A Brill Calendar: June 13
Few university alumni use a talent to entertain to earn an income.
Academia is supposed, ‘ab ovo’, to address serious ‘problems’. Still, since the 19th century – from ‘Alice in Wonderland’, perhaps – this despising of amusement as a concept is occasionally shed by academics; Umberto Eco (1932) is a good example. Earlier, The Dutch sinologist Robert van Gulik (1910 – 1967), an eminent linguist and civil servant and raised in the Leyden tradition of his discipline, created a fictional sage from classical China, judge Tie; the hero of stories replete with problems that baffle officialdom. Van Gulik’s stream of novels in this vein became successful, highly profitable and widely translated.
And it is seldom, (though earlier still), that an Oxford-scholar, receiving a Degree in medieval literature from its hallowed Halls in 1915 – and a woman to boot – innovated the commercial craft of advertisement-writing, while following in parallel, with wit and style, a fictional gentleman-scholar, the imperturbable Lord Peter Wimsey, bachelor and connoisseur of rare and early printed editions, making his entrance in the detective-novel ‘Whose Body’ (1932), and shielded from domestic chores or inconvenience by his indispensable man-servant Bunter. “Oozing charm from every pore / he oiled his way across the floor.”
Dorothy Leygh Sayers (Oxford, June 13 1893 – Witham, Essex, December 17 1957) wrote during a quarter of her short life one such a novel per annum, roughly. But blood being thicker than water, Sayers published in 1949 also a fine scholarly translation of Dante’s miraculous tripod, the ‘Inferno’; six years later the ‘Purgatorio’ followed. Appropriately, she completed her English version of the ‘Paradiso’ in Heaven.