Friday, July 14, 2017

The Educated Woman: Dorothy L Sayers & Amy Marsland

I've been in a bit of a funk lately, since returning from my trip to the UK. Various thoughts and decisions that I'll have to make in the next little while have been troubling me. So I've been thinking about some of the women who inspire me, and wanted to write a few posts dedicated to them.

When I was about twenty years old, give or take, I discovered the BBC series of Lord Peter Wimsey starring the delightful and ineffable Ian Carmichael. I fell in love. Over the course of the next few years, I read several of the Peter Wimsey mysteries, a biography of Dorothy L Sayers, and her translations of Dante's 'Divine Comedy'.

Portrait of Dorothy L Sayers by Sir William Oliphant Hutchison
National Portrait Gallery


My favourite of her mysteries are those which introduce and feature Harriet Vane, and the evolution of her characters is masterful. I am always daydreaming that the BBC or ITV will do a new series (please?!), the last ones - starring Edward Petherbridge and Harriet Walter as Peter and Harriet - having been filmed in the late 1980s! Still waiting on that one.

The novel 'Gaudy Night' is a very moving and beautiful book. When I lived in upstate NY, I knew an incredible woman, Amy Marsland. When I met her, she was in her eighties. She wrote articles for the local paper, knitted and baked delicious shortbread cut in all different shapes. She was a bright, intelligent woman, and a joy to know. She was very well educated, receiving her MA and PhD at the university of Michigan. She wrote mysteries herself, as well as scholarly work, and she and her husband lived both in Europe and America throughout their lives.

Amy as a young woman in the early 1940s, when working on The Sheaf newspaper at the University of Saskatchewan. 

My sister ran a book club at Moore Memorial Library, in Greene, New York, and Amy was a member of this group. One month we read 'Gaudy Night', and it was incredible to hear her perspective on the novel, which she first read as a young woman in the 1940s.

As well as a puzzling mystery, 'Gaudy Night' deals with a lot of issues women faced in the early 20th century: education, academic integrity, and working, and/ or being a wife and mother. She told us that these were all issues she was dealing with and trying to sort out in her life, and that 'Gaudy Night' was a great inspiration to her.

The wisdom it contains is a continual inspiration to me, it's a novel I've read several times.

The book club at the library. My sister is on the far left, and I'm standing next to her. Amy is two over to the right, wearing a pink/ salmon outfit. 


My favourite quote from the novel is as follows:

"If one's genuinely interested one knows how to be patient, and let time pass...If you truly want a thing, you don't snatch; if you snatch, you don't really want it."