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.

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.

 

The Seven Literary Sages Christian History Issue: A closer look with Jennifer Woodruff Tait

ChristianHistory_2015The “Seven Literary Sages” Christian History issue 113 was released early in 2015 in honor of the Wade Center’s 50th anniversary, features the seven authors of the Wade Center, and highlights their continuing relevance to significant issues facing our world today. We have heard from many readers how much they enjoyed the issue, including  Dr. Leland Ryken, Professor of English Emeritus at Wheaton College, who comments: “This issue of Christian History is the best brief introduction to the Wade authors that exists. Its photographs are a feast to the eyes.  The accumulated information and insights are a treasure trove.”

Jennifer Woodruff Tait, managing editor of Christian History and Wade author enthusiast, graciously offers “Off the Shelf” readers some of her reflections on the “Seven Literary Sages” issue and its significance in her own life. Our thanks also go to Jennifer for the editorial expertise and creative work she contributed to make this issue such a success.


On November 22, 2013, C.S. Lewis was formally “installed” into Poets’ Corner at Westminster Abbey, gaining a memorial stone there along with such luminaries of British literature as Chaucer, Shakespeare, Byron, Dickens, Austen, the Brontë sisters, T.S. Eliot, and W.H. Auden. The service was dignified; the organ thundered; the choir sang. I was there. My husband, kids, and I spent the days before the service joining fellow Lewis enthusiasts at a meeting of the Oxford C.S. Lewis Society, a tour of the Kilns (Lewis’s home, now a museum), and a symposium on Lewis’s works and worth.

On the way home, we visited Dublin, Ireland and attended the Sunday morning worship service at Trinity College. There I met a woman who became interested in our trip to the Lewis memorial. She obviously knew of Lewis’s status as a British author and had seen the movie Shadowlands. But she was puzzled by my being there on behalf of a Christian magazine. “Was Lewis particularly religious?” she asked.

And I wondered: Though Christians have valued his work for decades, how much did Lewis and his friends and mentors change the society around them? What legacy did they leave to the modern secular world?

That question was part of the reason I was in Oxford and London. I was covering the memorial celebration for issue 113 of Christian History magazine, which was dedicated to the seven authors whom the Wade Center collects. Released in conjunction with the 50th anniversary of the Wade Center, we called the magazine “Seven Literary Sages: Why We Still Need Their Wisdom Today.” It told the story of how those “Seven Sages” took on secularists, materialists, and modernizers with their weapon of choice: the pen.

With the assistance of the Wade we assembled a lineup of knowledgeable scholars: Suzanne Bray, Matthew Dickerson, Crystal and David Downing, Colin Duriez, Brian Horne, Kirstin Jeffrey Johnson, Alister McGrath, Michael Ward, Ralph Wood, and Edwin Woodruff Tait. They explained to our readers in fresh and entertaining ways how the Seven Sages expressed a vision for society in areas ranging from economics to education to the environment; a vision for Christian literature in their powerfully moving treatments of goodness and self-sacrifice; and a vision for discipleship in their pictures of love in community. They also emphasized how millions read their books and by those books were inspired, by the help of God’s grace, to create art, practice goodness, and seek the truth. (I am one of them: from Prince Caspian to Lord of the Rings to Gaudy Night to The Greater Trumps to Orthodoxy, the logical arguments and poetic visions of the Seven Sages have enriched my Christian discipleship for decades.) And we were able to illustrate the entire issue with a range of gorgeous photographs, many from the Wade’s own collection.

The magazine has turned out to be one of our runaway best-sellers since Christian History returned to publication by Christian History Institute in 2010. It’s by far our most popular issue judging by the number of online readers as well as requests for print copies. I’m personally thrilled to have been part of introducing so many new readers to authors who, in many cases, I have known and loved since childhood. But, not wanting to neglect others who have known and loved these authors for years as well, I commend the issue to you. Read, marvel, and enjoy!


TaitJennifer Woodruff Tait (Ph.D., Duke University) is managing editor of Christian History magazine, managing editor of the Patheos Faith and Work Channel, a candidate for ordination to the priesthood in the Episcopal Church, and author of The Poisoned Chalice and Histories of Us.  From 2004-2013 she was the recording secretary for the New York C.S. Lewis Society. She lives in Richmond, KY on an 8-acre farm with her husband (who proposed to her on the bridge in London where G.K. Chesterton proposed to Frances), her two daughters (both of whom love Narnia and Middle-earth), and her in-laws.