DOROTHY AND JACK | Book Review
One reads history, either because of a fascination with prior events, or to learn something of human nature. In Gina Dalfonzo’s latest book, Dorothy and Jack, both readings are richly rewarded. It is a book which adds insight into the lives of both Dorothy Sayers and C.S. Lewis—examining the importance of friendship and providing a call to reconsider male and female friendships in the life of the church. The reader engages these questions as Dorothy and Jack examines the history, growth, and effects of Sayers and Lewis’ friendship.
Dalfonzo begins with the first time that Sayers and Lewis were both in Oxford, prior to World War I. While there is no evidence that Sayers and Lewis met, this starting point fills out the trajectory of their lives. A series of contrasts introduces the reader to Sayers (the adventurous Christian still exploring her faith), and Lewis (the pessimistic atheist still examining the world). What they share is a love for the life of the mind and thinking seriously about the world. Fast forwarding to 1942, Sayers and Lewis’ paths officially cross in the mail. That is, they exchange letters praising each other’s work. These letters form the start of a fifteen-year friendship, cut short by Sayers’ death in 1957. Having opened with their differences, Dalfonzo then explores how Sayers and Lewis grew towards and learned from each other. In so doing, she paints a picture of how friendships between the sexes can operate in a Christian context.
Over the course of the book, Dalfonzo points out several ways in which Sayers and Lewis helped each other develop. As one might guess, initially both pushed each other to be fuller writers. Lewis encouraged Sayers towards apologetic work, while Sayers encouraged Lewis to write books on practical theology and Christian living. Additionally, they each championed the other’s books, providing both praise and critique as they continued their various writing projects. Indeed, Dalfonzo suggests that Sayers filled some of the gaps left for Lewis when the Inklings began to drift apart. She also suggests that Sayers’ friendship paved the way for Lewis’ eventual friendship with and marriage to Joy Davidman. The exchanges between Sayers and Lewis demonstrate how they respected and enjoyed each other and that their friendship furthered their personal and professional growth. As the story of their relationship continues, it raises for the reader more general questions of friendship.
These questions grow out of the stance which Evangelical Christianity has taken on relationships between men and women. On the whole, Evangelical thought has erred on the side of caution, suggesting men and women keep their relationships on an acquaintance level. The exceptions are relationships which are developing into marriages. And so, one sees articles questioning whether men and women can have platonic friendships, or if such relationships inevitably move towards inappropriate intimacy—either physically or emotionally. Dalfonzo, following Sayers, points the reader towards the imago Dei as a starting point for thinking about these questions. If all people are created in the image of God, then all people show a unique piece of God’s nature. If this is the case, then perhaps men and women have things to learn from each other which they would miss if they limited their relationships solely to those of the same sex. With the growth that resulted from Lewis and Sayer’s relationship as an example, Dalfonzo suggests that there is room for the Evangelical Church to adjust its position on relationships between the sexes.
In the end, Dorothy and Jack contributes admirably to the ongoing conversation about Dorothy Sayers and C.S. Lewis. In tracing the history of their relationship, Dalfonzo further rounds out the picture of their lives and how their relationship influenced their work. Further, Dorothy and Jack raises questions regarding how the church approaches relationships between men and women. In raising these questions, it also creates a space in which to wrestle with them. As is perhaps best in a book exploring history, the questions are not directly answered. Instead it leaves the reader with the responsibility to continue exploring the answers themselves. In this, Dalfonzo encourages her readers to follow the examples of Lewis and Sayers in exploring what exactly God has to say in answer to our questions—perhaps in conversation with a good friend or two.