Winner of the Anthony Award for Best Critical Non-fiction Work
"What touchingly emerges is the sense that through all the trials of heartbreak, bereavement and loss, it was friendship that persisted. It is a tribute to that precious but still unsung thing: the loving bond between female friends, based on intellectual exchange and deep affection."—The Guardian
"In a new group biography of Sayers and the school friends who served as her lifelong support system and creative collaborators...the historian Mo Moulton shows Sayers setting out in Gaudy Night, her most psychologically astute and least conventional novel, to present her own philosophy of women's intrinsic intellectual equality...Moulton's book sheds new light on Sayers's evolution as a writer, showing how some of her best work occurred in collaboration with her friend Muriel St. Clare Byrne."— The New Yorker
"In The Mutual Admiration Society, historian Mo Moulton, too, affords the group's members the same sober respect that they afforded themselves, painting a rich portrait of the enduring friendship between four of them."—Financial Times
"Well-written and fascinating, it's equally successful as a biography and social history."—Sunday Express
"What Moulton best accomplishes in this intimate and scholarly book is a re-creation of a world in transition. The Mutual Admiration Society came of age at a vital juncture in history, a time of new opportunity for women."—BookPage
"Rich and careful... Moulton vividly shows us the importance of friendship and marginalization as spurs to ambition... The book excavates the social and emotional context of the lives of four indomitable women with painstaking affection; it is as valuable as it is enjoyable."—Times Higher Education
"With real affection, the author amplifies the message that Sayers herself broadcast: 'the friendship of which the female sex is said to be incapable.' ... Take that male chauvinist pigs at 10 Downing Street and in the House of Lords. English sisterhood has been, indeed, a powerful force for good." —New York Journal of Books
"Moulton, with a keen eye for humorous detail and moments of humanity, deftly captures not only the lives of these women, but the enduring power of female friendship."—Booklist (starred review)
"Sign me up as an admirer of Mo Moulton's The Mutual Admiration Society, a fresh and invigorating narrative that brings to life a close-knit coterie of brilliant Oxford women. Spanning eight decades and two world wars, Moulton's deeply researched group biography has a message for today one about intellectual integrity and the enduring power of a scholarly female community."—Megan Marshall, Pulitzer Prize-winning authorof Margaret Fuller and Elizabeth Bishop
"If you already know and love the work of Dorothy L. Sayers, Moulton will help you understand her better; if you don't, let this gorgeous work whose intense focus on women's humanity, ambitions, and life-sustaining friendships echoes the very best of Sayers's novels be part of your introduction."—Nicole Chung, authorof All You Can Ever Know
"In this compelling book, Moulton shows how six women inspired and supported one another for decades. This moving account of their collective bond is required reading, not only for Dorothy Sayers aficionados, but for anyone interested in queer lives and in the history of friendship."
—Sharon Marcus,author of The Drama of Celebrity
"This is an extraordinary book. Vivid and moving, The Mutual Admiration Society makes us think again about how in private as much in public modern Britain was made (and remade) through the creative work of women. Beautifully written, animated by a sense of quiet power and amazing ambition, this is essential reading for anyone interested in modern British history."—Matt Houlbrook, author of Prince of Tricksters and Queer London and professor of cultural history, University of Birmingham
"Beautiful and meticulous. The Mutual Admiration Society is about the collaborative friendships of women who refused to be anonymous. This was always an important story to tell but these days, it is vital reading."—Kevin Birmingham, author ofThe Most Dangerous Book
"Witty and insightful. Tracking lifelong friendships, Moulton reveals how a community of writers and activists transcended the limitations placed upon women in twentieth-century Britain. Their stories are by turns charming and harrowing, revealing how an understanding of women's intimate lives can illuminate the times in which they lived."—Megan Kate Nelson, author of TheThree-Cornered War: The Union, the Confederacy, and Native Peoples in the Fightfor the West
"Intensely engrossing. Part literary biography, part social history, Mo Moulton's eloquent narrative testifies to the transformative power of creative work."—Laura Doan, author of DisturbingPractices: History, Sexuality, and Women's Experience of Modern War
"A deeply affecting group portrait of a pathbreaking set of female friends who attended Oxford at the dawn of the twentieth century. If you're a fan of Mary McCarthy's The Group, you'll love The Mutual Admiration Society."—Rachel Hope Cleves, professor of history,University of Victoria and author of Charity and Sylvia
"This lively, rigorous, and surprising history offers both a fresh look at the past and real insight into the ways we might collectively shape a better future."—Kristen Roupenian, author of You Know You Want This
"As a beautifully pieced patchwork of fascinating archival material from 21 libraries and collections on two continents, MAS (as Moulton calls the group, and as I'll call the book) combines immense narrative interest with delightful detail. It practically begs to be made into a miniseries featuring dashing women in trousers, neckties, tea gowns, and/or academic gowns - complete with vaguely bohemian London flats, rainy train stations, lesbian love triangles, secret love children, cute cats, devoted dogs, pastoral picnics, and tragic telegrams.... MAS is also an illuminating work of analysis that engages substantively with and contributes to scholarship on women's history, queer history, and the histories of childhood, friendship, and higher education. And it provides literary-critical thrills to fans and scholars of DLS, offering fresh ways to read the Peter Wimsey mysteries Busman's Honeymoon (often considered a minor or marginal work in the Sayers canon) and Gaudy Night (commonly acknowledged as one of DLS's greatest achievements). By placing these texts primarily in the context of DLS's network of friendships, Moulton makes them new."—Los Angeles Review of Books
A group portrait of a celebrated crime writer and her Oxford friends.
When Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957) arrived at Somerville College in 1912, women were second-class citizens, able to take classes but not earn degrees. Undaunted, the future novelist and other female students read their works in progress aloud—with "no false modesty or feminine shame"—at meetings of a group that Sayers dubbed the Mutual Admiration Society. In this well-researched group biography, Moulton (History/Univ. of Birmingham; Ireland and the Irish in Interwar England, 2014) follows four pillars of the "society" as they challenged stereotypes of women throughout their lives: Muriel St. Clare Byrne, a distinguished historian and playwright; Charis Barnett Frankenburg, a birth control pioneer who wrote popular child-rearing manuals; Dorothea Hanbury Rowe, the co-founder of an influential amateur theater company; and Sayers, the author of the Lord Peter Wimsey detective stories. Dividing its focus among the women, the book shows how they helped one another as friends, intellectual sounding boards, and, in the case of Sayers and Byrne, collaborators on the play Busman's Honeymoon. The drawback to this approach is that Sayers was the star from the start, and a surfeit of prosaic details about her friends and their outliers makes for a slow-paced story, further encumbered with redundancies (most Wimsey novels are "enduring classics"), retrofitted jargon (the women risked "marginality within the gender politics of their era"), and unedifying exposition (Frankenburg found it "enormously stressful" to have three sons in uniform in World War II). Still, Moulton offers telling glimpses of Sayers, whether she's making a daring plan to hide her son born out of wedlock or exulting when her agent sells Whose Body? to Boni & Liveright: "I am rich! I am famous!" Moulton also has a firm answer to the question of who inspired Lord Peter: "The early Wimsey is, above all, an idealized version of DLS herself, with bits and pieces of her experiences and her fantasies woven in to make a genuinely fictional character."
Lord Peter Wimsey's creator upstages her companions as they blaze trails for women.