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tv   Mo Moulton The Mutual Admiration Society  CSPAN  December 25, 2019 9:00am-9:51am EST

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30 or 40 television programs that he works for, hear him on the radio. so tonight we've had just a little tiny smidgen of wonder of a mo rocca. thank you. [applause] >> thank you. thank you all. [applause] .. >> mo moulton will be talking about the latest book, mutual admiration society. how dorothy sayers remade the
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world for women. and he's specifically interested in gender, sexuality, colonialism and post colonialism. a ph.d. from brown university and worked a number of years in history and literature at harvard. currently, moulton is a senior lecturer, and lastly written another previous book which is published in 2014. the mutual admiration society centers on named mystery writer dorothy sayers and five friends who founded a writing group in 1912 at summerville college, oxford. sayers and her colleagues entered a time when they could receive an education, but not degrees. october of 1920, they became some of the first women who fully graduate. and usually pushed the boundaries in other ways as
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well. looking to forward reproduction, arts and clear family making. working to overcome the extremely restricted sexism of the time, the women of the mutual admiration society are an inspiration today and we can follow their example as we work to a more equal society. and here to tell us about it at author themselves, mo moulton. [applaus [applause] >> thank you very much and thank you for coming out in the cold, incredibly cold tuesday night. it's really an honor to be back in hybrid square doing this event. as we mentioned, i taught for six years in the history and literature program here so i feel like i'm in the saddle of the community that actually spawns this book and where this book was born. and to be back here, it's a
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book about community. and about relationships. and how being in the community and having the relationship help us to become more than what we might otherwise be, help us to grow and help us to transcend the boundaries that might otherwise be in place. it's also, as -- it's also a book about whatever happens the day after the revolution, dorothy sayers and her friends lived at this moment when there were a lot of famouses first for some reason. part of the first generation in britain to be able to vote in parliamentary elections. they were part of the first cohort of women to grant a grieve box. and women sitting on jurors and so on and so on.
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a lot happened at this moment. part of what i wanted to explore when writing this book what happens when we are given access to a world that doesn't vote for us, a world that maybe a legislation revolution start, but not a full transformation. and the answer to that question is partly community. and the space that these women made for each other. so this book started, it kind of started on an airplane. it started when i bought a novel published in 1935, and it's one of the most beloved dorothy sayers novels. and it's one that is set in summerville college-- well, it's called truesville in the novel, but it's a women's
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college at the university. and i bought it for plane reading coming from a conference. airplane reading can actually change your life. and so i read this book and i was blown away, it was a story of intellectual integrity in a female scholarly community and as soon as i got off the plane, i wanted to know who these women were. it was so clear this wasn't just a work of complete imagination, but it was describing their relationships, real community. so i started digging into biographies and becoming frustrated because i was finding out a lot about dorothy sayers as a mother, as a wife, as somebody who had relationships with a series of men, i didn't find a lot about her female friendships. and so i started investigating those women. those demail friendships and i
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found out they were amazing. the women in her life. the book focuses on oxford university, and especially the four key women, the mutual admiration society and that's what they call themselves and we get to look at why in a minute. and it focuses on four of them who stayed friends throughout their lives and so dorothy sayers, she was an advertising, and she became a theologian as well. and another play write. and dorothy rowe who i called her d-rowe. and i called dorothy dls. the parents in britain were not
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original in their naming. and d-rowe, and became an english teacher and karen, the social glue of the group, became a mid wife, a writer, parenti parenting, was a justice of the peace and a variety of other sort of things and touches on a few other people involved in the group. muriel yager, who became a pioneering fiction writer and one who became a fiction writer at bryn mawr. and so i want to start by giving you an introduction to this group at summerville college. when they're first meeting, and give you a flavor of what they're like. the way that they were both serious and quite fun loving and silly and whacky in all sorts of ways. so the first recorded meeting
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of the mutual admiration society was november 6th, 1912 and noted iconically in the diary. miss middlemore at age eight and phyllis had her works whose titles reveal her ongoing infatuation with medieval themes. february 4th, another meeting, over tea in the room and she and jim read their work. and they baptized the club saying if we didn't give that title of mutual admiration society the rest of college would. she wasn't wrong. they earned some digs in that year going downplay, a light hearted play that they put on each year. vera britain who never joined the ranks, took themselves quite seriously and apparently
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still do. they also enjoyed the mcca maca and the gruesome and eerie. and they wanted for phyllis to come from london. they crept into their bed and made this on her bed. hir hairpins for nose and mouth and cushions on its body and stuck a pair of shoes great up at the end of the bed. the crowning touch was a pair of leather gloves holding a bottle with a label suicide by poison and luckily phyllis walked in during preparations and was delighted. perhaps inspires by the success. they faced an elaborate ghost party. and that's muriel yager who went by jim. and they went to a site of old
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convert and supposed to be haunted by the ghost of a none. and too many education rendered a woman unmarriageable. having sworn she'd seen this one night on the stroke of 11. jim invited eight other first year students to meet the ghost. >> she enlisted and phil list and her aide, and others came to the party in all innocence. dls had other own elements, preparing latin charms to use in case an exorcism was necessary. together they sat and told tales of ghosts working into a frightfully creepy state with grisly stories. d-rowe quickly began a new story to create a distraction until the cry went around, there's something white! dls saw outside the window a
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shadowy figure in the garb of a nun. others noticed a baby in her arms. it was in fact, phyllis dressed up with paint. and they asked her in for coffee and the game was up. the only person the least annoyed and she may not have been was dorothy sayers and phyllis was left to spend hours scrubbing off the paint. so i think that this group kind of gave-- they gave each other the space in this moment in oxford history when, you know, women were advocating for the right to the full degrees and inclusion and it wasn't being granted yet. they were under an enormous amount of scrutiny and pressure to be proper and to prove that they belonged and weren't going
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to transgress too many boundaries and i think being within this group allowed the young women to experiment with different ways of being-- with different ways of having an intellectual presence and so to be more than they might otherwise have been in that kind of-- in the face of the strictures. so they finished their education in the midst world war i and between world war i and the difficulties of getting launched in the 1920's, they grew apart for a while. and i think that that's the moment when, as i was beginning the research of this book, i sort of worried that perhaps there was a set of nice stories about the group of friends in university, but was that the end of it. and they experienced lots of good reasons to be distracted from one another and to be sort of self-absorbed during world war i and into the 1920's.
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so muriel, for instance, wanted to be an academic and trying to be published and hated working as a school teacher. and dls, sayers hated working as a school teachers, mostly tried not to, tried to get her work published and she had a series of disastrous love affairs culminating, she got pregnant outside of wedlock and she chohad a son and chose to kp that pregnancy secret. there's four friends reunited and they came back together and that reunion, that reconnection was what fueled transformation in their work, and the deepening of their work and things that we remember them for now. so, i wanted to have just a short meeting that i think
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gives the flavor of this feeling of reunion. wrote down what page it's on. >> sometime in 1928 or very early in 1929 dls reached out to caris. she no longer needed to find a place to foster her son, who was in her home and he was unofficially adopted by his father. as dls put it, by the way, many thanks for your suggestion with regard to the woman doctor, et cetera. dr. wright was very nice and
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mixed me up quite satisfactorily, so that's that. caris in return pressed dls to attend that year's summerville gawdy. oxford hosted feasts for alumni and they have a nickname, gawdy. dls was tempted, telling max, i think must go to the gawdy this year. certainly he replied, why not? nene years after she returned her oxford degree, returning had become a fraught deal for d will. s and she had delayed writing to make arrangements, one of the deep inner repug nannances t the psycho analysts are talking about. returning to past locations, rekindling old relations, she told she hated looking back, nostalgia, the whole business. she didn't want to think about
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her past self or be encouraged to feel sentimental in the company of her companions. i like for instance to see you and d-rowe because your company is delightful. but my god, college students i had no bond and we were there once to go. and even if we went they'd say i'm just as intolerable as i was 15 years ago with every justification, i am. [laughter] >> at the end of the letter, she told she had finally written to summerville to request a room for the reunion. she said i will sing the song and even sit on the floor and talk jolly. i will not drink cocoa, there are limits. >> unfortunately, i don't know whether she drank cocoa. i know she didn't sign the souvenir program. but in returning to summerville and that set of friendships that she had made as a university student, she
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embarked on this kind of transformati transformation, a sort of intellectual journey of risk taking and vulnerability that led her work in interesting directions. and that's true for the other women as well. but i want to focus on sayers for tonight. because i think of the story, the story of that reunion and where it led kind of answers one of the core paradoxes that existed in sayers scholarship. so that paradox is, dorothy say,writes these detective novels and then sometime in the mid 30's writes more serious novels. they're still detective novels, but have more heft to them. she writes about jesus, broadcast on the bbc.
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she becomes a theologian who wroo it's about well regarded popular theology. she becomes somebody who learns enough medieval italian to be able to translate the first two sections of dante's divine xh comedy. she transforms what she's able to do and that really hasn't been explained by the folks who studied sayers' work so i think, you know, if my book has a secret feminist agenda it's actually putting sayers back in the context of female friendships that explains that transformation. so she rekindles her friendship with muriel and muriel's partner barber, who goes by the nickname barb and it's clear that the -- that the three of them spoke a lot about issues
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of work, how to live an ethical life and how to be in an ethical relationship. dls is struggling with her marriage at that time. she wasn't sure whether she should seek a divorce or not. she wasn't sure whether she wanted her son to be adopted by her husband, and muriel was struggling how to build a sus sanable household with a woman and have the legal protections that they could using wills, insurance and deeds and that sort of things. she was also struggling with how to navigate a foray into monogamy that began around the sort of early 1930's moment as well. for a long stretch of time she had two lovers who were very important to her. what i think is important is those conversations then informed a series of collaborations that sayers and
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byrne, dls and muriel undertook and fuels this turn in sayers' career. so i have a little bit more to read to you about that, that transfo transformati transformation. around this late 1920's moment as dls is rekindling this relationship with muriel and barr, she decides to reintroduce a love into the whimsy stories and let me read her words about that decision. >> dls had dragged her feet at the idea of introducing romance to her detective novels. women and love stories and psychology were generally a nuisance in crime stories, she said. but in 1930, seven years after the first appearance of her famous hero, dls told muriel she was getting weary of lord peter who brought in money, but who was getting older and more
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staid. and the same year she published a novel, it was with the unhappy experiences with a former lover. if she's the hero, clowney, damaged, harriet is the modern woman hurt by love, but whose intelligence carries her through. harriet is more than a love interest. she's not the heart to peter's head, but they're engaged in a struggle to recognize the desire of heart and head. and more harriet than a detective novelist struggles exactly the problem. how to make the novels more realistic within their comfortable narrative conventions, so she writes "strong poison" she introduces this problem of love interest in a detective novel, how to think about relationships
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seriously in this genre, and then she is going to stall for time. she's going to write these well worth your time or do nothing to advance these questions. she even jokes in the midst of it, she says, lord peter says he's very anxious to get spliced and he is 42 and he hopes to pull it off. she was 42 when she wrote that, speaking from experience. so she stalls for time what she's going to do with these characters. it's in conversation with muriel in collaboration with muriel that she find the solution. so muriel had been working as a play write, trying to make a name for mer self as a play wright. perhaps miss sayers, you'd like
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to write a play based on one of sayers' novels and she turned that down and instead proposed to sayers, why don't we write a play together. and dls was sold. she agreed, okay, let' write a collaborative play. on february 10th, 1935, dls visited muriel and bars flat in london, over dinner they began to sketch the outlines of a play. that night they stayed up talking about this play business until early the next morning. the next day, over lunch at rules restaurant they mapped out a plan. at muriel's suggestion they agreed to use the three proprietary characters, prompted by new versions of usual types and to write a collaborative play that would adapt her novel style to the stage. by the time she left london, an outline had emerged. the play would be set during
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harriot and peter's honeymoon and provide scope not only for charming in the village, but fuller exploration of their relationship. it was obvious by then that harriot and peter needed to reinvent marriage in order for them to suit them. honeymoon which became the title of the play would show them doing that as dls then realized the characters getting engaged on the plain why harriet at last decided to accept one of peter's many proposals. and this was before it was completed and before it was performed. reading gawdy night and the honeymoon is collaboration between dls, barr and it's clear that the characters are not just projectionings on
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dls's part. they're portraits of love and work. muriel and barr become models. there's muriel with curly blond hair and there's the dark combliness and a ring just like the ring gives harriet in the honeymoon. so barr was a high school opportunity and passed along a rumor and given that ring by a fiance who died in the war, but this is probably mixing two things up. barr's brother graham was killed leading them into action. the ring was a gift from muriel, a fiance who was invisible because of her sex not her death. the writing of busman's honeymoon, was a collaboration,
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50/50. back home in excess, she consulted with her soliciter to make sure it was realistic and the murder machine was physically realistic, the closest i'll get to a spoiler, i promise. by february 1916, dls had written 4,000 words of dialog and muriel had written in turn. they got together february, march, a lunch. and in between visits spoke on the telephone and sent each other detailed drafts and long lettered questions, and one signed charmingly, your partner in guilt, dorothy l sayers. and the stage amendment directions in both of their hand writings. in an interview with the press before the play actually opens, dls argued that it brought two features of her detective novels to the stage, first, it
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followed the rules. detection club, every movement is done, every clue is laid in full site of the audience. so that the audience has as much chance as a crime investigator of solving the problem. second the love interest so painfulfully extraneous in most plays of this type is central part of the scene. both of the accomplishments were hard won. i want to skip ahead to my favorite example of this collaborative process of making the love interest something other than extraneous to it, to a detective play so this is where barr wasn't a co-author of the play, she was a crucial interlockter and she objected, that peter and harriet have gone to this cottage in the country for their honeymoon and discovered a murder there. surprise. they discovered a murder, but
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barr objects to the idea that harriet and peter would share their wedding night on a dead man's mattress. dls is instantly apologetic and says tell barr i'm sorry about the bride bed. she had been thinking pragmatically and they wouldn't choose a secondary place, but he didn't die there. the air of the mattress, muriel thought the whole thing was funny. i feel sure the aired mattress would satisfy barr, the way that they're mad about it and gave me a laugh. if barr was a stand in here for the female fans, she was correct about getting emotional resonance about the play right. dls struggled with this. she had written a love scene,
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except for the -- she kept falling into blank birth in the most unfortunate manner, what a problem to have. she briefly considered using a version of the lines of her own invention that would feature in gawdy nights, we've come where the spinning world sleeps on i.t. axis to the hearth of rest. in the end she turned to muriel to, wrote, i think in this seen my mind was so closely set on the construction of the thing, making it water tight, i may have missed necessary emotion. she was worried about the balance between comedy inevitable tragic note and about to creep in if a real murderer is going to be detected and hanged. the least tip the wrong way, it could be heartless or really grim. she beseeched muriel, please
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don't mind altering anything at all if it seems weak. i trust your judgment. >> and the climax of the play, peter offers to give up his work of detective, and he feels it disturbed his honeymoon. they're agonizing how to get the tone right. it will have to be frightfully earnest because harriet would never do the "you are my board and master" stunt and would have fits if she did. and i have done the quarrel scene, it's extremely pompous. >> and peter must carry on with his work, what kind of life would we have if i knew you had become less than yourself by marrying me, she asks. if we disagree we'll fight it
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out like gentleman, but we won't stand for matrimonial blackmail. traditional heterosexual marriage, she seems to suggest in building something new, peter and harriet will be two-gentlemen, honest with each other and approaching work with integrity. in the end. dls felt she had created something good. she told muriel she was struck by the curious and unconscious symmetry produced in act two when all the masks come off at last. i don't want to exaggerate, it was mere comedy, but since it worked out so naturally, it in its small way right. probably you saw this side of it before i did. >> so i dedicated this book to chosen family, to the concept of chosen family because i think that that is what this group of friends became to each
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other. they were a web of connections that didn't only offer support, but real space and opportunity for transformation for growth and meaning. it's a term that fueled muriel's work, ending of six volumes of correspondence. it fuels dls's turn to theater and then to theology and it fueled all of them to become fully human. that that was the-- a later collaboration that muriel and sayers embarked on was a series of essays that sayers' version became famous the title are women human. and the spoiler is yes, women are human, but what's important is that through becoming a kind of family network through each
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other, through becoming a network of support and of mutual recognition to one another, they were able to recognize each other as fully human and to allow them to embark upon careers of serious work as full humans. so i will stop there and i would be really happy to take any questions. [applaus [applause] >> we're being videoed by c-span so invite you if you're willing and able to stand up and be counted by the camera. so, any questions? yes. >> to stand up to be counted. and i'm curious, you did so much archival work as someone who picks up the book will find
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out. what's the most interesting or exciting thing you came across in the archives? >> there were lots of exciting things in the archives. so one of the things that's true about lighting this kind of history is a common thing that will be said, well, it's hard to write women's history. it's hard to write clear history. the sources don't exist, we can't find them. and i'm sort of moving into a phase now after having worked on this book where i'm thinking that that in a way mislead us, in a way what's so interesting is that there's a ridiculous abundance of sources if we look for them. all of these women who wrote about their lives and in most cases saved a lot of what they wrote or a lot of what was written to them, particularly moving to me was--
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so muriel collected in the archive of her life, had she lived in the 20th century she would have been an avid participant in social media, she would have been an instagram influencers, at the cutting edge of stuff. there's boxes of her photographs, photographs of herse herself. there's-- she also kept her correspondence. not what she wrote, but what was written to her and i think as somebody who herself was a historian who used correspondence, i had the feeling as i was reading this, that she saw me coming in a way. she collected her own correspondence, and given that, so she lived into a very old aim. she was born in the 1890's and she died in the 1980's. given that intentionality bringing to her own archives, i was really excited the day i
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discovered an envelope marked "to be burnt unread", i didn't do any such thing, i opened it. and it contains this really moving and honest series of letters, from susan, from her other partner, mostly in the 1930's and 1940's talking about their relationship, how they met, how they felt about each other, how they were navigating various sort of layers of secrecy in their social circles and the world. and on the outside of the envelope to be burned unread. and there are references, i know that you will burn this letter as soon as you received it and then more enticingly, i know you asked me to burn your letters, but i haven't done it
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yet because i like rereading them. so sort of muriel rereading the letters and reshuffling them. they weren't always in-- the date and letter weren't necessarily in the date of the envelope. suggesting they were taken out. and this was a relationship that ended by the mid 1940's yet she kept them for another 40 years. so they obviously remained important to her. yeah, that-- it evoked for me this sense of both the surprising abundance of things we're told there aren't sources for and the references to the burning. and the fact that there were other archival collections i know that existed at one time that i know were burned. and muriel yager, a fascinating personal, she requested that
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all of her personal papers be burned and they were. and then a couple of other examples like that, to me when i think the envelope said to be burned unread, i'm glad they weren't, but thinking of all the things that were burned at the same time. so, a lengthy, slightly heavy answer. yes. >> did you-- the tv adaptations of the story-- >> i'm the worst person to answer that question. i am not a watcher of tv out of patience at all. and people have profound loyalty on the bridge, versus the carmichael adaptations. so, i'm going to punt that question because i think we need an adaptation from the 21st century. i know that many of sayers' novels are reissued right now and there's definitely a new
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one of them with a beautiful cover. we need the bbc or pbs to step up to the plate and have a new version and i will also say that on-line there is a clip from the original production of busman's honeymoon which isn't-- it wasn't adapted for tv at all. and how different it was before with lots of microphones everywhere. yes, and you can watch from 1937, the play version . with dennis arundel, i think is lord peter. anything else? yeah. >> you described a remarkably key cohesive group of women,
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but i'm wondering what particular tensions there were. >> absolutely. i think that sayers's complex life in the 1920's affected her relationships in all sorts of ways. t the-- i'll call her yager, so we don't have too many muriels, is an interesting one, she's somebody really close with dls in university and afterward considered sharing a room or a flat together in london in the early 1920's and she deadnatdic the first book to her. and would never have staggered into existence without your assistance. they read pop fiction together and they wrote fake comparative religious essays on "pulp fiction."
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there's another example of the really generative collaborations out of this group. at some point in the mid 1920's that friendship just ends. it's not that muriel yager disappears, she is remains a somewhat fairly successful author. she stays in attenuated contact with some others of the mutual admiration society and she gets invited on writing plays from d-rowe and she's around, but the friendship with sayers is over. that's another mystery of sayers biography, we don't know exactly what happens there. it's-- the friendship seems to have ended after a holiday they took together fairly shortly after sayers' son was born and so i suspect, muriel yager was -- she was a very plainspoken
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person and she had very strong ideas and so i sort of suspect that dls might have experimented with okay, what would it be like to tell a secret to a friend and it went really badly. she also wrote to john, this lover who i mentioned, she wrote about the difficulties of having a married lover and that what was so difficult about it was that she couldn't introduce him to her friends and that that made her isolated and lonely she said it put them in a false position to introduce them to him and that-- but she didn't want to lie to them either and so the fabric of the friendship. which i think in a way makes it more moving to me that later on she's able to talk about the difficulties in her marriage and she's able to not sort of isolate herself, but, yeah, sort of navigating that
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transition to adulthood, to adult relationships, i think, put significant strain. and it's-- in a different sense, i haven't talked much about frankenberg although my secret mope is someone will come to the book for dorothy sayers and stay for the other. fist birth control clinic, and raises four children, a remarkable person and pulls her away from the group for a time and it isn't until her children are a bit older and her own life has changed in some ways that she stays close to d-row the whole time and rekindles the rest of the connection. about you they stay friends until, you know, like for 60 years, by the end of their lives, they're saying, well, we have to call each other for our first days now because it's a lot to travel to actually see
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one another, but they do. so in spite of those complexities, they do, they do stay in conversation. >> i'm just curious, what's the most interesting thing you discovered in their early years and kind of their co-creation and freedom together. that kind of spurred them on into the rest of their lives to be so interesting. so what was just the catalyst moment that you really most enjoyed learning about? >> i think my favorite example of the kind of things they were doing, with one another, they put on a-- they rewrote hamlet, right away, tells you something about them. they rewrote hamlet. so at this time at oxford, the prince of wales was also a student at oxford and his slang nickname at the time was the praguer wagger.
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this is some good edwardion slang, right? they called the inside of wales the praguer wagger, and they renamed it, and it's hilarious writing and also a rewriting that sort of gets rid of all the tragic misogyny of the actual play. so it becomes a play in which the prince of wales-- or hamlet himself is-- he's dating ophelia and ophelia has been giving him presents, but he's also been in debt for some reason so he's been pawning the presents and ophelia has noticed he's pawning the presents and he's stressed and so stressed about the debts, he's dilutional and sees ghosts and talking to
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them. and the rest of the play, king, queen, friends, ophelia realize hamlet is running off the rails and come up with this elaborate scheme involving a false dagger and to snap him back. and ends with the queen happily having ophelia and hamlet heading off to their honeymoon. on one note it's really, really silly and d-rowe played hamlet. caris came up with the title. this is very much a joint production, but it shows both, they engaged really deeply with the venerated high culture that they were being taught and completely unafraid to subvert it, to turn it into a form of popular culture that then makes a serious point and that's, on some level that's what they do
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for the rest of their careers. so, yeah, hamlet the pragger dagger. and i feel it's the right place to end if there are no other burning questions. i'll stop there. thank you so much. [applaus [applause] >> book tv covers book fairs and festivals around the country. here is what's coming up. our 2020 festival season will kick off in january with a rancho mirage, in california, a followed by a book festival in georgia. and then arizona, for the tew san festivtucson books. and later in charlottesville. and click the book fairs tab on
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book here is a look at authors who recently appeared or will be appearing soon on book tv's after words. our weekly author interview program that includes best selling nonfiction books and guest interviewers. recently, university of maryland baltimore county president shared his insights on building a high achieving and innovating university. coming up, labor reporter steven greenhouse will examine the challenges the american workers face today. this weekend on after words, new york magazine looks at race and identity. >> my father did his best to get me to resume and to -- to really understand a lot of traditions, but he also somewhat in the way that you write about it, always believed
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that my identity didn't begin or end with the social realty of my blackness. so he kind of had his life saved by being a fatherless black boy in texas without anyone in his family having a education, but he stumbled upon plato's dialogs at some point in his childhood and picked it up and tried to make sense to read it. but something out there linked him with a towering greek mind and that if he could access it, he could potentially access the wider world and he would read books by himself in his closet with a flashlight and his family would say what are you doing? you're going to get yourself in trouble, don't read those books, but he, very early on, esop's fables were huge for him. so he always, he would give me-- he always had a sense that you
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can see yourself in many many different-- many different places and in many different figures and so, identity is not just being black. >> after words airs saturday at 10 p.m. and sunday's at 9 p.m., on book tv on c-span2. all previous after words are available as podcasts and available to watch on-line at book [applaus [applause] >> thank you very much. and welcome. good evening. i am the literary director for the library and it's a joy to our community here this evening. how many of you are at the library for the first time tonight? all right. well, double welcome to you. and have any of you attended the library


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