The Mutual Admiration Society: How Dorothy L. Sayers and Her Oxford Circle Remade the World for Women
In 1912, four extraordinary women met as students at Somerville College, one of the first women's colleges at Oxford: mystery novelist and theologian Dorothy Sayers, historian Muriel St. Clare Byrne, child-rearing expert and birth control advocate Charis Barnett Frankenburg and Dorothy Rowe, who founded an important amateur theater company. Together they formed the heart of what Sayers dubbed the Mutual Admiration Society (MAS), a not entirely accurate description of a group devoted to candid criticism and high intellectual and artistic standards.
In The Mutual Admiration Society: How Dorothy L. Sayers and Her Oxford Circle Remade the World for Women, historian Mo Moulton examines the lives and the changing relationships of the members of MAS from their college years to the death of the last surviving member in 1988. Moulton considers the nature of female friendships, and explores the women's lives as both insiders and outsiders who benefited from positions as members of the social elite, yet found their choices limited by legal and social barriers based on gender. (Even at Oxford, the women were second-class citizens: able to take classes and sit for examinations but not eligible to receive degrees.) More importantly, Moulton looks at the ways in which each of the four pushed against those boundaries and created new versions of women's lives in a changing world.
The result is not only a picture of four complex lives across a diversity of experience, but a rich discussion of what it means to be both human and female. --Pamela Toler, blogging at History in the Margins