When biographers write about writers and artists and musicians, they often–directly or indirectly–mention the influences that other writers and artists and musicians had on their subject. I always think these sorts of connexions are interesting–more interesting than modern-day networking (although I love my The Readership–believe me, I do–and all those of you who poke at me and prod me and remind me that, if I’m writing into a void, it’s not the kind of void that I thought void meant), because these are connexions that can span time and space and even life and death. Sometimes these Influences are conscious and sometimes they’re not, and that’s interesting, too.
I feel like I’m pretty aware of most of my Influences, and I may take this lull-before-finding-out-if-that-solitary-and-kind-literary-agent-actually-wants-to-flog-my-book to talk about some of them, but today I’m going to talk about the one that I’ve only recently become aware is an Influence. Actually, I’m not sure that’s even the word. I’ve been aware of her for ages, and I’ve read and enjoyed some of her writing, but it might be more accurate to say that, rather than an Influence on me, I am an echo of her. There are some distinct differences between us, but the similarities are legitimately bizarre.
Ladies and gentlemen, allow me to introduce you to Dorothy L. Sayers.
One night, two seminary terms ago, we had a particularly rousing theological discussion in my Systematic Theology class and I suggested, only moderately facetiously, that we should all go out to a pub afterwards and continue our discussion over a beer. I was thinking in terms of the Inklings, and I was also considering I might be the only woman there (there are other–fantastic–women in my class, but for some reason the only one of them I could imagine hanging out with a bunch of men–and me–over beers to talk theology, lives about an hour away, and it was getting late), and suddenly it occurred to me that, although I wasn’t sure Dorothy Sayers ever actually hung out with the Inklings (she didn’t), I could, like her, be a token woman writer-theologian (who isn’t Rachel Held Evans), in the sense that . . . well, she was one, and she had male theologian friends, because there just aren’t that many orthodox female theologians.
Then in the following term we had to research some spiritual “parents” in the faith, and without even knowing that I was beginning to mentally ally myself with this woman, our Centre director suggested I research her, so I did. In doing so, I found out that if I were able to bring myself to believe in reincarnation (which I’m not), I might be fairly confident as to who I had been in my immediately previous life. It’s not that there aren’t differences between me and this British woman of the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. There are some pretty significant ones. It’s just that the similarities are really unusual. Here are a few of both:
Similar: We were both pastor’s daughters.
Different: She was an only child. I have TheBro–although it is arguable that both TheBro and I have some “only child” characteristics, perhaps because of the space of years between us.
Similar: Sayers and I each used to tell ourselves stories to fall asleep as small children–sometimes aloud. We also both strongly identified with certain characters in books we read–into our teen years, if not beyond. Sometimes we would act them out. Sayers seems to have been much more overt and flambuoyant about this than I was.
Different: As a teen, Sayers was uncomfortable with the trappings of religion; that didn’t happen to me until later.
Similar: On the other hand, we were both inspired by story and myth and the idea that the Christ story fulfilled these.
Similar: We both had, perhaps, a tendency to overshare with our parents.
Different: Although she did some teaching, Sayers didn’t do the child-centric, world-traveling, job-hopping thing that I’ve done: she taught briefly, worked in advertising for almost a decade (awesome classic Guiness ads, anyone?) and then spent the rest of her working life actually making a living as a writer–initially through detective novels, which I don’t think I could or would ever write–although hers are quite enjoyable to read.
Similar: We each endured a somewhat long-term, heartbreaking, passionate but “unconsummated”–due to our personal scruples (somewhat different ones, but both related to being Christians)–relationship with complicated men who did not share our faith or, necessarily, values.
Different: Sayers rebounded by letting some other dude knock her up. I rebounded in a fortunately very short-lived encounter with a sociopath.
Similar: We each subsequently met intelligent, word-conscious men whom we each married after a surprisingly brief courtship–possibly to the perplexity, though not opposition, of our parents.
Different: I intend, by the grace of God, for my marriage to end up more happily than Sayers’ did–and I think this is possible both by that grace and because of the fact that my Paul would be delighted, rather than jealous, were I to become a self-sustaining writer. Also? So far things here on the Pond just keep getting more awesome. Please God, and let it so continue.
Similar: At some point, Sayers got the theology bug. She was completely unabashed about this, and although it worked its way into some of her earlier writings, she consciously wrote about theology and through theology when she was older. “The dogma of the Incarnation,” she said, “is the most dramatic thing about Christianity, and indeed, the most dramatic thing that ever entered into the mind of man; but if you tell people so, they stare at you in bewilderment . . . “*
Are you staring at me in bewilderment yet? Because seriously, The Readership. This is what I want to do. I want to keep writing words about God, through essay and article and memoir, certainly, but especially through story. I knew CS Lewis and JRR Tolkein did it. But it’s kind of simultaneously comforting and inspiring to know that there was at least one woman out there already who knew how to do this, too.
* Sayers, Dorothy L., as quoted in Barbara Reynolds, Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul, New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 1997.