The Mutual Admiration Society by Mo Moulton

I was supposed to be in England in August attending the annual convention of the Dorothy L, Sayers Society. I haven’t been to one since 1984, so I was looking forward to it! It was scheduled to be at Somerville College in Oxford where Sayers studied. The author Mo Moulton was to be one of the speakers. In lieu of the convention I read her new-ish book The Mutual Admiration Society, and I am so glad I did. The book’s subtitle is “How Dorothy L. Sayers and Her Oxford Circle Remade the World for Women.” Moulton has written what I think is the best book about Sayers. Her research is amazing, and by describing Sayers in her close and supportive circle of friends we learn much more than we knew before.

Sayers’ friends that form the core group from Somerville are Muriel St. Clare Byrne, Charis Barnett, and Dorothy Rowe. As with all long friendships there were times that were closer and better than others, and other of their friends moved in and out of the circle. But this core group not only supported and strengthened each other but critiqued and encouraged one another’s work. They were among the first women to receive their degrees from Oxford University. On October 14, 1920, Sayers, St. Clare Byrne, and Muriel “Jim” Jaeger, celebrated this breakthrough in the lives and careers of women These women are our leaders in so many ways.

Sayers is, of course, most noted for her mystery novels featuring Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. The last one, Busman’s Honeymoon, started as a play written by Sayers and some of her friends. Sayers dedicates the book to Muriel St. Clare Byrne, Helen Simpson, and Marjorie Barber. In her longer dedication she includes this paragraph: “…Muriel, … you wrote with me the play to which this novel is but the limbs and outward flourishes; my debt and your long-suffering are all the greater. You, Helen and Bar, were wantonly sacrificed on the altar of that friendship of which the female sex is said to be incapable; let the lie stick i’ the wall!” It is about such friendship that Moulton writes and I cannot recommend The Mutual Admiration Society more highly.

End note: The Dorothy L. Sayers convention was shifted to the exact same time frame at Somerville in 2021 , and I am booked for it! I hope Mo Mouton will still be one of the speakers, but just celebrating these amazing women in their place will be grand.


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