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then building their own essay as a response to that conversation, students must instead pour over letters, manuscripts, unpublished talks, annotations in books, videos, etc.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.

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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.

Memories from the Wade Center’s 50th Anniversary

Wade Center's 50th Anniversary Program

The program for the 50th Anniversary of the Marion E. Wade Center and dedication of the Bakke Auditorium, October 29, 2015.

Last year marked an important milestone as the Marion E. Wade Center celebrated its 50th anniversary and completed construction of the Bakke Auditorium. 2015 provided a unique opportunity to look back on memories from the past 50 years, celebrate current achievements, and look ahead to future goals as we continue the Wade Center’s legacy of promoting engagement with the works of our seven authors.

As the 50th anniversary itself now becomes part of the Wade Center’s history, we wanted to share some memories made during that time as friends both old and new came to celebrate the event with us.  Our 50th anniversary website has been updated to include videos and documents from the October 29th program, and we are also pleased to share on our website a selection of photos taken during the event. Photos are courtesy of Maas Photography.

Program participants

Program participants (l to r): G. Walter Hansen, Philip G. Ryken, Lisa Welchert, Lyle W. Dorsett, Marjorie Lamp Mead, Jerry Root, Luci Shaw, Jeannette Bakke, Carolyn Hart, Stan Bakke, William Phemister.

Leading up to the October 29th event the Wade Center sent out a request for shared  memories and reflections of our past 50 years and the influence of our authors. The responses received were numerous, and came from around the world. We have, with the gracious consent of the contributors, posted selections from these tributes on our website to serve as testament to the lives touched already, and as an encouragement as we anticipate the future stories yet untold.

We are thankful for all those who have joined us along the way, and look forward to  continuing the journey with you.

Wade Center front door

The Wade Center on the evening of the 50th Anniversary program, October 29, 2015.

Drama at the BBC: Dorothy L. Sayers and The Man Born to be King, by guest writer Katherine Graber

In honor of the Advent season, Katherine Graber writes on The Man Born to be King by Dorothy L. Sayers, a twelve-play cycle on the life of Christ .


British 1st edition of THE MAN BORN TO BE KING published by Victor Gollancz, 1943.

British 1st edition of THE MAN BORN TO BE KING published by Victor Gollancz, 1943.

Although she is most commonly known today for her Lord Peter Wimsey detective novels, her theological writings, and her translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy, Dorothy L. Sayers also holds the distinction of creating one of the British Broadcasting Corporation’s most celebrated (and controversial) radio dramas, The Man Born to be King. For many twenty-first century listeners, this children’s radio series sounds innocuous enough, but its original ten month run on the BBC’s Children’s Hour program prompted a hailstorm of both indignation and adulation from the British public, ranging from Ulster housewives to the House of Commons.

Today, visitors to the Wade Center can not only listen to the original radio drama from 1942 but also leaf through the published edition of the radio scripts (London: Victor Gollancz, 1943), with a foreword by the series’ producer J.W. (James) Welch describing the radio drama’s controversy. Even more unique, The Man Born to be King archive contains hundreds of letters written from listeners to Dorothy L. Sayers, revealing a wide range of responses to the original broadcasts. This listener correspondence provides a glimpse into why a BBC radio drama for children generated such diverse and heated reaction from war-time Britain.

The Man Born to be King’s beginnings were auspicious enough. In February 1940, James Welch, the BBC’s Director of Religious Broadcasting, commissioned Dorothy L. Sayers to write a twelve-part series depicting the life of Christ; an enterprise riding on the success of her 1938 Nativity radio drama, He That Should Come. An Anglican clergyman, Welch felt a particular concern for the religious education of children and believed the current programming on the Children’s Hour failed both to capture listener interest and convey solid teaching. Welch’s concern was only heightened by the London Blitz, which prompted mass evacuations of children to the countryside, far from their home churches and habitual worship. As Welch envisioned it, this new series could reach unevangelized children as well as provide better spiritual instruction for the five million children who already tuned into the Children’s Hour on Sunday nights. Sayers enthusiastically signed on to Welch’s vision for the program, but added several conditions to her participation. She insisted that this new series would employ the same sort of dramatic realism used in He That Should Come and that she would depict Christ as a character in the drama (a practice not condoned in 1940 by the Lord Chamberlain, who regulated theatre censorship and forbade the depiction of deity on the stage).

Most radically, Sayers decided to adapt the Gospel stories into vernacular idiom, jettisoning familiar biblical language. Rather than lifting passages straight from the long-cherished and familiar Authorised Version Bible, Sayers determined that her first-century characters would speak twentieth-century English vernacular. As Sayers saw it, spiritual malaise was often the result of over-saturation in Scripture, especially the old-fashioned Authorised Version. She later wrote to a listener, “[I]t is heard so often that it becomes merely a task or a boredom, or merely produces no impression attall (sic).” (Letter from Dorothy L. Sayers to Mrs. V. Ackland. n.d. The Man Born to be King Archive, Folder 19. Marion E. Wade Center, Wheaton College, Wheaton, IL.)

Sayers’s decision to replace the exalted and beautiful language of the Authorised Version with every day English was something of a revolutionary choice in war-time Britain, but Welch wholeheartedly agreed that her conditions were necessary. In the foreword to the published version of The Man Born to be King he later wrote, “[T]he language of religion has lost most, and for some people all, of its meaning. Especially was this true of the Authorised Version.” (Welch, J.W. Foreword. The Man Born to be King: A Play-Cycle on the Life of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. By Dorothy L. Sayers (London: Victor Gollancz, 1943), 11.)

BBC microphoneTen days before the first episode of The Man Born to be King aired on December 21, 1941, Sayers read an excerpt from the series at a BBC press conference, which ignited a storm of controversy. Sayers’s reading included dialogue between Matthew the tax collector in which he scolds the disciple Philip in a distinct cockney accent for being cheated out of six drachmas: “Fact is, Philip my boy, you’ve been had for a sucker.” (Ibid., 117)

When the press reported on Sayers’s reading the next morning, the radio drama made headline news. Welch recalled that “Almost all of the journalists who had attended the conference wrote fairly and sympathetically about the new venture; but a few used the occasion for sensational reporting.” (Ibid., 9) In particular, the Daily Herald’s headline proclaimed, “Gangsterisms in Bible Play,” and the Daily Mail described the series as “BBC ‘Life of Christ’ in Slang.” Public outcry against the yet unheard radio drama followed close behind the press release. James Welch himself received a note from the Director General of the BBC describing the controversy: “Two shocks broke on us this past week: Pearl Harbor and The Man Born to be King.” (Kenneth Wolfe, The Churches and the British Broadcasting Corporation, 1922-1956: The Politics of Broadcast Religion, (London: SCM Press, 1984), 226.) The extent and volume of the criticism came as a surprise to Welch, who dispiritedly recalled, “It was not an encouraging reception for a great evangelistic enterprise.” (Welch, Foreword, 10)

Despite shrill protests, The Man Born to be King was released on schedule, airing in twelve installments between December 1941 and October 1942. The series proved so popular that it was rebroadcast during Lent in 1943 and published in book format that same year. In addition to the innumerable children who tuned into the broadcast on Sunday nights, nearly 10% of the British adult population listened as well. (Wolfe, 235) The BBC continued to air the drama series regularly over the next several decades.

The range of responses, both appreciative and outraged, to The Man Born to be King are preserved in the fan mail Sayers received from listeners across the nation. Surprisingly, the majority of the letters are from adult listeners, not children. While Sayers certainly received letters expressing concern or indignation over the radio drama, most listeners expressed enthusiasm. Over and over again, listeners wrote to thank Sayers for making the gospel stories and the figure of Christ “real” to them. Many individuals credited The Man Born to be King for rekindling their interest in the Bible and Christianity. One listener from Leeds wrote to Sayers, “Your new translation enabled light to be shed on many obscure passages, and the ‘really real’ Lord.” (Letter to Dorothy L. Sayers, May 24, 1943. The Man Born to be King Archive, Folder 24.) Some fans of the series admitted losing interest in Christianity as children, citing the Authorised Version Bible and compulsory religious education in school as deterrents to spiritual curiosity. Even the production engineer for The Man Born to be King told Sayers that his own interest in the Scriptures had “wilted with familiarity,” but her vernacular paraphrase had given him new appreciation. (Letter to Dorothy L. Sayers from David Godfrey, October 20, 1942. The Man Born to be King Archive, Folder 24.) One self-professed unbeliever confided to Sayers, “[T]he well-known passages are a familiar echo to me, but I don’t know my Bible …. The main character [Christ] you showed most beautifully and washed clear from my mind those dreadful illustrations I remember as a child.” (Letter to Dorothy L. Sayers from L.R.E. Wingfield Digby, August 15, 1943. The Man Born to be King Archive Folder 22.)

In his foreword to the published scripts, James Welch also recorded listeners’ reactions to hearing the gospel stories in vernacular English, many reinforcing his concern that the Authorised Version Bible could be a spiritual blockade to adults and children alike. “I have long felt that the archaic though beautiful English of the Bible and the Church services constitutes a barrier to their understanding” one woman observed. (Welch, Foreword, 13) Another listener wrote to Sayers, requesting that she write a modern translation of the entire Bible after the success of The Man Born to be King: “I believe you could present the Gospel in a way that would make it live for many people for whom the Authorised Version is a beautiful curtain.” (Letter to Dorothy L. Sayers from Katharine M. Darroch, June 12, 1943. The Man Born to be King Archive Folder 22.)

In the weeks following the initial press reaction, Dorothy L. Sayers attributed the controversy surrounding her radio drama to “religious maniacs,” who displayed “a most alarming amount of fetish worship of the Authorised Version.” (Letter from Dorothy L. Sayers to Dr. William Paton, January 30, 1942. The Man Born to be King Archive Folder 22.) Although Welch’s “great evangelistic enterprise” was intended to target biblically uninformed children, Sayers’s fan mail reveals that many of those who were so affected by the series were often adults, long acquainted with the Bible. While attachment to the familiar words of the Authorised Version was at the heart of the protest against radio drama, it was also central to its success. For many adult listeners, the antiquated language of the Authorised Version had contributed to their apathy toward Scripture. This familiarity with the Authorised Version, however, also served to rekindle interest in the person of Christ, as he was depicted in Sayers’s fresh rendering.  As a result, the “fetish worship of the Authorised Version” Sayers found so alarming was in reality a significant factor in The Man Born to be King’s efficacy, a feat of irony that even a detective novelist would have no choice but to appreciate.


Katherine GraberKatherine Graber is Reference Archivist at the Billy Graham Center Archives at Wheaton College and former Wade Center graduate student worker. She holds a B.A. in English literature from the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a M.A. in History of Christianity from Wheaton College. Katherine is currently pursuing an M.S. in Library and Information Science at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.