cover image Subversive: Christ, Culture, and the Shocking Dorothy L. Sayers

Subversive: Christ, Culture, and the Shocking Dorothy L. Sayers

Crystal Downing. Broadleaf, $24.99 (200p) ISBN 978-1-5064-6275-2

Downing (Changing Signs of Truth), codirector of Wheaton College’s Marion E. Wade Center, which focuses on 20th-century Christian writers, considers how the writings of Christian scholar and mystery novelist Dorothy L. Sayers (1893–1957) sought to discover “new conclusions on unchanging foundations” of modern Christianity. While best known for her crime fiction, Sayers was a prolific writer of religious dramas for radio and the stage, as well as academic works on Christian doctrine. Her stories and scholarship challenged dogmatism, relativism, the idolatry of language, British censorship laws, approaches to faith and atonement rooted in “an economy of exchange”—as well as those who hid or ignored the subversive nature of Christ himself. Sayers instead argued that “change can be joyously engaged as long as Christian faith remains rooted in the creeds of the early church.” Downing notes that Sayers disapproved of focus on the artists over the art, once decrying the “craze for the ‘personal angle’ ” that she believed turned criticism into gossip. While Downing tracks the course of Sayers’s personal and professional lives, she never loses sight of Sayers’s art and artistic process—a “theology of creativity” that she believed could “maintain ancient truth by handing it over to new expressions.” This is a powerful intellectual portrait of an important 20th-century writer who merits closer study. (Nov.)