In the past year, two writers who made a significant impression on my younger self have pushed back into view: C.S. Lewis and Dorothy L. Sayers. Through the excellent work of the Rabbit Room and the Anselm Society, I’ve been reminded of Lewis’ imagination and the crucial way it resists a modern and secular society shorn of transcendence. And through a friend who is diving into Sayer’s works, I’ve appreciated again her insistence on Christian art being worthy of the term “art.”
So, I hardly hesitated before ordering Gina Dalfonzo’s new book, Dorothy and Jack: The Transforming Friendship of Dorothy L. Sayers and C.S. Lewis, a book which brings these two writers together not only through their contemporary lives and interests, but also their deep friendship. New to me, this friendship was a delight to discover.
Lewis, of course, is well-known for his friendships: his group of friends called ‘the Inklings’ has been the topic of other books and even featured in a major film. But his friendship with Sayers, a friendship outside of the Inklings, is not well-known or well-discussed, a hidden gem that Dalfonzo seeks to bring to light in her book.
Although Dalfonzo is careful not to assert too much, one of the parts I enjoyed the most was the question of influence — how did their friendship impact them as writers and people? One such connection that she made was between Sayers’ work The Man Born to Be King to C.S. Lewis’ character of Aslan. Sayers’ play, which Lewis read often, and which had moved him to tears, presents “the Savior of the world as someone set apart by His sinless divinity, worthy of awe and reverence, ‘sharp and stern and bracing,’ and yet still truly human and lovable. As she has Mary Magdalene say to the apostle John, ‘The Master’s the only good man I ever met who knew miserable it felt to be bad. It was as if he got right inside you, and felt all the horrible things you were doing to yourself.’” Dalfonzo connects this characterisation of Jesus to the characterisation of Aslan — “stern and gentle, intimidating and playful, and wholly lovable.” You can be sure I will be reading Sayers’ play this Christmas!
Dalfonzo also positions her book as a much-needed story at a time “when many Christians are questioning the wisdom of cross-gender friendship, and when many of us in general are prone to exist inside ‘bubbles’ filled with others just like us. It seems that in every generation, we come up with new reasons to restrict friendships between men and women.” Against this tendency to restrict, Dalfonzo offers a picture — a true story! — of a friendship between a man and a woman that remained just that, friendship. Their friendship reminds us of the incredible gift of being in the household of God — joined not only to Christ, our brother, and God, our Father, but to one another, as brothers and sisters. This friendship can be, to use Lewis’ words, “no better gift…Who could have deserved it?”
While many writers struggle with the idealism of what they put down in words and the reality of their lives, the reciprocity and solidarity that Sayers and Lewis portray in their friendship is a beautiful example of Lewis’ chapter on friendship in The Four Loves. It is also, thankfully, a clear argument against his recommendation for male-female friendships — “Live and let live.” Dalfonzo writes, “While the two of them might never have quite seen fully eye to eye on some…issues, their friendship was built on a foundation of honesty, humility, and a willingness to listen, which safeguarded it from contempt and helped both friends to grow in empathy and understanding.”
Dalfonzo has written a truly delightful book, weaving together the experiences and correspondence of Sayers and Lewis in a way that both exudes the pleasure of the writer in her topic, and evokes pleasure in the reader. Dalfonzo’s tone is conversational in the best way, demonstrating her skill as an engaging storyteller, and positioning the reader as a friend — what could be more fitting to her topic? Her choice to use Sayers and Lewis’ first names, rather than their surnames, communicates the intimacy of the two writers in their own friendship, and invites the reader into that special privilege. If you love Lewis or Sayers — or both! — or you love a good friendship, I commend this book to you.