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Friday, February 1, 2013

The Unpopular Opinions of Dorothy L. Sayers

Do people still read Dorothy L. Sayers these days? Well, they should.

Best known as the creator of the aristocratic sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey, she was also a first-class essayist, critic, anthologist, dramatist, translator of Dante, theologian . . . and Sherlockian.

Her brilliant mind is on full display in Unpopular Opinions, a book of  21 essays that I am pleased to have in my library. The essays fall into three categories: theological, political, and critical. I love that trinity!

One of the political essays is the rather famous "Are Women Human?" I find it achingly poignant even today.

Of the five essays in the "critical" section, one is called "Aristotle on Detective Fiction" and the other four concern Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. Their titles are:
  • "Holmes' College Career"
  • "Dr. Watson's Christian Name"
  • "Dr. Watson, Widower"
  • "The Dates in The Red Headed League."
The second of these contains her most lasting contribution to Sherlockian lore. In considering why Mrs. Watson addresses her husband as "James" rather than his given name of "John" in "The Man with the Twisted Lip," Sayers concludes that his middle name was Hamish. James, argues, was a pet name derived from that.

"Hamish is, of course, the Scottish form of James," she informs us. "The doctor's full name was John Hamish Watson." Almost no one questions that today.

In a blurb on the back of the book, Christopher Morley calls Sayers' Holmes and Watson essays "good comedy and reasoning with a bouquet." 

What's your favorite unpopular opinion?

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