11 November 2020

Back to Dodgy Doctors

 In Chapter 8 of her first detective novel, Whose Body of 1923, Dorothy Sayers gives the Who's Who entry of a Grand Doctor called Sir Julian Freke. We learn, by implication, that he was honoured for immediate personal services to the Royal House: his knighthood in the Victorian Order was upped to a Knighthood Grand Cross in the same Order. He was also a Knight Commander of the Bath; a Knight of Grace of the order of S John of Jerusalem; he was a Colonel in the Army Medical Service. Lord Dawson (vide earlier posts) duplicated these honours.

It is not my claim that Freke is a simplistic transposition of Dawson into novelese. I suspect, rather, that Sayers may have browsed through her copy of Who's Who, boning up on all the 'Grand Doctor' entries. And I also believe that Sayers deliberately situated Freke in the intellectual milieu inhabited by such people in the decade which gave us Eugenics and Euthanasia and Contraception. Just as Dawson saw himself as being a very superior person, superior, indeed, to moral scruples which might inhibit ordinary men, so Freke believed that the Conscience was an epiphenomenon in principle medically removable. 

And just as Dawson killed the King because Doctor Knows Best, so Freke killed Levy for his own personal satisfaction. I very much doubt if Sayers knew the circumstances of King George's death; my suggestion is that she was a very bright woman who discerned the causes and effects of social and philosophical tendencies, and was capable of guessing right without even realising she was doing so. One reason I find her writing so absorbing is the light she throws upon Interbellum preoccupations; Spiritualism ... Lesbianism ... Advertising ... the Drugs scene ... the Red Menace ... She did it again with her final, unfinished detective novel Thrones, Dominations: I have long wondered if she gave up the writing of it because she realised that the sado-masochistic situations her characters were playing out ran parallel to the relationship between Edward VIII and Simpson, which was beginning to enter into the public domain.

Incidentally, it was only six days after that debate in the House of Lords about 'The Nation's Physique' that Baldwin had the Audience with his monarch which ensured that Britain did not enter a war with Germany under a pro-German King.

It irritates me when I read of Sayers lumped together with whodunnit writers as one of the greats of the 'Golden Age' of Detective Fiction. She was something totally different who used the genre as a convenience: which is why, as people soon notice, it is often quite obvious Who Did It. She was an avant garde writer who cheerfully brings in prostitutes and gigolos and foreskins (or the lack of them); the sexuality of old women and old men and plain girls; and kitten-faced young ladies with an inviting manner and a shrewd eye, who put their plump elbows on the table, cock their heads at a coy angle, and prepare to sell their honour dear, not indifferent to the possibility of a flat in Paris, a Daimler car, mink, and a thousand-pound necklace. 

It is a pity that the prudish Patton Walsh took it upon herself to suppress the account of Wimsey's 'sexual initiation' in Paris. 

A typical Third Millennium genre-error, and a sign of the New Prudery.

Was Sayers an anti-semite? I shall deal with that in the next day or two.


Scribe said...

Dear Father, I look forward to your remarks on DL Sayers and anti-Semitism. Please could you also check whether or not she or her ancestors owned slaves.

Jonathan said...

The arguments in favour of euthanasia are, these days, well rehearsed. It was startling to read that one of Dawson's motivations was to time the death to fit in with the schedule for publishing the Times. How long before we see the NHS scheduling deaths in the afternoon to support reduced staff levels on the night shift? Or in the autumn to reduce the burden during the winter flu season?

Grant Milburn said...

For me, Sayers will always the writer who introduced me to Dante, after I discovered a copy of the Penguin Classsics Purgatory in a second-hand book shop at the age of seventeen.

PM said...

There have been rumours for years of obstetricians' timing of Caesarean sections and induced labour to fit around their golfing engagements. So it would not be altogether surprising if doctors started timing deaths as well.

Oliver Nicholson said...

I should be interested to know more about Miss Sayers's views on women being admitted to clerical orders. Can you enlighten us at all ?

Farmer's boy said...

Father, you bring out the pedant in me! Sayers could hardly have commented on the King's death in 1935 when she wrote in 1923. Also Dawson didn't get his GCB until 1926.

Sue Sims said...

Oliver Nicholson: I can pre-empt Fr Hunwicke on answering your question, as it's something that came up in an exchange of letters between Sayers and C.S. Lewis. He'd been told about a (fairly new) movement for the ordination of women in the Church of England, and written to her strongly disapproving of "allow[ing] women Priests' Orders. I am guessing that, like me, you disapprove something which wd. cut us off so sharply from all the rest of Christensom, and which wd. be the very triumph of what they call 'practical' and 'enlightened' principles over the far deeper need that the Priest at the Altar must represent the Bridegroom to whom we are all, in a sense, feminine." Assuming her agreement, he suggests that she might "give tongue. The defence against the innovation must if possible be done by a woman." [Extract from letter to DLS, 13th July 1948].

Sayers replied a few days later as follows:

"Dear Dr. Lewis,

"Oh, lord!

"Look here, are you sure, of your own knowledge, that this precious 'movement' has any weight behind it? I should have thought it could be trusted to perish on the barricades of prejudice before arriving at the citadel.

"Obviously, nothing could be more silly and inexpedient than to erect a new and totally unnecessary barrier between us and the rest of Catholic Christendom. (It would be rather a link than otherwise with some of the Free Churches, as tending to emphasis a ministry of the Gospel rather than a ministry of Sacraments, and as involving a break with Apostolic tradition.)

"I fear you would find me rather an uneasy ally. I can never find any logical or strictly theological reason against it. In so far as the Priest represents Christ, it is obviously more dramatically appropriate that a man should be, so to speak, cast for the part. But if I were cornered and asked point-blank whether Christ Himself is the representative of male humanity or all humanity, I should be obliged to answer 'of all humanity'; and to cite the authority of St. Augustine for saying that woman also is made in the image of God.

"Incidentally, one has to be very careful with that 'Bridegroom' imagery. It is so very apt to land one in Male and Female Principles, Eleusis, and the womb of the Great Mother. And that sort of thing doesn't make much appeal to well-balanced women, who look on it as just another example of men's hopeless romanticism about about sex, and who are apt either to burst out laughing or sniff a faint smell of drains. The unbalanced ones like it only too well; but you are best off without their support. If you must bring in bridegrooms, stick to Christ as the Bridegroom of the Church, which is scriptural and free from all offence; the Bridegroom of the Soul belongs to the jargon of mysticism, and often provokes misunderstanding and antagonism.

"Your safest line is historical and traditional: Our Lord (for whatever reason) did in fact have only male Apostles; and the Church (following His example) has in fact always kept the Apostolic Succession in the male line. And it would be a pity to fly in the face of all the Apostolic Churches, especially just now when we are at last seeing some prospect of understanding with the Eastern Orthodox - and so on.

"Unfortunately, the Church's whole attitude to women has always been so pagan and oriental as to be very thorny in the handling. The most I find I can do is to keep silence in any place where the daughters of the Philistines might overhear me. In the present case, if a public controversy starts, there wil be things said on the Catholic side which 'lambs could not forgive, nor worms forget'; and it is better that I should neither hear or see them, lest the fire kindle and I speak unadvisedly with my tongue." [Extract from letter to C.S. Lewis, 19th July 1948]

The rest of the letter deals with other topics.

Oliver Nicholson said...

Thank you, Sue Sims. I recall years ago someone quoting to me on the subject some remarks Dorothy Sayers made to Kenneth Kirk, he of the Vision of God, but I can not for the life of me remember exactly what she said or where. I always meant to ask Canon Thurmer of Exeter (who knew more about D. Sayers than anyone else I have met) but alas he is gathered to his reward. Your letter is a big help - and molto caratteristico. Much thanks.