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A group biography of renowned crime novelist Dorothy L. Sayers and the Oxford women who stood at the vanguard of equal rights. Dorothy L. Sayers is now famous for her Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane detective series, but she was equally well known during her life for an essay asking "Are Women Human?" Women's rights were expanding rapidly during Sayers's lifetime; she an A group biography of renowned crime novelist Dorothy L. Sayers and the Oxford women who stood at the vanguard of equal rights. Dorothy L. Sayers is now famous for her Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane detective series, but she was equally well known during her life for an essay asking "Are Women Human?" Women's rights were expanding rapidly during Sayers's lifetime; she and her friends were some of the first women to receive degrees from Oxford. Yet, as historian Mo Moulton reveals, it was clear from the many professional and personal obstacles they faced that society was not ready to concede that women were indeed fully human. Dubbing themselves the Mutual Admiration Society, Sayers and her classmates remained lifelong friends and collaborators as they fought for a truly democratic culture that acknowledged their equal humanity.


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A group biography of renowned crime novelist Dorothy L. Sayers and the Oxford women who stood at the vanguard of equal rights. Dorothy L. Sayers is now famous for her Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane detective series, but she was equally well known during her life for an essay asking "Are Women Human?" Women's rights were expanding rapidly during Sayers's lifetime; she an A group biography of renowned crime novelist Dorothy L. Sayers and the Oxford women who stood at the vanguard of equal rights. Dorothy L. Sayers is now famous for her Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane detective series, but she was equally well known during her life for an essay asking "Are Women Human?" Women's rights were expanding rapidly during Sayers's lifetime; she and her friends were some of the first women to receive degrees from Oxford. Yet, as historian Mo Moulton reveals, it was clear from the many professional and personal obstacles they faced that society was not ready to concede that women were indeed fully human. Dubbing themselves the Mutual Admiration Society, Sayers and her classmates remained lifelong friends and collaborators as they fought for a truly democratic culture that acknowledged their equal humanity.

30 review for The Mutual Admiration Society: How Dorothy L. Sayers and her Oxford Circle Remade the World for Women

  1. 4 out of 5

    Nenia ✨️ I yeet my books back and forth ✨️ Campbell

    Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest I hate writing reviews for books that bored me. On the one hand, I (usually) go into a book expecting to like it, and on the other hand, it kind of sucks to have to revisit something you didn't like and tell everyone why you didn't like it. Sometimes I don't even bother to review, but I feel obligated to with this one as others may share my expectations and feel similar disappointment. THE MUTUAL ADMIRATION SOCIETY is a biography about Do Instagram || Twitter || Facebook || Amazon || Pinterest I hate writing reviews for books that bored me. On the one hand, I (usually) go into a book expecting to like it, and on the other hand, it kind of sucks to have to revisit something you didn't like and tell everyone why you didn't like it. Sometimes I don't even bother to review, but I feel obligated to with this one as others may share my expectations and feel similar disappointment. THE MUTUAL ADMIRATION SOCIETY is a biography about Dorothy L. Sayers (called, bewilderingly, "DLS" through the entirety of this book) and the friends she made at Somerville College, a branch of Oxford that basically treated its female students like a bunch of dilettantes auditing a class, not even awarding them degrees for their work until later. #Feminism While at school, "DLS" and her friends called themselves The Mutual Admiration Society, and it was basically exactly what it sounds like: a group of artsy, intellectual women who had great respect for each other, supported one another in their endeavors, and basically had a grand old time amusing one another. The book follows them through two World Wars, various relationships, the many obstacles of being a woman in a time when women were accorded little to no respect, tempestuous relationships, questioning their sexuality, failures, successes, and so many other things. Considering that "DLS" was the baited hook for this book, I was surprised by how little the focus seemed to be on her. Even more surprisingly, I was surprised (ha) by how little I liked her compared to the others like Charis, who seemed incredibly cool and modern for her times, and Muriel, who was a somewhat out lesbian. Charis Frankenburg was honestly the coolest lady in here, as some of DLS's beliefs seemed almost Ayn Randian, especially in how she seemed to detest other women so much in the beginning. I guess she changed later on in life and you can't really judge people outside the framework of their times, but man. She seemed awful. Charis, on the other hand, was basically a mommy blogger influencer for her time, having huge impacts on the way people raised children (for the better) and did some pretty cool work helping improve the conditions of children living in psychiatric facilities. I would read a whole book about her-- she seemed like she had her heart in the right place. Maybe I would have enjoyed this book more had I been a bigger "DLS" fan. In some ways, this does kind of read like a fan's ode to DLS, especially with how Mo Moulton often reads between the lines-- or cites others who do-- of DLS's own writing to speculate on her life. I guess it's probably an irresistible temptation to do so when actual facts and journals exist. It's human nature to speculate. That said, I feel like doing that gives the book a sensationalist, breathless edge that reads more like the adulation of an opinion piece and less like a concrete biography. I can respect the research Moulton put into their book, and I can see why so many DLS fans enjoyed this book as much as they did, but I also agree with the skeptics who did not appear to enjoy it. I feel for those skeptics because I felt the same way. Not all of the women in here are equally entertaining and fascinating, and it often feels like a Vanity Fair that's been padded out to novel length. Thanks to the publisher for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review! 2 stars

  2. 5 out of 5

    Juliet

    I'm a big fan of Dorothy L Sayers' novels, and was delighted to find this scholarly but readable work about the Oxford Circle - DLS and her friends and associates on the Oxford campus, who forged new paths for women both during their university years, which began in the turmoil of World War 1, and in their later life. Despite the dense nature of the book (it reads like an engagingly-written academic thesis, and perhaps was one; there are extensive footnotes) The Mutual Admiration Society brings I'm a big fan of Dorothy L Sayers' novels, and was delighted to find this scholarly but readable work about the Oxford Circle - DLS and her friends and associates on the Oxford campus, who forged new paths for women both during their university years, which began in the turmoil of World War 1, and in their later life. Despite the dense nature of the book (it reads like an engagingly-written academic thesis, and perhaps was one; there are extensive footnotes) The Mutual Admiration Society brings the characters of those women to life, and gives us insight into the real significance of their work. I was especially interested in Charis Frankenburg, whom I had not heard of before. Her career as a midwife, birth control advocate, parenting expert and magistrate was quite extraordinary. And of course, it's always fascinating to learn more about DLS herself.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Amy

    I know we are only six days in, but I think I found my favorite read of 2020. This book was truly fantastic. Mo Moulton does a wonderful job making history interesting and engaging while also painting recognizable portraits of humanity with each woman described. I was smitten from page 1. The Mutual Admiration Society follows the lives of four female friends at Oxford pre-WW1: Dorothy L. Sayers, Dorothy Rowe, Charis Frankenburg, and Muriel St. Clare Byrne. Among the first women to receive their I know we are only six days in, but I think I found my favorite read of 2020. This book was truly fantastic. Mo Moulton does a wonderful job making history interesting and engaging while also painting recognizable portraits of humanity with each woman described. I was smitten from page 1. The Mutual Admiration Society follows the lives of four female friends at Oxford pre-WW1: Dorothy L. Sayers, Dorothy Rowe, Charis Frankenburg, and Muriel St. Clare Byrne. Among the first women to receive their degrees from Oxford in 1920, these women did not belong to the first wave of crusaders who got women into the university, but rather, the second wave who took advantage of the opportunity. Accordingly, they did not need to fight for every hard-earned credit, but could turn to other things. And these four women definitely did. Bonding as undergraduates in the teens of the twentieth century, they maintained a friendship that survived two world wars, loss of spouses and children, fame, and scandal and lasted till the 1980s. In the decades between, they critiqued each others' writing, comforted in times of hardship, and kept one another in stitches of laughter. What emerges is a truly inspiring story of resiliency and friendship. But the women themselves inspire. Equipped in a unique way for women at the time, they each made their mark on England in very different ways. One wrote books on parenting; another wildly popular detective fiction; still another's life work made Tudor England approachable for general readers. They were nurses and school teachers, playwrights and advertisers. Mothers and maiden aunts. This book brings both these women and the tumultuous time they lived in to life. It is not, of course, a perfect biography. Like many modern books, the author condemns the women for not upholding the moral high ground of the twenty-first century in the twentieth. For example, pointing out they "largely failed to challenge the rise of anti-Semitism" and casually used the racist language of the time in many of their letters. But overall, the book does not agonize much over subjects where modern views would clash with those held by members of the Mutual Admiration Society--either negatively or positively. Some things get glossed over. Others just shrugged off as a sign of the times. (For example, Dorothy L. Sayers firm belief in original sin. Believing humans inherently evil? Such scandal!) In general, though, I appreciated this approach. Where more political correctness might easily have derailed the book with speculation and condemnation, the author simply allows the reader to draw their own inferences. This is particularly true for Muriel, whose female lovers do encompass a good portion of her story. But, besides pointing to the various legal hoops Muriel jumped through with her will to let her partner inherit and repeating the 'heterosexual nature of the language' they used to describe their arrangement, Mo Moulton does not make sexual identity the focus of Muriel's life beyond what Muriel herself said in her autobiography and letters. An excellent, well-written books that traces the way four women made careers for themselves as the first women with degrees from Oxford and how they in turn devoted their lives to making education and literature available to the changing society of the twentieth century.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Barbara K

    A most worthy read. Like most people (I suspect) I was drawn to the book by Dorothy Sayer's name, but although she may be the main attraction for fans of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, she is definitely not the sole focus. It is truly a group biography, and a picture of many of the changes in the English social and cultural landscape between the beginning of the 20th century and the 1980's. The Mutual Admiration Society (MAS) was a group of young women who studied together at Somerville Col A most worthy read. Like most people (I suspect) I was drawn to the book by Dorothy Sayer's name, but although she may be the main attraction for fans of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, she is definitely not the sole focus. It is truly a group biography, and a picture of many of the changes in the English social and cultural landscape between the beginning of the 20th century and the 1980's. The Mutual Admiration Society (MAS) was a group of young women who studied together at Somerville College in Oxford during the period leading up to World War I. Although I might take exception to the assertion that they "remade the world for women", there is no question that they stretched the boundaries of what women of their class were able to achieve in life beyond what had previously been possible. The "core four" of the MAS included Dorothy Sayers ("DLS"), a theological thinker and writer in addition to the author of the Wimsey books; Muriel St Clare Byrne, a Tudor scholar and author eventually awarded an OBE; Dorothy Rowe ("D Rowe"), a popular and successful teacher and important theatrical innovator; and Charis Frankenburg, a champion of women's reproductive rights and proselytizer for compassionate, informed child care. While Mo Moulton leaves no question that there was much to admire in these women, she is careful to point out that they could be narrow minded, in many ways clinging to the upper middle class privileges into which they were born. For instance, they were generally apprehensive that the careful, wise governing of their educated and monied peers would become a thing of the past once universal suffrage was enacted in England - or when the inhabitants of British colonies became self-governing. While they shared lifelong camaraderie mutual support, each of these women dealt with circumstances that were unique to themselves as they pursued their career goals. DLS struggled to reconcile her personal religious doctrines with her need for physical relationships coupled with some ambivalence about the idea of marriage. Muriel maintained a life partnership with Marjorie Barber (a teacher who also had attended Somerville), a relationship that was tested as a result of Muriel's involvement with another woman. D Rowe never married or sustained a long term relationship, but hardly fit the classic mold of a spinster, helping to establish and push to extraordinary success the Bournemouth Little Theater company. And Charis, who grew up Christian but whose father had a Jewish background, and who married into a Jewish family and community, was never fully comfortable in either world. Beyond sharing the stories of these remarkable women, The Mutual Admiration Society: How Dorothy L. Sayers and Her Oxford Circle Remade the World for Women consistently stimulated me to ponder their life trajectories in comparison with my own, and to draw parallels between the challenges they endured and what we face today. This was probably most true in the case of Charis, who fought with many groups, but primarily the Catholic Church, over making birth control widely available, a dispute that continues to this day. Maternal mortality rates, a problem that persists in the United States, was another concern for Charis nearly a century ago. Clearly the world has not been remade for women in this regard. I got a great deal more out of this book than I had anticipated. And I'm going to make a point of reading Gaudy Nights (a Wimsey/Vane novel set at a fictionalized Somerville) very soon! Note 1: Although GR doesn't have the Audible copy set up as one of the available editions, I listened rather than read. I'm still undecided about whether I liked the narration, which I found somewhat annoyingly brittle at times. Note 2: Because the first few chapters include references to a number of other women who were part of the MAS during the Somerville years, it was a bit confusing to sort out all the individuals while listening. Once the stories were distilled down to the main four plus their partners, it was much easier to follow.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Graculus

    I don't read a great deal of non-fiction, but every so often I need some as a bit of a palate cleanser between books - usually I turn to something historical at this kind of time, then this caught my eye because of its subtitle. I've been a massive Dorothy L Sayers fan for many year and didn't really know much about her other than the Wimsey books, so it seemed like a good opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. DLS, as she is called all the way through The Mutual Admiration Society, is the I don't read a great deal of non-fiction, but every so often I need some as a bit of a palate cleanser between books - usually I turn to something historical at this kind of time, then this caught my eye because of its subtitle. I've been a massive Dorothy L Sayers fan for many year and didn't really know much about her other than the Wimsey books, so it seemed like a good opportunity to kill two birds with one stone. DLS, as she is called all the way through The Mutual Admiration Society, is the most well-known of the group of women who this book is about but also possibly the most difficult to understand. These are women who first met at Somerville College in Oxford, arriving there at a time when the university was grudgingly accepting women as students (with many criteria for how they should then behave) but not to the point of actually giving them a degree at the end of their studies. Being self-selecting, these are predominantly middle class women who have the luxury of pursuing their interests even though very few options will be available at the end of their studies: pretty much the choice is teaching or marriage and most of them go through both at some point in their lives. The book does the best it can with the difficulties posed by people's desire not to have their private lives talked about after their death, as at least one member of the MAS requested that her private papers be burned. At least one was engaged in a same-sex relationship and there was also some polyamory going on too, though the book rightly states that sticking current labels on previous generations' behaviour is always tricky and problematic. In the end, I think it was still DLS who remained the focus of the book for me. I had little idea of the influence of her life on the characters she wrote, so to some extent that was interesting to see. I remain unconvinced of the accuracy of the subtitle of this book: the only one of their number who possibly had the effect suggested on others was heavily involved in public health matters, especially about women and birth control. Beyond that, did the others actually affect women's everyday life to the extent this subtitle suggests? I received a copy of this book free from the publisher and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth A

    I was drawn to this book as a fan of Dorothy L Sayers, wanting to read a history of her life that spotlighted the influence of her friends rather than her ~stormy~ love affairs, but this really is a biography of a group of women. I hardly even thought how it would feel especially significant to me, a queer graduate of a women's college, who has her own group of college friends she's trying to hold on to as we scatter across the globe trying to survive a very turbulent global era, as humans as we I was drawn to this book as a fan of Dorothy L Sayers, wanting to read a history of her life that spotlighted the influence of her friends rather than her ~stormy~ love affairs, but this really is a biography of a group of women. I hardly even thought how it would feel especially significant to me, a queer graduate of a women's college, who has her own group of college friends she's trying to hold on to as we scatter across the globe trying to survive a very turbulent global era, as humans as well as women. These were imperfect people, and they didn't necessarily remake the world as the subtitle suggests, but they did their best to take the educations they were able to get and do something REAL with them, each in their own individual way, while receiving lifelong support from each other. That was a history I was happy to learn about, and glad has been set down in this book.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Siria

    A very nicely done group biography about a group of friends who met at Somerville College, Oxford, in the early 20th century. They gave their group the semi-ironic nickname the Mutual Admiration Society—or MAS, as Mo Moulton refers to it—and while some drifted away after graduation, others remained lifelong friends. I'd only heard of two members of the group before—Dorothy L. Sayers, best known for the Peter Wimsey series of novels, and Muriel St Clare Byrne, editor of the Lisle Letters. The oth A very nicely done group biography about a group of friends who met at Somerville College, Oxford, in the early 20th century. They gave their group the semi-ironic nickname the Mutual Admiration Society—or MAS, as Mo Moulton refers to it—and while some drifted away after graduation, others remained lifelong friends. I'd only heard of two members of the group before—Dorothy L. Sayers, best known for the Peter Wimsey series of novels, and Muriel St Clare Byrne, editor of the Lisle Letters. The other two main members—Charis Frankenburg, author of a number of popular child-rearing books, and Dorothea Rowe, a teacher and co-founder of an amdram society—were new to me. The subtitle is more than a bit overblown, and at times Moulton struggles to escape the conventions of academic writing. (Not in terms of the use of jargon, but if you know how History grad students are taught to write chapters, you'll see that formula being followed quite scrupulously here.) However, their eye for detail is good, their archival research clearly extensive, and they're careful to explore and contextualise the lives of the lesser known members of MAS as much as they do the far better known Sayers. Moulton also presents these women warts and all: they don't gloss over the group's racism or anti-Semitism, or the ways that their friendships ebbed and flowed over the decades. Definitely one to pick up if you're interested in either Sayers or the social history of the early 20th century UK.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Sonia Gensler

    Quite illuminating. Of course I loved every morsel about DLS, but her friends were trailblazers in their own ways.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Robin

    I filed this under mysteries as well as non-fiction, as I came to this book because of Dorothy L. Sayers and her clever Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. Mo Moulton has done amazing research on Sayers' circle of friends beginning with their time in college as some of the first women to attend, but originally unable to get degrees from, Oxford. She follows them through their lives and the various directions they each travel in--high school teachers, dramatics, women's health, publishing, translation, I filed this under mysteries as well as non-fiction, as I came to this book because of Dorothy L. Sayers and her clever Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries. Mo Moulton has done amazing research on Sayers' circle of friends beginning with their time in college as some of the first women to attend, but originally unable to get degrees from, Oxford. She follows them through their lives and the various directions they each travel in--high school teachers, dramatics, women's health, publishing, translation, writing, married, single, coupled with other women--up to the time of their deaths. Since I was mostly interested in Sayers, she is the one I read about most carefully, but each of these women had a strong personality. They gathered originally for friendship and mutual critique and, like most circles of friends, were closer at some times then others. In the conclusion, discussing their legacy, Moulton says: [The work of the Mutual Admiration Society] "insists that our birthright, as human beings, encompasses the full range of culture, and that even our must quixotic or futile efforts are ennobled, as long as they are defined by that integrity that links head and heart" (195). I am thankful that women like the MAS lived their lives with courage and integrity that my life could be more expansive.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Patrick Barry

    I initially wanted to read this book because of it being about a group of friends that included Dorothy Sayers, the author of Gaudy Nights, a book I much admired. This book is a good, well researched and very readable work. I ended up being somewhat appalled by Sayers' early romantic missteps before she caught her stride in life. I was pleasantly surprised by her woman friends and the satellites in their orbit. I had not heard of these people, but their diverse ways of moving forward and out in I initially wanted to read this book because of it being about a group of friends that included Dorothy Sayers, the author of Gaudy Nights, a book I much admired. This book is a good, well researched and very readable work. I ended up being somewhat appalled by Sayers' early romantic missteps before she caught her stride in life. I was pleasantly surprised by her woman friends and the satellites in their orbit. I had not heard of these people, but their diverse ways of moving forward and out in a society that would prefer them in familiar little boxes was interesting reading. In particular I liked D Rowe, Charis, and the long suffering Bar. It's a nice read for anyone interested in history and the fight for equality.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Rachel

    I began this book not knowing much about Dorothy Sayers or British history. Not only did I leave the book knowing a lot more than I started with, I really enjoyed reading the history of a friendship. It made me reflect on my own friendships. It is very readable, even to someone who hasn't read any biographies or much history for a while. I began this book not knowing much about Dorothy Sayers or British history. Not only did I leave the book knowing a lot more than I started with, I really enjoyed reading the history of a friendship. It made me reflect on my own friendships. It is very readable, even to someone who hasn't read any biographies or much history for a while.

  12. 5 out of 5

    SusanC

    This is probably not a book designed for summer reading but I picked it up by accident mistaking the theme with another literary group. Of course I applied the 50 page challenge, being prepared to discard it if it did not suit after the first 50 pages had been read, but by then I was entranced at the story of women who became pioneers of their time. The reflections of what life was like in each of those decades illuminating. I found myself more drawn to the story of Charis Frankenberg, although c This is probably not a book designed for summer reading but I picked it up by accident mistaking the theme with another literary group. Of course I applied the 50 page challenge, being prepared to discard it if it did not suit after the first 50 pages had been read, but by then I was entranced at the story of women who became pioneers of their time. The reflections of what life was like in each of those decades illuminating. I found myself more drawn to the story of Charis Frankenberg, although clearly the publishers sought to highlight impact of Dorothy L Sayers if the blurb on the cover is to be believed. I also felt that the story surrounding Muriel and Bar was lacking, although that could easily be understood due to the nature of their relationship and times they lived through. The author said as much in the final chapter. I'd also have liked more on DRowe, especially given the fondness Charis' children had for her. But all of this relies on the preservation of letters, diaries, and papers and while we should be indebted to those who seek to retain these legacies when we know often these are discarded after death of that person or by the subject themselves when they acknowledge they are facing their own mortality and don't want anyone to have to bother with this stuff. We ought to be thankful to the author, Mo Moulton, who has clearly put in many years and much effort to pull this all together. It reminds me of the Lisle Letters - MSB's decades long project.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Kimberly

    I wanted to read this book as I really enjoy the author Dorothy Sayers. This is a book about the group she was part of college on, and the impact these women had on each other. The strength of the book was showing the power of both friendship and collaboration. The weakness is that you never manage to feel emotionally connected to the people you are reading about and therefore aren’t particularly rooting for anyone. I will say I learned some surprising things about Sayers! I am eager to read a bi I wanted to read this book as I really enjoy the author Dorothy Sayers. This is a book about the group she was part of college on, and the impact these women had on each other. The strength of the book was showing the power of both friendship and collaboration. The weakness is that you never manage to feel emotionally connected to the people you are reading about and therefore aren’t particularly rooting for anyone. I will say I learned some surprising things about Sayers! I am eager to read a bio devoted to her.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Lisa Brantly

    After describing the book to Tom, I decided to change my rating. My problem was the author used passages, repeatedly, from their (MAS) writing to interpret their lives. I would prefer a straightforward analysis of their lives as lived rather than inferred from texts. Nevertheless, the main 4 were remarkable women, and should be celebrated. The book's premise is correct. After describing the book to Tom, I decided to change my rating. My problem was the author used passages, repeatedly, from their (MAS) writing to interpret their lives. I would prefer a straightforward analysis of their lives as lived rather than inferred from texts. Nevertheless, the main 4 were remarkable women, and should be celebrated. The book's premise is correct.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ally

    Bury me in my feelings about female friendships.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Briallen Hopper

    A moving & heartening collective biography about women loving and supporting each other through youth, midlife, age, work, war, triumph, loss. Recommended for fans of Dorothy L. Sayers as well as for anyone interested in friendship, chosen family, spinsters, gender nonconformists, and queer history.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Natalia

    As much as I wanted to like the book, the majority of the chapters bored me. I admire the writer’s attention to detail and desire to depict the life of the members of MAS as truthfully as possible but it is a tricky thing to recreate somebody’s life from letters and old documents and turn it into a compelling read. I did not get the feeling that I got to know the women particularly well, I might have sympathized with some of their plights but they felt wooden on the page and sometimes their dire As much as I wanted to like the book, the majority of the chapters bored me. I admire the writer’s attention to detail and desire to depict the life of the members of MAS as truthfully as possible but it is a tricky thing to recreate somebody’s life from letters and old documents and turn it into a compelling read. I did not get the feeling that I got to know the women particularly well, I might have sympathized with some of their plights but they felt wooden on the page and sometimes their direct quotes from letters were downright offensive to many minority groups. I very much preferred the authors’ own comments about the times and life in Britain in the era when the women lived as it was a fascinating trip down the history lane in Britain in the twentieth century, I felt that the book really was at its best in those passages. Even though the main premise of the book was to establish that the women of MAS club changed the world for the better I found very little evidence to support this thesis because if academic writing taught me one thing it is that your arguments should always be strong enough to convince the readers about the validity of your thesis statement. I finished this book highly doubting if that goal was achieved here.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Amy

    I started reading this book at the beginning of my state's COVID-19 stay-in-shelter mandate so I'm wondering if that's why I couldn't concentrate on this highly anticipated group biography. In any case, I returned it to the library. But I found I'd been periodically thinking about this book and so decided to give it another try. I am glad I did for I enjoyed it this time around. While it might not have drawn me irrevocably into the lives of each woman as much as I would have liked, it was still I started reading this book at the beginning of my state's COVID-19 stay-in-shelter mandate so I'm wondering if that's why I couldn't concentrate on this highly anticipated group biography. In any case, I returned it to the library. But I found I'd been periodically thinking about this book and so decided to give it another try. I am glad I did for I enjoyed it this time around. While it might not have drawn me irrevocably into the lives of each woman as much as I would have liked, it was still a fascinating time period to read about, especially regarding university life and its after effects; and then later learning more about Dorothy L. Sayers' process for creating her beloved detective series.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Samantha

    An ambitious book, that perhaps suffers from spreading the focus too thin. Did these women remake the world for women? Arguably only Charis Frankenburg has a claim to that statement and Moulton fails to examine her achievements fully by necessity of space. Ultimately Dorothy L Sayers’ life deserves a full length biography and Moulton barely touches the surface here. The first half suffers from the introduction of too many individuals and the use of familiar names instead of the conventional surn An ambitious book, that perhaps suffers from spreading the focus too thin. Did these women remake the world for women? Arguably only Charis Frankenburg has a claim to that statement and Moulton fails to examine her achievements fully by necessity of space. Ultimately Dorothy L Sayers’ life deserves a full length biography and Moulton barely touches the surface here. The first half suffers from the introduction of too many individuals and the use of familiar names instead of the conventional surnames adds to this confusion where it is difficult to remember who is who.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Young

    I’m a long time fan of Dorothy L Sayers’ work and yet I know very little about her life. That was what attracted me to this book. It’s the story not only of DLS, but of how she and her small group of talented and high-achieving university friends — all of them pioneers in the early days of women students at Oxford University — developed in the period between the wars. Author Mo Moulton doesn’t allow Sayers to dominate but gives us the story of the young women who, in 1912, formed what they terme I’m a long time fan of Dorothy L Sayers’ work and yet I know very little about her life. That was what attracted me to this book. It’s the story not only of DLS, but of how she and her small group of talented and high-achieving university friends — all of them pioneers in the early days of women students at Oxford University — developed in the period between the wars. Author Mo Moulton doesn’t allow Sayers to dominate but gives us the story of the young women who, in 1912, formed what they termed the Mutual Admiration Society — DLS herself, Muriel St Clare Byrne, Charis Frankenburg, Dorothy Rowe and others. Through them she conveys a flavour of a complicated social world between the Wars. Everything was changing and attitudes to women, it seems, in particular. There was a shortage of men and so not all of them married, breaking the moulds of relationships and going on to eminence in their various professions. 

It’s a complicated book, weaving together many strands of social history and tying them, in a particularly satisfying way, into the lives of these women to make the interwar world accessible to the modern reader. Moulton seems to get the heart of all her subjects and the research is thorough — though perhaps I felt there was sometimes too much detail (for example, in some of the letters or the minutiae of their academic or professional work) which rather slowed the narrative down. that said, I thoroughly enjoyed it. I read a lot about this period and this book gives a real insight into the ever-changing world that was the legacy of the great War. I highly recommend it. Thanks to Perseus Books and Netgalley for a copy of this book in return for an honest review.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Cat

    The central premise of this book, that the achievements and relationships of a set of brilliant twentieth-century women can be best understood through their abiding friendship with one another, both moves and inspires me. Moulton's execution of this project shows narrative flair, interpretive and ideological nuance, historical precision about shifting understandings of gender and sexuality, sly wit, archival immersion, and structural logic. In short, Moulton is a superlative biographer. Her symp The central premise of this book, that the achievements and relationships of a set of brilliant twentieth-century women can be best understood through their abiding friendship with one another, both moves and inspires me. Moulton's execution of this project shows narrative flair, interpretive and ideological nuance, historical precision about shifting understandings of gender and sexuality, sly wit, archival immersion, and structural logic. In short, Moulton is a superlative biographer. Her sympathy for her subjects and recognition of their internal contradictions and occasional shortcomings make the book utterly absorbing; I hope that someone decides to adapt this work into a mini-series. I could well imagine the major players--a writer of popular Elizabethan histories, a midwife and advocate for women and families, a co-founder of an amateur theatrical club, and, of course, the mystery novelist whose name is most familiar--brought to life in episodes that feature their letters, teas, collaborations, and laughter. Moulton illustrates the range of their accomplishments in so many arenas, the struggles they faced in their romantic and professional lives (and what those struggles revealed about their cultural moment and the changes for women within it), and also the flavor of their friendships (a particular favorite section for me was their epistolary exchanges about beloved pets). Their years spent together at Somerville, a women's college at Oxford, set them up for the rest of their lives to be audacious in their ambitions, firm in their loyalties, and collaborative in their endeavors, from parenting (D. Rowe as the beloved honorary aunt of Charis's children) to playwriting (DLS and Muriel writing the play of Busman's Honeymoon together). Moulton's work refuses the Great Man model of genius, not only by focusing on women's intellect, talents, and oeuvres, but also by celebrating the importance of friendship, both to public accomplishment and also to private fulfillment.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Di

    A terrific biography of a group of brilliant trailblazing twentieth century British women who all left their mark in a variety of ways.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Maura

    Rounding up from a 3.5. Obviously thoroughly researched; suffers a bit from trying to cram everything in (transitions can be a little forced). But as a way of learning about women’s lives in Britain in the first half of the 20th century (particularly those who managed to go to Oxford!), it fills the bill.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Katedurie50

    A group biography is tricky to handle, and more so when one of the group, Sayers, has a kind of celebrity the others lacked. But Moulton handles this well, giving more or less equal attention to each. It rather overstates their impact - remaking the world doesn't happen so easily - but constructs a good case for the different contributions made to society by this section of the first generation of Oxford women to take degrees. Charis Frankenberg, married into a wealthy Jewish family and mother o A group biography is tricky to handle, and more so when one of the group, Sayers, has a kind of celebrity the others lacked. But Moulton handles this well, giving more or less equal attention to each. It rather overstates their impact - remaking the world doesn't happen so easily - but constructs a good case for the different contributions made to society by this section of the first generation of Oxford women to take degrees. Charis Frankenberg, married into a wealthy Jewish family and mother of four, also found a role in promoting women's health through access to contraception, for instance. We see the impact that the First World War had on a generation of women because of the damage inflicted on their menfolk. We also see how norms could be subverted - two of the women in a lesbian relationship, Sayers giving birth to an illegitimate son. It casts a good deal of light on the preoccupations of the Wimsey novels, and especially the best of them, Gaudy Night. That novel is in part a love letter to Somerville College (thinly disguised) anmd women's potentiality; this biography shows how that potential was realised.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Daniel Kukwa

    It's a bit of a slow burn, but it makes for fascinating reading. I'm a sucker for both early 20th century history & the highlighting of forgotten/obscure people and events, and this book delivers on both in spades. A story of friendship, breaking barriers, and a moment in time when extraordinary women were at the crux of so many political, social and cultural changes. There were brilliant & imperfect, both breaking barriers and still defined by old conventions; they all deserve much more press i It's a bit of a slow burn, but it makes for fascinating reading. I'm a sucker for both early 20th century history & the highlighting of forgotten/obscure people and events, and this book delivers on both in spades. A story of friendship, breaking barriers, and a moment in time when extraordinary women were at the crux of so many political, social and cultural changes. There were brilliant & imperfect, both breaking barriers and still defined by old conventions; they all deserve much more press in the modern age. I suddenly want to rush out and read a Lord Peter Wimsey mystery and dip my toes into this earlier time.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Micebyliz

    A lovely accounting of the lives of women in another age and time. Not that we should go back, because the world was not as innocent as it appeared, obviously. How unfair not to earn a degree immediately after you actually earned it! I loved the GK Chesterton chair. i want one! I loved the MAS and feel like i should have belonged had i lived then..it's remarkable that their friendships lasted into their nineties, at least for several of them. What a grand statement on the friendships of women. A lovely accounting of the lives of women in another age and time. Not that we should go back, because the world was not as innocent as it appeared, obviously. How unfair not to earn a degree immediately after you actually earned it! I loved the GK Chesterton chair. i want one! I loved the MAS and feel like i should have belonged had i lived then..it's remarkable that their friendships lasted into their nineties, at least for several of them. What a grand statement on the friendships of women.

  27. 4 out of 5

    brightredglow

    I am not even a reader of Dorothy L Sayers. I selected it as an ARC out of curiosity. It was a fabulous read. I'm not an Anglophile at all, but the presentation of these women was well done. It may end up being one of my favorite reads of the year. I am not even a reader of Dorothy L Sayers. I selected it as an ARC out of curiosity. It was a fabulous read. I'm not an Anglophile at all, but the presentation of these women was well done. It may end up being one of my favorite reads of the year.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Lisa

    I thought that I would enjoy this but I found it too long and detailed, unfortunately. The only one who I was really interested in reading about was Dorothy L. Sayers. I received this free ebook from NetGalley in return for an honest review.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Antoinette

    The book is well-researched and written in an intelligent manner. Recommended to readers of historic nonfiction.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    This was so good! A fascinating scholarly look at the lives of one of my favorite authors and some of her friends.

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