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Entries in Dorothy Sayers (1)

Wednesday
Jun182014

What took me so long?

During our homeschool years, I read Dorothy Sayers' excellent essay on classical education, "The Lost Tools of Learning." Her words on the subject had quite a significant impact on how we approached homeschooling. At the same time, my daughter was heavily into Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey books, and I read her fiction. But until the last few days, I had never read any of her essays on women or faith. What took me so long?

I agree with a good friend who said she would like to have a shirt that says, "Dorothy Sayers is my homegirl."

In her book, Are Women Human? Sayers talks about "the woman's viewpoint." This is a principle I am familiar with through watching Canadian news. Whenever there is a big crisis somewhere, the newcasters will promise the audience the "Canadian reaction" to the story. I've always wondered what that really means. What is a Canadian reaction and how does it differ from some other nationality? Is there a substantially different way Canadians react to a mass shooting or a high speed car chase? The possibility of a distinctly Canadian reaction to news events would likely generatee fodder for stereotype and pardoy.

It is similar with the "woman's viewpoint." Sayers has some good words on this:

Where, I think, a great deal of confusion has arisen is in a failure to distinguish between special knowledge and special ability. There are certain questions on which what is called "the woman's point of view" is valuable. Women should be consulted about such things as housing and domestic architecture because, under present circumstances, they have still to wrestle with a good deal with houses and kitchens and can bring special knowledge to the problem. Similarly, some of them (thought not all) know more about children than the majority of men, and their opinion, as women, is of value. In the same way, the opinion of colliers is of value about coal mining, and the opinion of doctors is valuable about disease. But there are other questions -- as, for example, about literature or finance -- on which "the woman's point of view" has no value at all. In fact, it does not exist. No special knowledge is involved, and a woman's opinion on literature or finance is valuable only as the judgment of an individual. I am occasionally desired by congenital imbeciles and the editors of magazines to say something about the writing of detective fiction "from the woman's point of view." To such demands, one can only say, "Go away and don't be silly. You might as well ask what is the female angle on an equilateral triangle."

Now, you will note with regard to women having knowledge regarding domestic issues, Sayers says "under present circumstances." She is speaking in the late 30's and that was her context. This is to pre-empt the objections that Sayers was against women or being bigoted. 

Recently, as I read some literary criticism of L.M. Montgomery's work, "the woman's point of view" often meant a feminist reading, which is not the same thing, and which is not restricted to women.

Sayers' wit is really refreshing, isn't it?