Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Love Wins: Dorothy L. Sayers

I would love to hear what Dorothy L. Sayers' Lord Peter Wimsey would say about John Piper. Lord Peter who finally won his bride by bending his will and his pride, to apologize to her for his sense of privilege that made him think she would eventually give in to him if he just pursued her long enough. Lord Peter who after saving her from the gallows (at the end of [Strong Poison] the novel you quoted), gave her life back to her two novels later by letting her risk it in the search for truth, as any male hero of a novel would. Lord Peter, who finally won Harriet's heart by treating her as his full, functional equal in every area of his life.

Lord Peter would have only one word to say about a man who would counsel a woman to submit "for a season" to being abused by a man. "Cad." It's an old word, and perhaps one that should be revived.
Thanks to Kristen for the insightful and imaginative comment.  She inspires us to see that Dorothy L. Sayers, like Rob Bell (whose recent book I've not yet read), writes to suggest how Love Wins.  In fact, not only does Sayers take time to give real life to Lord Peter Wimsey she also gives a few moments and words to fleshing out just what this sort of love means, how love wins.  So here we listen again.  It's not a simple sound bite but instead a long excerpt I'm including here, one in which we might truly imagine John Piper confronting Peter Wimsey, or at least Piper reading Sayers's novels and confronting the author about her Wimsey.  You'll overhear her addressing her reader as "My dear," at which point I've interpolated a phrase (e.g., "My dear [evangelical reader]") in order for us all to imagine that it's the evangelical reader Piper with whom she's speaking.  So stay tuned even through to her hell word below (but don't miss that fact that her writing here is on love, that it continues on to be musings Sayers offers us on how love wins).  This considerable bit is from Sayers's chapter, "The Love of the Creature" in her book, Mind of the Maker:


It may be objected that the analogy we have been examining derives from the concept of Platonic archetype, and is therefore unacceptable to those who reject Platonic ideal philosophy.  That way of putting it is, however, not quite accurate; in fact, it puts the cart before the horse.  To the creative artist (as we have seen) the archetype is not an a priori theory, but an experience.  From this experience he draws his analogy direct, and by its means illustrates and gives form to his philosophy, so that the philosophy is seen to derive from the analogy, and not viec versa.  If at any points it coincides with Platonic or Christian philosophy, it does so as an independent witness.  The experience is, of course, a particular experience -- that of the human creator, and it is irreclevant for the analytical and uncreative critic to object to it on the ground that it is not his experience....

To the human maker, therefore, accustomed to look within himself for the extra-temporal archetype and pattern of his own creative work, it will also be natural to look beyond himself for the external archetype and pattern of his own creative personality ... [to the creative] Person in whose image he is made, as his own work is made in the image of himself.

At this point, however, he encounters certain difficulties which we shall have to consider, if we are not to be led away into undue literalism by our very natural anxiety to make our analogy go on all-fours.

The whole of existence is held to be the work of the Divine Creator -- everything that there is, including not only the human maker and his human public, but all other entitites "visible and invisible" that may exist outside this universe.  Consequently, whereas the human writer obtains his response from other minds, outside and independent of his own, God's response comes only from His own creatures.  This is as though a book were written to be read by the characters within it.  And further:  the universe is not a finished work.  Every mind within it is in the position of the audience sitting in the stalls and seeing the play for the first time.  Or rather, every one of us is on the stage, performing a part in a play, of which we have not seen either the script of any synopsis of the ensuing acts.

This, it may be remarked, is no unusual situation, even among human actors.  It is said of a famous actress that for many years she played Lady Macbeth with great success, without having the faintest idea what the play was about or how it ended....  At the most, perhaps, towards the end of his life, he may see a few episodes in which he figured run through in the pages of contemporary history.  And from the completed episodes of the past he may gather, if he is intelligent and attentive, some indication of the author's purpose.

There is one episode in particular to which Christianity draws his attention.  The leading part in this was played, it is alleged, by the Author, who presents it as a brief epitome of the plan of the whole work.  If we ask, "What kind of play is this that we are acting" the answer put forward is:  "Well, it is this kind of play."  And examining the plot of it, we observe at once that if anybody in this play has his feelings pared, it is certainly not the Author.

This is perhaps what we should expect when we consider that a wrok of creation is a work of love, and that love is the most ruthless of all the passions, sparing neither itself, nor its object, nor the obstales that stand in its way.  The word "love" is by no so over-weighted with associations, from the most trifling to the most tremendous, that it is difficult to use it so as to convey a precise meaning to the reader; but here agin the analogy we have chosen may be of service.

Two popular interpretations of the word we can dismiss at once:  the creator's love for his work is not a greedy possessiveness; he never desires to subdue his work to himself but always to subdue himself to his work.  The more genuinely creative he is, the more he will want his work to develop in accordance with its own nature, and to stand independent of himself.  Well-meaning readers who try to identify the writer with his characters or to excavate the author's personality and opinions from his books are frequently astonished by the ferocious rudeness with which the author himself salutes these efforts at reabsorbing his work into himself.  They are an assualt upon the independence of his creatures, which he very properly resents.  Painful misunderstanding of this kind may rive the foundations of social intercourse, and produce explosions which seem quite out of proportion to their apparent causes.
"I have ordered old brandy; I know you adore old brandy."
"What makes you think so?"
"Oh, I have read your books:  I know Lord Peter is a great connosseur of old brandy."
"He is; that needn't mean that I am."
"Oh!  I thought you must be, as he is."
"What on earth have my tastes to do with his?"
It is quite possible that the author does like old brandy (though in this particular instance it happens not to agree with her).  But what is intolerable is that the created being should be thus violently stripped of its own precious personality.  The violence is none the less odious to the creator, for the ingratiating smirk with which it is offered.  Nor is the offence any more excusable when it takes the form of endowing the creature with qualities, however amiable, which run contrary to the law of its being:
"I am sure Lord Peter will end up as a convinced Christian."
"From what I know of him, nothing is more unlikely."
"But as a Christian yourself, you must want him to be one."
"He would be horribly embarrassed by any such suggestion."
"But he's far too intelligent and far too nice, not to be a Christian."
"My dear [evangelical reader], Peter is not the Ideal Man; he is an eighteenth-century Whig gentleman, born a little out of his time, and doubtful whether any claim to possess a soul is a rather vulgar piece of presumption."
"I am disappointed."
"I am afraid I can't help that."
(No; you shall not impose either your will or mine upon my creature.  He is what he is, I will work no irrelevant miracles upon him, either for propaganda, or to curry favour, or to establish the consistency of my own principles.  He exists in his own right and not to please you.  Hands off.)
Sometimes the suggestion to use force is accompanied by obliging offers of assistance.  (Incidentally this type of petition must be extremely familiar to God Almighty.)  Thus:
"Couldn't you make Lord Peter go to the Antarctic and investigate a murder on an exploring expedition?"
"Now, from what you know of him, can you imagine his being inveigled into an Antarctic expedition, under any conceivable circumstances?"
"But it would be a new background -- I could give you lots of authentic material."
"Thank you, you are very kind,"  (Get to gehenna out of this and write up your own confounded material.  Leave my creature alone -- I will not "make" him do anything.)
It will be seen that, although the writer's love is verily a jealous love, it is a jealousy for and not of his creatures.  He will tolerate no interference either with them or between them and himself.  But he does not desire that the creature's identity should be merged in his own, nor that his miraculous power should be invoked to wrest the creature from its proper nature.



Kristen said...

I'm pleased and flattered that you found my post useful for your blog! Thank you for the Sayers quotes; they make very good points about love and free will.

I will add that the only way I can picture Lord Peter going to Antartica is if his country required it of him-- but I highly doubt that he would be the one the British Crown would have picked for such an expedition.

J. K. Gayle said...

I will add that the only way I can picture Lord Peter going to Antartica is if his country required it of him-- but I highly doubt that he would be the one the British Crown would have picked for such an expedition.

Sounds like you, Dorothy Sayers, and the British Crown all agree. Me too! :)

Your insights into John Piper trying to take on Lord Peter Wimsey are perfect. Here's a man - not even a "Christian" - who values a woman as an equal creature in functional and full ways, every area of their lives. This makes what Sayers says of her own creative work - as analogous to God's - in love of the creature so beautiful. She's clearly writing and is written in the image of God, who created humans, female and male, in God's image.

Kristen said...

Thank you, Mr. Gayle. Thinking some more about Lord Peter and Harriet, particularly in Gaudy Night, it occurred to me that the current craze in some Christian circles (think Wild at Heart and similar books)to picture men and women in archetypical rescuing-hero and maiden-in-distress roles, is treated much more realistically by Sayers. Peter wants to be Harriet's hero and rescuer, but eventually realizes that the uneven footing that places their relationship on, is detrimental to the relationship. Instead, he sees that he must step back and quietly support her while she wrestles her dragons herself-- and the Truth (as represented by Oxford University) is what sets her free.

Yes, I was an English lit major and also a rabid Peter Wimsey fan. Does it show?