Are Women Human? and The Nine Tailors by Dorothy Sayers
Present: Roo Dane, host, Sandra Lovell, Dorianne Low, Dodie Rees, Sydney Owens, and Cornelia Robart
Mimosas, hot little chicken sausages, chocolate-coated almonds, humus and crackers warmed a chilly evening. We were in a mood to reminisce, and after drinking a toast to deceased Pete Seeger and singing “We Shall Overcome” to a ’61 classmate in California (Delia Wheelwright Moon), we settled down to a serious recollection of how upcoming Hell Week was for each of us. Was there really a bonfire with opposing circles of freshmen circling round? Was Kate Evans’s horse really the ’61 class animal, guarded by Roo on Faculty Row before a classy parade up to Taylor Hall? Other class animals– a boyfriend on his motorcycle, a woodcock….
And, you and Ms. Sayers ask, Are women human? This essay is one of the clearest we had ever read – not a word to remove nor to add. Another essay in the same collection underlined how a Great Person thought of women, in this case Jesus, a prophet and teacher who
…never nagged at them, flattered or coaxed or patronized; who never made arch jokes about them,… who took their questions and arguments seriously….never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female…who took them as he found them….
As for the bells (“scary”), their tolling sounds death from lofty Fenchurch St. Paul, surrounded by fens and fog and deep ditches and inadequate sluicegates. Nine “tailors” makes a man (six for a woman, three for a child). It seems Sayers was passionately interested in bells. Each chapter begins with a quote from a master bell-ringer, completely mysterious to us uninitiated but fascinating because of that secret coded language.
How much might those infamous emeralds been worth that a man would wait for twenty years in jail thirsting for them? The three burglar suspects/participants were very differently drawn. One, a gentlemen burglar, assured the authorities that “blackmail is below me.” Another hid in France waiting for the signal to return home to “Paul Taylor” and “Batty Thomas” to recover the jewels, concealed in a fairly simple hiding place that Lord Peter Wimsey uncovered.
The end is quite satisfying horrific. The agonizing death of the thief is revealed; its perpetrator, laden with guilt, heroically drowns in the vast fens flooding.
We queried the feminist leanings of the story. Mrs. Venables was remarkable, cheerfully rectifying the rector’s vagaries and organizing a shelter in the church during the great flooding of the fens. Will’s wife was stalwart in celebrating her husband’s death as a relief to his role in the thief’s death; the French wife was realistic as Frenchwomen are in the face of facts (her “husband’s” departure).
This book precedes the achingly romantic stories involving Peter and Harriet, which I think some of us might revisit with pleasure.
Next selection: Asunder, by Chloe Aridjis, daughter of our ’61 classmate Betty (Sam) Ferber. We will meet on Thursday, March 6th at 6:30pm.
January 31 2014 | Book group | Comments Off
Recollections of the Meeting of the Bryn Mawr Book Group on
Thursday, November 21, 2013
My Beloved World, by Sonia Sotomayor
Present: Roo Dane, host, Anne Ipsen, Dorianne Low, Dodie Rees, Sydney Owens, and myself, Cornelia Robart.
“This book is brilliant right from the start!” Our first encounter with the ferocious will to thrive of 8-year-old Sonia, a little Puerto Rican raised in the Bronx, when, panicked by her diagnosis of diabetes, she hides under a car to escape the confusion and fear of her parents. In 1962 this was considered a portent of an early death. Her mother and father argued so over who would give her the life-saving shots of insulin that, faced with her parents’ incompetence and her own impatience, Sonia took on the job herself. This was to be her typical behavior: either with personal challenges or successes, she never showcased her role in achievement but always focused on the desired outcome.
Sonia was a hard worker. Considering herself neither beautiful nor clever, she immersed herself in learning and in her turbulent family. The men in her story seem, if not interchangeable, of secondary importance and quite forgettable. The women, however, rose from the pages of the book. Sonia understood the importance of having had two very strong influences in her life: her mother, whose early belief in education led her to buy The Encyclopedia Britannica on her slim wages, and Abuelita – Little Grandmother – who unfailingly enveloped her with love and approval. They pushed her and cherished her unreservedly. We reveled in these strong female figures in Sonia’s life, recognizing studies and other observations confirming this idea.
Sonia had the great quality of knowing when to seek help from others, and then accepting it – two very different aspects of inability. Her women friends were of great help to her in learning the Anglo world. When she realized that her study skills were woefully inadequate, she sought help (again from a female comrade) and studied even harder. All through her studies and professional life, she maintained the habit of tirelessly preparing every assignment. She is a discoverer, each difficulty becoming an opportunity to master a new subject or a new skill, and never complimenting itself on its accomplishment. In the 1970s there were few women in men’s colleges. There were even fewer Latinos, and they were considered second-class and left to struggle on their own. Sonia was urged to apply to major colleges for her education. Her first interview was with the elegantly coiffed Radcliffe admissions representative, whose dogs watched her from their post on the large Oriental carpet. Her fear of being out of place, unprepared, and totally unsuited to the Cambridge school was humorously told, with no self-pity or self-deprecation. (One reader reminded us of the space reserved for women under the Harvard aegis – a bare basement room under Memorial Church). (She eventually graduated summa cum laude from Princeton.)Perhaps saved by her Spanish-speaking background, Sonia never used the speech patterns of many young Anglo women at that time, apologizing for asking a question in class and using an interrogative lift to the end of a sentence, implying weakness and uncertainty. A compliment to her academic excellence from a lawyer colleague might be, “You argue like a man!”
Latinos were poorly considered at U.S. colleges, isolated by not only a tinge of color difference but also a wholly different language and culture. Sonia was active in opening up the minority groups to appreciate / accept each other and also become available to the Anglo community. She worked at various other volunteer jobs, and amassed a large group of friends, many of whom over the years came to watch her academic and legal triumphs.
One delightful anecdote demonstrates her gentle but firm diplomatic approach to a man who continuously challenged and disagreed with her. She asks if there is any way she can help him change his attitude. “I don’t like brassy Jewish women,” he confesses. Sonia is quiet for a moment, then agrees, “I don’t think there is any way I can help you,” and walked away.
December 23 2013 | Book group | Comments Off