Vera Brittain, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Oxford

Vera Brittain and DLS in Oxford

From: "Ruth E. Mills"
Date: Tue, 23 May 2000 08:57:50 -0400
Subject: [LordPeter] Vera Brittain and DLS in Oxford

Having read Vera Brittain's "Testament of Youth" where she briefly mentions meeting DLS at Oxford, I recently embarked on "Chronicle of Youth" which is Brittain's 1913-1917 diary. This includes her first year at Oxford. I've found a few passages of interest that either mention DLS or shed light on GAUD, and thought that since we're still in the interval, I might excerpt a few for general enlightenment.

VB arrived at Oxford early in October of 1914. By the end of October, she was thinking of changing her room. On October 27th she writes that she went to Miss Penrose (principal of Somerville College) and "while there happened to mention I might like Miss Sayers' room - which is next to Miss Lorimer's". Not that she wanted to kick DLS out of her room, but wanted to see if she liked the rooms in that area. VB never did go to DLS' room, because she got flustered by Miss Lorimer. (October 27th)

By the way, Miss Lorimer or "The Lorie" as the students called her, seems a likely candidate for the original of Miss de Vine. Although she was Tutor in Classics, she seemed a formidable woman. She is first described as "a small, wiry, rather astringent person."(October 9th) However, "the wonderful thing about her is her interest in everything, which ranges from birds and plants to Classics, social service, and poetry. She seems to stand unique and almost lonely among the other dons, set apart by her own versatility." (October 25th)

Of course we see Miss de Vine from Harriet's "grown-up" perspective, but I can imagine that students would have seen her quite differently. VB says of The Lorie that "the more she crushes and makes me feel small, the more interested in her I become." (October 27th). Another student, Miss Davies, said the following about Miss Lorimer: "..she is particularly down on helpless dependent people, and on modern people in so far as modernness implies flabbiness, as it often does. She has a very keen Scotch brain, and has worked extremely hard herself and so is contemptuous of people who try to skip all the difficulties." On the day after she found out her favorite brother had been killed in Persia, she came to class as usual and "took the class with her usual thoroughness and care...and she was as critical and observant of mistakes as she had ever been." Yet while some thought her "Spartanism" went all the way through, VB suspected that, like herself, Miss Lorimer was one of those who shows the least when they feel the deepest.(October 31st)

Despite this formidable nature, VB developed a close working relationship with the Lorie and "as a gesture of respect and affection...commissioned the portrait of Miss Lorimer that hangs in Somerville College."

I'll go to a new post to continue discussion of DLS.

Miss Haydock

Vera Brittain and DLS, continued

From: "Ruth E. Mills"
Date: Tue, 23 May 2000 09:16:47 -0400
Subject: [LordPeter] Vera Brittain and DLS, continued

Hope no one is finding this boring. I'll push on, anyways!

Just another quick character description of one of the dons - Miss Hayes-Robinson, Tutor in Modern History. "She is an instance of a woman who has spent her life in the pursuit and imparting of knowledge, and whose daily round is one purely concerned with intellect, without losing any atom of her womanliness and feminine attractiveness, without having her humaneness warped or her sympathies blunted."

On February 8th (1915), VB wrote, "We had a delightful Bach Choir practice tonight...All through the evening, especially during the solemn words of the _Requiem_, I could not help but think of Victor near to death and Edward's and Roland's sorrow on his account, yet the humour of Dr. Allen's temper in the midst of a bad cold, and of Miss Sayers gazing at him as though she were in church worshipping her only God, appealed to me immensely.

On June 18th (1915), VB described the "going-down" play (end of the year celebrations). "It was as usual a sort of pantomime, representing expeditions of various Oxford celebrities to the Never-Never Land, and of course bringing in topical events. As Miss Rowe was stage-managing and Miss Sayers a leading light, I heard that it was unusually good even for a going-down play. The definite "take-offs" were simply excellent. Miss Sayers with her chorus became Dr. Allen to the life; she had even borrowed his robes for the purpose, and had all the tricks off pat."

Miss Haydock

VB in Oxford, again!

From: "Ruth E. Mills"
Date: Tue, 23 May 2000 09:31:54 -0400
Subject: [LordPeter] VB in Oxford, again!

Just a few more bits for today, I promise!

I found another interesting passage about Miss Lorimer. On November 21st, 1914, VB is apparently still undecided as to whether she "like(s) her tremendously or loathe(s) her intensely" but she finds her a fascinating character. "It is her absolute justice which is most disconcerting because it givers her scorn such a sting and a feeling that it is feel she would not move an inch out of her way to help an outside person, as Miss Hayes Robinson does, or accomplish any task not strictly within her sphere. But on the other hand she would never shirk anything that came clearly on her path, however bitter she might find the doing of it, and whatever suffering it might bring her." Interestingly enough, VB records in April of 1917 that Miss Lorimer went out as an orderly to one of the Scottish Women's Hospitals at Salonika.

I wonder if Miss Hayes Robinson was the model for..was it Miss Lydgate who was the "sympathetic" don? (I'm blanking on her name).

On May 1st of 1915, VB describes the Oxford May Morning ceremony. "I was up at 3:45 this morning for the famous Oxford May Morning ceremony. Magdalen Bridge was quickly crowded with townspeople, women students, the remaining undergraduates, and bicycles, while the river below was covered with punts and sculling boats. When the clock struck five everyone became suddenly silent, and then, just as the sun was rising, the Magdalen choir from the top of Magdalen tower sang the May Morning hymn. As they sang the sun gradually rose higher and threw a golden glow over the slender grey tower. The voices of the singers sounded very pure and sweet in the clear morning air. I had a choked feeling in my throat..."

There are some other relevant or interesting passages, but these were the ones that jumped out at me as I read.

Miss Haydock

VB in Oxford, continued

From: Ruth E. Mills
Subject: [LordPeter] VB in Oxford, continued
Date: Wednesday, May 24, 2000 9:34 AM

I think I did give most of the interesting excerpts yesterday, but since everyone seems to be enjoying them, I'll give a few more, and hope I'm not veering towards Piffle (since I'm not _on_ Piffle). I'll try to confine it to Oxford scenes, things that Harriet and DLS might have experienced.

WWI Era Oxford (and England) appears to still have been quite formal. Despite being university students, women's movements were limited and they were open to criticism for things we would think were silly! After she left Oxford, VB was travelling on a train with her boyfriend, Roland Leighton. He discusses getting engaged, and VB writes about how she suddenly realized that they were opening themselves up to criticism for being so "intimate" in public. And at this point, they hadn't even kissed! Prior to this, VB had either had a chaperon while with him, or lied about her whereabouts in order to be alone with him (although her parents seemed rather indulgent about this sort of thing). VB even says that she, with her "modern ideas" would think the same thing about any other woman she saw being so "intimate" with a man she wasn't married or engaged to.

To bring this back to Oxford, she mentions in her entry of January 16th 1915 that Roland had accompanied her in the train to Oxford (unknown by her parents). She says that when they arrived she insisted that they pretend not to know each other, because if she should be seen with him, she was liable to be "sent down" (i.e. expelled). On October 22, 19194, a friend of her brother's insisted on speaking to her and walking down the corridor with her after a class, although "I told him I was not supposed to speak to him" and "in spite of my informing him that I must be treated as if I were in quarantine." Immediately afterward, she says "I joined the Oxford Society; I am very interested in it, as a small side of the enormous question of Feminism."

So Miss Hillyard's attitude toward Harriet's treatment of LP is a bit more understandable.

I have more to write but will put it in the next email just to break things up.

Miss Haydock

VB and the position of women at Oxford, cont.

From: Ruth E. Mills
Subject: [LordPeter] VB and the position of women at Oxford, cont.
Date: Wednesday, May 24, 2000 9:37 AM

Not only male-female, but female-female relationships were formal too. In the October 13th, 1914 entry, she talks about a college convention called " 'proposals', which seems to be a kind of ceremony you go through if you wish to call a person you have taken a fancy to by her Christian name." By November 15th, she had "advanced quite the direction of familiarity...I now call two individuals by their Christian names."

Remember too that until 1920 women couldn't get BA degrees from Oxford, although by 1914 they could take the examinations and the results were published. Somerville college, which at this time had about 100 students and a very high academic reputation, encouraged its students to fulfill all the conditions for the award of a degree in anticipation of the time when women would be eligible. In June of 1915, when VB took her "Pass Moderations", there were only 4 women and 50 men, even though many men had already gone off to war.

Which reminds me, could some Oxbridgian explain Responsions? I understand that VB had to take the Oxford Senior exam in order to get in, but she also had to do Responsions for Greek at the end of her first term, and I don't quite understand what that is all about.

Despite being an academically exacting university, women still took cooking classes! VB describes such a class on May 4th of 1915. "The Lorie" was there as well as a mix of dons and students. It doesn't sound like they did very well. "They all knew even less about it than I. We boiled some mutton, and prepared the potatoes, carrots, onions, and parsley sauce. The Lorie remarked that potatoes were difficult to peel, they had so many facets! She also weighed her butter wrong and she stirred her parsley sauce with such vigour that we got most of it..."

Another lighter incident came on Nov. 23rd of 1914. VB was "horsing" around with some friends in the Gym. "Just at a most unpropitious moment, when I with my shoes kicked off was half-way up a rope and Dorothy with her skirt tucked up round her waist was playing about on the vaulting horse, Miss Hayes Robinson elected to come through with two men. I was forced to remain suspended in mid-air much against my will while they walked through, and from my insecure position above I caught Miss Hayes Robinson's glance of amusement. We collapsed on the floor and laughed helplessly when they had gone through."

Miss Haydock

Clarification on "Dorothy"

From: Ruth E. Mills
Subject: [LordPeter] Clarification on "Dorothy"
Date: Wednesday, May 24, 2000 10:52 AM

Just wanted to mention that the "Dorothy" mentioned in several quotes I previously posted is not DLS, but Dorothy Wadham. "Marjorie" was Marjorie Barber, later a Lecturer in English. "E.F." was Una Ellis Fermor, later a university teacher and author.

Miss Haydock

Re: Vera Brittain and DLS in Oxford

From: Ruth E. Mills
Subject: [LordPeter] Re: Vera Brittain and DLS in Oxford
Date: Tue, 23 May 2000 20:58:42 -0000

--- In, Debby Shulevitz wrote:

--- thevale@l... wrote: > >Just to say how much I am enjoying Miss Haydock's
> >postings on Vera Britainand DLS in Oxford - so much
> >so I am determined toread V.B.'s diaries, or at
> >least "Chronicle of Youth". I wonder if you can
> >give us further details, i.e. publisher and date of
> >publication please?
>I think it's actually "Testament of Youth", isn't it?

Yes, "Testament of Youth" is Brittain's autobiographical account of the war and the years immediately following it (I think she goes up to 1925), whereas Chronicle of Youth is the diary, which only covers 1913 to 1917. Actually, the majority of the entries are for 1914-15. After that, she was nursing in London and Malta and didn't have much time for diaries, although there are a few scattered entries.

Testament of Youth should be quite easy to find, it was even made into a movie at some point. In addition, I think she also wrote other books - one covering the post 1925 years ("Testament of " Something), one about her friendship with Winifred Holtby, and I also think the letters of her and the four young men she talks about in TOY and COY were published. I haven't read any of those.

If you are interested, I would urge you to read at least Testament of Youth. Here is a woman who saw many of the horrors of the war and suffered a great deal. She really brings home how this war decimated a generation of young men, and its lasting impact on British society.

In connection with Lord Peter, it helps to understand where Sayers got the background for Lord Peter's war experiences, as well as Harriet's Oxford years. And it is fun to run across the odd mention of DLS - like meeting an old friend where you're not expecting it!

I will try to find fuller citations for her books and report back.

Miss Haydock