts; and her own writing reflects this principle. As a result, Sayers’s characters are very strong and memorable: respected by her and beloved by the fans. The BBC sought to make its version of Lord Peter consistent with what the fans knew and loved, taking liberties with the plot and exposition instead of with the characters themselves. However, not all movie producers were as thoughtful; some tried to capitalize on the fame of the characters without respecting their integrity, which caused Sayers a lot of trouble when they tried to adapt her work to the screen.

The first movie production of Sayers’s work was The Silent Passenger, produced by Hugh Perceval in 1935. Sayers was contracted to write a short story from which the company would create a script, which Sayers would then edit. She wrote the story, sent it in, and waited. After repeatedly pestering the producers, she finally got a look at the script – and what a script it was! “They have . . . turned Wimsey into a kind of Gaiety-Bar lounger,” she complained, instead of the “straight high-comedy part on the ‘great gentleman’ lines that I have tried to lay down for him.” She wrote back to the producers, demanding that they change Peter’s character back so that it matched that of the books, or else remove his name and hers from the production. “I have included a character sketch” she said, “of Wimsey’s character as he is known and genuinely beloved by thousands of people” (Letter from Dorothy L. Sayers to Peter Haddon, March 23, 1935. The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers: 1899-1936: The Making of a Detective Novelist, p. 346). Haddon, the young actor who played Peter Wimsey in the film, was sympathetic to Sayers and sought to help her protect her characters. Sayers, in turn, was grateful for his support and determined struggle against the producers to preserve Peter’s character.

It is always something of a shock to see the characters that we know and love from books portrayed on screen. However, it is obviously impossible for a movie to meet the expectations of every member of the audience. When I first saw the 1974 BBC series of The Nine Tailors, the thing that stood out the most to me was the change in exposition: the initial burglary is committed on screen and several important clues are given away at the very beginning. Additionally, Peter seemed much more confident and intellectually invincible than I remembered his portrayal from the book. The Nine Tailors, as Sayers wrote it, represented the beginning of a shift in her writing. She wanted to ennoble the genre of detective fiction by writing books that combined well-crafted mysteries with more serious themes and character development. Thus, Peter himself begins to develop more as a character in The Nine Tailors and in the books that come after it; he loses his untouchable veneer and shows himself to be extraordinarily human. The humanization is a prerequisite for his marriage with Harriet Vane, whom he saves from execution in Strong Poison. Sayers, with her devotion to character integrity, saw that Peter and Harriet, as they were at the end of Strong Poison, would not marry each other; and so she went through the slow, painful process of developing them and letting their relationship grow naturally. In this way, Harriet was the main cause of Peter’s transformation.

81aLj1zlrRL._SY445_In the BBC series, however, Ian Carmichael plays Peter very much as he appeared in Sayers’s early books. Does the BBC, by portraying him like this, disrespect Sayers’s desire to maintain her characters’ integrity? Not necessarily. First of all, viewers instantly recognized in Carmichael the Wimsey they knew and loved from the books. “There’s little doubt that Ian Carmichael was born to play society super-sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey,” says one critic (yvettecandraw.blogspot.com). Sayers’s main problem with the original script of The Silent Passenger was that it altered the characters so that they were virtually unrecognizable. However, the Peter in the BBC show is consistent with the Peter from the earlier books; though he does play this part a bit more seriously than in his previous episodes, becoming, in the words of Amazon reviewer F. Behrens, “far less Bertie Woosterish.” In addition, the added flashbacks make Peter a more relatable and human character, creating a similar effect to that of the book without substantially changing his character.

Although the BBC gives us new insights into his history, this is virtually the same Peter portrayed all along: the smart, dashing, detached detective. This, in a way, shows respect for the integrity of his character. They kept his character constant through all five of their movies. Their series dealt with Peter’s detective arc, not his romantic arc; therefore, the character development that Sayers gave him to make him a suitable partner for Harriet would have been out of place in the Harriet-less TV series. Although their portrayal of Peter is different from that in the book, it is constant with the character they have created for him and which was shown in the earlier books. Instead of showing Peter change and become more human, they invite the audience to witness scenes from his past, making him more relatable and creating a greater sympathy for him. Thus, paradoxically, these subtle changes to the structure of the story demonstrate a greater respect for Peter’s character integrity than just mindlessly copying the scenes and dialogue from the book. In this way, the BBC has created a recognizable, consistent character, who is different from the Peter Wimsey of the Nine Tailors book simply because he lacks the catalyst for development – Harriet Vane. Instead, the deepening of his character comes from the added flashbacks, which maintain his character integrity while allowing the audience more access into his past life.

carolyn.jpgCarolyn Greco is a senior at Wheaton College majoring in English Literature. She likes Sayers’s clear insight and her sense of humor.

The Nine Tailors by Dorothy L. Sayers: The Creation of a Detective Novel

This blog post begins a series of posts reflecting on Dorothy L. Sayers and her detective novel, The Nine Tailors. The Marion E. Wade Center co-authored this post with Seona Ford and Jasmine Simeone, Chair and Secretary, respectively, of the Dorothy L. Sayers Society.

It was during her time working for an advertising agency in the early 1920s that Dorothy L. Sayers first decided to try her hand at writing a crime novel. Detective fiction writing was a popular enterprise at the time, and Sayers’s first novel Whose Body? appeared in 1923. Her efforts writing detective novels earned her success, the financial and creative freedom to become a full-time writer, and secured her place among the great authors of detective fiction. She wrote 11 novels featuring her aristocratic detective, Lord Peter Wimsey. One of the most highly acclaimed novels in the series, declared a masterpiece by connoisseurs of the genre, is The Nine Tailors which was first published in 1934.

nine-tailors

The Nine Tailors is considered a great work not just because it is a well-written piece of prose, or an inventive and original story, or because it includes well-loved characters old and new, or because it is well-structured, or because it documents a time gone by. It is all of these things, but it is also an exciting and very readable story which stands the test both of chronological time and also in the sense that it can be re-read many times and still offer something new to the reader.

Jim Kelly, in questions following his Dorothy L. Sayers Annual Lecture in 2008 (reported in Sidelights Volume LVIII & published by The Dorothy L. Sayers Society), mentioned the intriguing idea that the structure of the story is more like that of a bow tie: it starts in the middle of the story and progresses outwards, returning to the middle again to end it. In this sense Sayers is an innovator in the way she crafted this novel. Kelly also notes that this is a striking story where the landscape is a character in itself, and it would not, he says, be giving too much away to say that in the end “The Fens did it.”

The book takes as its core supposition the idea that in an English country village each person has his/her own place: as in the course of bells in a peal where each bell has its place. If a bell rings out of place it throws the whole peal into a cacophony of noise. Similarly, if a villager behaves out of place, does something to upset the quiet order, then the whole structure falls apart. This makes the book an especially historically perfect record because as the remnants of the village men returned from the First World War, often having gone together as whole platoons under the command of their local Lord, and returning with holes in their order caused by the fallen, they found that their village had to change to accommodate first the absent men and then the losses. Village life in England would never be the same again, and in the 1920s when this book was set, the age-old village was in its death throes. Sayers knew from first-hand experience what the structure of an English village was like before World War I as her home in the Fens was in such a location. Her father, Henry Sayers, was the vicar at the local church which functioned as the center of the community; a role which church buildings continue to embody in English villages today even if the church is not much used.

Upon reading an advanced copy of The Nine Tailors, fellow Wade author Charles Williams wrote to publisher Victor Gollancz in late 1933 exclaiming: “Your Dorothy Sayers …! Present her some time with my profoundest compliments. It’s a marvelous book … The end is unsurpassable. (I dare say I exaggerate, but I’ve only just finished it and I’m all shaken!).” (Reynolds, Barbara. Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul, New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993, p. 242)

DVD-CoverIn The Nine Tailors the fictional village church Fenchurch St Paul plays a critical part in the story, as does the art of change ringing. Indeed, the great bells of the church are almost characters in their own right. Architect David Collins, in cooperation with the Dorothy L. Sayers Society, has created a Virtual Tour of the church with photographs, architectural drawings, and extensive notes. A wonderful complement to The Nine Tailors, this creative visual tour is available for purchase as a CD directly from the Dorothy L. Sayers Society , and will enhance your enjoyment of the novel. The Wade Center also has a number of resources relating to The Nine Tailors for visitors to explore:


The Dorothy L. Sayers Society was founded in February 1976 to promote the life, works, and thoughts of Dorothy L. Sayers. It began after some members of Witham and the Countryside Society fought a fierce and effective battle to stop the demolition of a little row of houses in the late 1960s, which included the home where Sayers died in 1957. The Bulletin of the Society began publication in March 1976 and continues to be published every two months; sent to a worldwide membership of about 500 persons with about half in the UK and the other half divided between the USA and Europe. There are members as far as New Zealand and Australia, Japan, Russia, India and Singapore. Each year the Society celebrates the anniversary of a book or play, and on June 13th remembers Sayers’s birthday. Membership is welcome to all who enjoy her work. Details may be found on the Society Website and through the Society’s presence on Facebook and Twitter.

The Marion E. Wade Center has had strong and valued connections with the Dorothy L. Sayers Society from its very earliest years, when Dr. Clyde S. Kilby, Wade founder, helped the fledgling group by overseeing subscriptions from American members. We are very grateful for the significant contributions the Society has made to Sayers scholarship as well as the numerous ways the Society helps readers experience greater delight and understanding of her writings. If you already enjoy Sayers’s books or would simply like to learn more about Dorothy L. Sayers and her diverse works, we warmly encourage you to join the Sayers Society.

Announcing VII Volume 32

We are pleased to announce the release of VII Volume 32, the Wade Center’s annual journal. Beginning with this issue, the title of our publication has changed from Seven: An Anglo-American Literary Review to VII: Journal of the Marion E. Wade Center. (See the end of this post for more on the name change.) This volume of VII highlights influences on the Wade authors, particularly the importance of family, friendship, and career background. Crystal Hurd provides new insight and background information on C.S. Lewis’s relationship with his father, Albert Lewis. William Howard takes a closer look at the supportive friendship between George MacDonald and Lady Byron, the wife of poet Lord Byron. And Christine Fletcher examines Dorothy L. Sayers’s career in the advertising industry.

The relationship Albert Lewis had with his sons Warren (Warnie) and Clive (Jack) was complex, as is a common occurrence between parents and children. Albert’s good intentions as a father were sometimes misunderstood and often poked fun at by his two sons. In her profile on Albert Lewis, Crystal Hurd analyzes Albert’s motivations and the mid-Victorian tendencies that influenced his parenting. She explores several misunderstandings that caused Jack to have little affection for his father, including Albert’s choice of boarding school for Jack, his lack of visits during Jack’s wartime leave during WWI, and other father-son issues.

Warren, Albert, and C.S. Lewis, ca. 1908.

Warren, Albert, and C.S. Lewis, ca. 1908.

Hurd takes a look at a previously unpublished transcription of Albert’s sayings from the Wade’s C.S. Lewis manuscript collection (CSL / MS-94) as captured and caricatured by Warnie and Jack. The collection of sayings was titled The Pudaita Pie by the Lewis brothers, and refers to Albert’s “low” Irish pronunciation of the word “potato” (Kilby and Mead 8). It contains 100 personal and anecdotal comments gathered by both sons over the course of eight years along with an introduction by C.S. Lewis. The collection provides further insight into Albert’s personality, including his tendency to speak in confident statements on both trivial and significant matters:

33. Albert once pronounced that Birmingham was one of the most beautiful cities in England. However, when asked if he had ever visited, he replied he had not. (Paraphrase of statement inscribed by C.S. Lewis)

44. On hearing of any civil commotions, his usual comment was: “Aye! Well a whiff of grapeshot would soon settle that.” (Warren Lewis = inscriber)

In William Howard’s piece, he examines the origins of George MacDonald’s friendship with Lady Byron. His article relates MacDonald’s reaction to an account of the disintegration of the Byrons’ marriage presented to the press upon her death in 1860. Howard illuminates the touching nature of MacDonald’s friendship to Byron during a trying time. Howard also provides context into how Lady Byron’s other friends, including Harriet Beecher Stowe, reacted to the ending of the Byrons’ marriage.

Christine M. Fletcher guides us through Sayers’s advertising career and shows us how it influenced her ideas on creativity, good work, and the dangers of consumerism. This experience in the advertising industry was formative in the life of Dorothy L. Sayers. It not only helped provide financial support for the young writer, but it was also part of the world she created in her detective novels. (Dr. Fletcher’s talk given at the Wade Center in 2013 on “Theology in Wartime: Dorothy L. Sayers and C.S. Lewis” is also available on our website.)

Volume 32 also includes other articles on Lewis, Williams, and the Inklings. Remembrances in the issue honor Dr. Barbara Reynolds, a founding editor of VII; David Gresham, C.S. Lewis’s stepson; David Neuhouser, founder of the Center for the Study of C.S. Lewis and Friends at Taylor University; and Bruce L. Edwards, a foremost Lewis scholar and a mentor to many.

VII also celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Wade Center with the poem specially written by poet Luci Shaw to commemorate this milestone in the life of the Wade. Several photos from the celebration on October 29 accompany the poem.

vii-newcoverThe longtime VII reader will also note the updated subtitle of the journal. As scholarship on the seven Wade authors has grown and deepened over the past half century, there has been increased interest in the works of these authors worldwide. When Dr. Clyde S. Kilby, Dr. Barbara Reynolds, and Dr. Beatrice Batson founded VII in 1980, the majority of work being done on these authors was coming from Great Britain and the United States. The desire at that time was to strengthen ties between these groups of scholars, hence the name VII: An Anglo-American Literary Review. However, now with an increasingly international readership in mind, the subtitle no longer applies; thus, as of this volume of VII, the name was changed to VII: Journal of the Marion E. Wade Center in order to more adequately reflect the truly global readership and scholarship on these seven authors.

Please visit the VII website for more information about this volume and back issues. Note that beginning with Volume 31, VII is now available for purchase online.

Rates:
Individual (bought at Wade Center): $14.00 (plus tax)
Individual (shipped in U.S.): $18.00
Individual (shipped International): $29.00
Libraries (U.S.): $35
Libraries (International): $50

Works Cited:
Kilby, Clyde S., and Marjorie Lamp Mead. Brothers and Friends: The Diaries of Major Warren Hamilton Lewis. New York: Ballantine, 1988.

Frances Alice Blogg Chesterton: G.K. Chesterton’s Remarkable Wife, by guest writer Nancy Carpentier Brown

Gilbert and Frances ca. 1904. This photo is property of the Marion E. Wade Center and may not be used without permission.

Gilbert and Frances ca. 1904. This photo is property of the Marion E. Wade Center and may not be used without written permission. Click image to enlarge.

From the beginning, faith was a part of the relationship of Gilbert and Frances Chesterton. As a young man Gilbert Keith Chesterton, journalist and Marion E. Wade Center author, was interested in Christianity, but never knew anyone who actually practiced it. His future wife Frances read the Bible and taught Sunday school. She attended services faithfully each weekend. Besides that, she visited the sick, took care of the elderly, and served the poor in her neighborhood. She wasn’t just paying lip service to Christianity—she was living it. This attracted the young author, and intrigued him—as she intrigues us. It is often interesting to discover more about a famous writer by getting to know their spouse. Who was this remarkable woman?

Francis Alice Blogg Chesterton

Francis Alice Blogg Chesterton. Drawing by  Alfred Priest, ca. 1906. Click image to enlarge.

Frances Alice Blogg was a shy Victorian girl, the eldest in her family. She was born June 28, 1869 and raised in London, a city girl who discovered she loved gardening and country living. Her mother believed in modern education, and sent Frances and her sisters to the very first kindergarten in London.

After Frances attended primary school, she was sent to a high school for girls that operated along academic lines to prepare the girls for higher education. This was novel in the late 1800s, and Frances’s younger sister Gertrude was one of the first of a group of students to sit for the Cambridge Examinations. While she was in high school, Frances began writing poetry.

“How far is it to Bethlehem?
Not very far.
Shall we find the stable room
Lit by a star? . . .

God in his mother’s arms,
Babes in the byre,
Sleep, as they sleep who find
Their heart’s desire.”

– First and last verses of Frances Chesterton’s poem
How Far Is It To Bethlehem

Frances took after her mother in being drawn to the educational field, and after high school she attended college to become a teacher. It was during her time at this school, St. Stephens College, run by the Anglican Clewer Sisters of St. John, that Frances became a devout Christian. The daily routines of mass and the prayer life there were congenial to Frances, and she adopted devotional practices then that would last her lifetime.

After college Frances tutored students for a few years, and then took a job in 1895 at an educational institution called the Parent’s National Educational Union (P.N.E.U.) run by Charlotte Mason. Frances became the organization’s general secretary and administrator. She planned conferences, organized a lending library, took notes at meetings, gave speeches, edited their newsletters and magazines, and kept track of expenses. Frances worked for the P.N.E.U. for five and a half years, from 1895 until she married Gilbert in 1901.

Frances and Gilbert ca. 1898-1900. This photo is property of the Marion E. Wade Center and may not be used without permission.

Frances and Gilbert ca. 1898-1900. This photo is property of the Marion E. Wade Center and may not be used without written permission. Click image to enlarge.

Frances’s family lived in London’s first suburb called Bedford Park. It was a bohemian neighborhood, filled with artists, poets, socialists and communists. Frances’s mother, now a widow, loved the atmosphere. The Blogg family entered fully into the life of the neighborhood, and started their own debate club, called the I.D.K. Debating Society. (When members were asked what the initials stood for, they were to shrug their shoulders and say, “I Don’t Know.”) Lucian Oldershaw heard of this club through a friend and began visiting the interesting family with the hope of courting one of the beautiful sisters he found living there.

Oldershaw, along with Gilbert Chesterton, Edmund Clerihew Bentley, and many of their other school friends had started their own debate club back at St. Paul’s when the boys attended that institution. He told Chesterton about the Blogg’s debate club, and indicated that there were three attractive sisters in the household. And so it was that Chesterton went visiting one day at the Bedford Park home and met Frances Blogg.

A short time afterwards they were engaged, and in 1901 they married. Frances became Gilbert’s secretary, as well as his marketer, organizer, and biggest fan. It was said that things Chesterton said one day, Frances repeated the next day—not because she was blindly following, but because she believed he was right. Although they were never able to have children, the Chestertons hosted numerous children at their home in Beaconsfield, were very close to their nieces and nephews, and counted over 25 godchildren.

When Gilbert first met Frances, he was just coming out of a dark chapter in his life. Raised a Unitarian, Chesterton had dabbled in Spiritualism and later sunk into despair, not knowing where he could find certainty in life. He had held on, he said, with “one thin thread of thanks;” trusting there was a God, but not much more. At that moment he met Frances. She introduced him to the Trinity, and most importantly, to the person of Jesus Christ. The author would credit her afterwards with his conversion in the dedication of his epic poem, The Ballad of the White Horse, by saying:

“Therefore I bring these rhymes to you
Who brought the cross to me.”

Within a few years of their marriage, Frances would suffer her own crisis of faith when her brother committed suicide. In her distress and grief she sought the advice of a spiritual medium. While Frances sat with the medium, Gilbert composed a poem expressing his frustration with her choice, and reminding his wife of the faith which had been strong enough to convert him.

“I saw it; low she lay as one in dreams,
And round that holy hair, round and beyond
My Frances, my inviolable, screamed
The scandal of the dead men’s demi-monde.”

– G.K. Chesterton, “The Crystal”

Frances repented, and never sought this kind of advice again.

And so would the remainder of their marriage go: Frances helping Gilbert out of a depression or over an illness, and then Gilbert helping Frances in the same way. They were two lovers who needed each other very much, who helped each other, wrote love poems to each other all their married life; and prayed with and for each other, sometimes with hands twined together. This was the key to their relationship: their shared faith. It was the force which kept them together for 35 years, until Chesterton’s death in 1936. This remarkable woman, Frances Chesterton, kept Gilbert grounded, and was in all ways his helpmate. He could not have written all he did without her support, encouragement, and prayers.

Gilbert and Frances, 1930. This photo is property of the Marion E. Wade Center and may not be used without permission.

Gilbert and Frances, 1930. This photo is property of the Marion E. Wade Center and may not be used without written permission.

To learn more about Frances and G.K. Chesterton, visit the Reading Room and view the resources at the Marion E. Wade Center at Wheaton College.


Nancy Carpentier BrownNancy Carpentier Brown is the author of two works concerning Frances Chesterton, both books researched extensively at the Wade Center. How Far Is It To Bethlehem, the Plays and Poetry of Frances Chesterton (2012) contains all the known writings of Frances Chesterton, and The Woman Who Was Chesterton (2015) is the only full-length biography of Mrs. Gilbert Keith Chesterton. Brown won the Kilby Research Grant for her work related to Frances Chesterton in 2011.

cover-howfarisittobethlehemThe Woman who was Chesterton

The Ken and Jean Hansen Lectureship

Last November the Wade Center welcomed a new era of public programming and scholarship with the launch of the Ken and Jean Hansen Lectureship. The lectureship is an annual faculty lecture series named in honor of former Wheaton College Trustee Ken Hansen and his wife Jean, and endowed in their memory by Walter and Darlene Hansen. Each academic year three lectures will be presented by a Wheaton College faculty member on one or more of the Wade Center authors. The 2015-2016 lectureship series features Wheaton College President Philip G. Ryken and the topic: The Messiah Comes to Middle-earth: Images of Christ’s Threefold Office in The Lord of the Rings.

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At the inaugural lecture on November 12, 2015, Walter Hansen shared how some of the works of the Wade authors influenced the life of his family:

“While I was still in college, [my parents Ken and Jean] took an evening course on Lewis and Tolkien with Clyde Kilby. The class was limited to nine students so that they could meet in Dr. Kilby’s living room. Martha served tea and cookies. My parents were avid readers, collectors and promoters of the books of the Inklings. They hosted a book club in their living room led by Dr. Kilby to read and discuss the books of the Inklings. When they moved to Santa Barbara in 1977, they named their home Rivendell. … Our family treasures memories of our times at Rivendell, highlighted by storytelling. Our conversations were often laced with images and quotes from the stories of the Inklings. … The purpose of the Hansen Lectureship is to enjoy the great literature of the Seven so that we can escape from the prison of our self-centeredness, see with other eyes, feel with other hearts, and be equipped for practical and heroic deeds in real life.”

Walter & Darlene Hansen with Dr. Jennifer McNutt (faculty respondent) and President Philip G. Ryken on the night of the second Hansen lecture, February 4, 2016.

Walter & Darlene Hansen with Dr. Jennifer McNutt (faculty respondent) and President Philip G. Ryken on the night of the second Hansen lecture, February 4, 2016.

It is the hope of the Wade Center as well that these lectures will serve as a new way to connect others with the works of our seven authors. For those unable to attend in person, lecture content is available on the Wade Center’s YouTube channel, and each series will also be published in book form.

President Ryken’s three talks for the 2015-2016 lecture series are:

Through each lecture Ryken examines how the personhood and nature of Christ’s three offices (prophet, priest, and king) are manifested in the characters and storyline of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings. He commented on this approach in his second lecture:

281A8664“To see images of the Messiah in Middle-earth is one way to see the significance of The Lord of the Rings, and we can do this without mistakenly treating the novel as an allegory. … If Gandalf, Frodo, and Aragorn remind us in various ways of Jesus Christ, it is not because the novelist had this explicitly in mind. It is rather because the biblical worldview so thoroughly penetrated his imagination that inevitably it pervaded his literary art. So when, for example, Tolkien had a character bear a heavy burden for the sake of a kingdom, it was only natural for him to have that burden shared by a fellowship of love that reminds us of the priesthood of all believers.”

A look over the crowd at the February 4, 2016 lecture.

A look over the crowd at the February 4, 2016 lecture.

Following each lecture, a Wheaton College faculty respondent shares a brief reflection on the lecture and then, along with Dr. Ryken, facilitates a question and answer session with the audience. The faculty respondents for the first lecture series are:

Dr. Sandra Richter, President Ryken, and Walter Hansen following the November 12, 2015 Hansen Lecture.

Dr. Sandra Richter, President Ryken, and Walter Hansen following the November 12, 2015 Hansen Lecture.

These responses provide an opportunity for a conversational approach to the lecture material, often from a different field of expertise, and allow for additional points of dialogue and perspective. The first two lectures and faculty respondents have provided enjoyable and stimulating evenings with the Bakke Auditorium full of attenders; between 130 and 150 people were in attendance at each talk.

In the next few years, we look forward to the following Hansen lecture series with Wheaton College faculty:

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Dr. Timothy Larsen will present three lectures on George MacDonald for the 2016-2017 Hansen Lectureship.

  • 2016-2017: Dr. Timothy Larsen, Carolyn and Fred McManis Professor of Christian Thought, Wheaton College. Topic: “The Rose Fire: George MacDonald in the Age of Miracles”
  • 2017-2018: Dr. Christine Colón, Associate Professor of English, Wheaton College. Topic: Dorothy L. Sayers
  • 2018-2019: Dr. Jerry Root, Associate Professor; Director of Wheaton Evangelism Initiative, Billy Graham Center for Evangelism, Wheaton College. Topic: C.S. Lewis

If you would like to be notified of upcoming Hansen lectures, and other Wade Center events, you may sign up for email announcements on our contact page.

We hope you will join us for our last Hansen lecture by President Ryken on March 31 at 7pm: “The Coronation of Aragorn Son of Arathorn” with faculty respondent Dr. William Struthers, Professor of Psychology, Wheaton College.


Photos used in this post are courtesy of Maas Photography.