The Mutual Admiration Society

How Dorothy L. Sayers and her Oxford Circle Remade the World for Women


By Mo Moulton

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A group biography of renowned crime novelist Dorothy L. Sayers and the Oxford women who stood at the vanguard of equal rights

Dorothy L. Sayers is now famous for her Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane detective series, but she was equally well known during her life for an essay asking “Are Women Human?” Women’s rights were expanding rapidly during Sayers’s lifetime; she and her friends were some of the first women to receive degrees from Oxford. Yet, as historian Mo Moulton reveals, it was clear from the many professional and personal obstacles they faced that society was not ready to concede that women were indeed fully human.

Dubbing themselves the Mutual Admiration Society, Sayers and her classmates remained lifelong friends and collaborators as they fought for a truly democratic culture that acknowledged their equal humanity. A celebration of feminism and female friendship, The Mutual Admiration Society offers crucial insight into Dorothy L. Sayers and her world.


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Muriel St. Clare Byrne (1895–1983). Playwright and historian of the Tudor era. Member of the MAS.

Charis Ursula (Barnett) Frankenburg (1892–1985). Midwife, birth control advocate, expert on parenting, and magistrate. Member of the MAS.

Dorothea Ellen Hanbury Rowe (1892–1988). Known as D. Rowe. English teacher and founder of the Bournemouth Little Theatre Club. Member of the MAS.

Dorothy Leigh Sayers (1893–1957). Known as DLS. Detective novelist, advertising copywriter, playwright, essayist, theologian. Member of the MAS.


Marjorie Barber (1894–1976). Known as Bar. Muriel St. Clare Byrne’s partner. English teacher and author.

Mary Aeldrin Cullis (1883–1968). Known as Susan. Muriel St. Clare Byrne’s lover. Secretary, resident tutor at Bedford College.

Atherton Fleming (1881–1950). Known as Mac. Dorothy L. Sayers’s husband. Writer and mechanic.

Sydney Frankenburg (1881–1935). Charis Frankenburg’s husband. Director of the family firm and philanthropist.

Muriel Jaeger (born Jagger) (1892–1969). Known as Jim. Novelist, essayist, playwright. Member of the MAS.

Catherine (Godfrey) Mansfield (1893–1977?). Known as Tony. Writer. Member of the MAS.

Amphilis Throckmorton Middlemore (1891–1931). Lecturer in English. Member of the MAS.


IT BEGAN IN A QUIET sort of way, over hot cocoa and toasted marshmallows in a student room at Somerville College, Oxford. One evening in November 1912, some new friends, all first-year students, gathered “to read aloud our literary efforts and to receive and deliver criticism.” They brought stories, poems, essays, plays, and fables, and they received far more than merely criticism. In the firelight, over economical treats, they created a space in which they could grow beyond the limitations of Edwardian girlhood and become complex, creative adults with a radically capacious notion of what it might mean to be both human and female.1

The group was named by its best-known member, Dorothy L. Sayers, who would go on to be a famous detective novelist and popular theologian. Let’s call ourselves the Mutual Admiration Society, she suggested, because that’s what people will call us anyway. The name both captures the spirit of the group and misrepresents it. They supported each other boldly and emphatically: no false modesty or feminine shame here. They were willing to be relentless and did not insist on being liked, crucial qualities for taking advantage of the real but tenuous space they had to work within. But they were the exact opposite of the simple echo chamber of praise that the name could imply, in its pejorative sense. They were critical, and they were at odds. They fell apart and came together again, over the course of decades and remarkable careers that ranged from birth control advocacy to genre fiction, from classrooms to the stage.

Four members of the Mutual Admiration Society (MAS) are at the heart of this story. Dorothy L. Sayers was known to her friends by her initials, DLS. Serious and a little weird, DLS was absorbed in her study of French literature and fascinated by the Middle Ages and religion. She would gain fame in adulthood as the creator of Lord Peter Wimsey, the aristocratic detective who starred in her mystery novels. Later, she would be equally well known for the essays and plays she wrote to expound her particular understanding of Christianity and personal ethics.

Muriel St. Clare Byrne, who arrived at Somerville two years later than the others, would become DLS’s closest collaborator. Like DLS, she’d loved tales of knights and chivalry and derring-do as a youngster; as an adult, she paid court to the women who became her lovers and partners, immortalizing the experience in verse and drama. She, too, became a wide-ranging writer, bringing Tudor history and Elizabethan literature to life in popular histories crammed with vivid detail.

Charis Barnett, by contrast, was intensely social, enthusiastic, and empathetic, far more interested in people than in ideas. Her career would follow suit, as she raised four children while becoming a nationally known authority and advocate on child-rearing, birth control, maternal mortality, and juvenile delinquency.

Charis’s closest friend was Dorothy Rowe, or D. Rowe, the joking trickster of the group, who never missed an opportunity for a wisecrack or a limerick that would skewer the foibles and pretensions of those around her. D. Rowe became a beloved English teacher, as well as the founder of a prominent and progressive amateur theater club in Bournemouth.

They were joined by a few others at points along the way: the spiky, cynical Muriel “Jim” Jaeger; the otherworldly Amphilis T. Middlemore; and the quiet, serious Catherine “Tony” Godfrey, in particular.

Their words are preserved in libraries scattered across England and the United States, creating a composite archive that is at once deliberate and accidental. Even though they produced copious and vivid letters, stories, poems, and photographs, the members of the MAS resist any attempt by outsiders to know them completely. Jim would stipulate that her personal papers be burned after her death. DLS probably would have destroyed more of her papers if she hadn’t died suddenly and relatively young. The members of the MAS kept each other’s secrets, too. The question of who knew the truth about DLS’s illegitimate son, and when, has always exercised her biographers, but the members of the MAS are like a wall on this subject: the solidarity of their friendship will not be breached. On the other hand, they also preserved memories and documents. Muriel didn’t destroy some fairly frank love letters from another woman, though she had fifty years to do so. D. Rowe wrote on the backs of all sorts of scraps of paper, creating a double archive of her own life. She also contributed to the scrapbooks that lovingly document the Bournemouth Little Theatre Club. Charis preserved her family newsletters and donated her Somerville diaries to her alma mater, and she told her own life story in her memoir. Virginia Woolf famously suggested that “Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.” Despite their occasional reticence, the members of the MAS refused to be anonymous. Instead, their abundant archives testify to their insistence that their work and lives were worth recording.2

The women of this generation were well placed to take advantage of the victories won by the previous era of feminist activists. Whereas the women of the late nineteenth century had to fight to gain access to higher education, the members of the MAS enjoyed nearly all that Oxford had to offer, at least in intellectual terms. In their young adulthood, they saw a raft of legislation passed that transformed British women into citizens. Women over thirty, subject to certain property restrictions, would gain the right to vote in 1918; they were granted the vote on equal terms with men in 1928. Women were allowed to stand for Parliament, to sit on juries, and to become lawyers and magistrates. They had increasing access to birth control and well-paid jobs, as well as scope to smoke cigarettes, wear trousers, and socialize in ways that would have scandalized their grandparents.

All of this amounted to a revolution in gender relations. But what happens on the day after the revolution? The members of the MAS made the most of the small but significant opening afforded to them, while continuing to face unequal opportunities, double legal standards, and systematic discrimination. To be a girl or a woman in early-twentieth-century Britain meant facing pervasive limitations on one’s choices, both personal and professional, despite the recent waves of democratization that had knocked down barriers based on class and gender. Even as they sat debating poetry and politics in Somerville College, they were second-class citizens at Oxford University, where they were permitted to take classes and sit for examinations but could not receive degrees. That would change in 1920, five years after most of the group had finished their studies. That year, Oxford decided to grant full membership of the university to all the women who had completed the necessary examinations and coursework, after the passage of the Sex Disqualification (Removal) Act of 1919 cleared the way of legal objections. The degree ceremony, held one sunny October afternoon in the Sheldonian Theatre, was a brief moment of unalloyed triumph shared by the members of the MAS who received their degrees that day. But they returned home, mostly, to chronic inadequate employment, landlords who didn’t want to rent to single women, and relentless pressure to marry and have children.

The Mutual Admiration Society was an incubator. It provided a forum for collaboration, support, and critical feedback, as well as a model for forging other productive partnerships. Although the struggle to build independent lives pulled the members of the MAS apart from each other in the 1920s, the group, remarkably, came back together, in reunions and reconnections around the end of that decade, when its members were in their mid-to late thirties. These reunions led to a series of collaborations that would ultimately transform their careers and reconnect them with work as a life’s endeavor, rather than merely the means to financial independence. DLS’s much-loved mystery novel Gaudy Night, set in a fictionalized Somerville, grew directly out of these collaborations and underscores the importance of balancing the demands of head and heart in this way.

Meaningful, creative work was the birthright of both women and men, they believed. In a pair of essays published in the journal Christendom in response to a special issue on “the emancipated woman,” DLS and Muriel made that case forcefully. They spent a summer writing back and forth to each other and to the magazine’s editor, working out their ideas about why it was so damaging to limit any human being to a narrow set of gendered characteristics. Muriel’s partner, Marjorie “Bar” Barber, read their drafts on the beach during their holiday and offered her own opinions. Developed further under the title “Are Women Human?,” DLS’s response has become an enduring classic. Yes, she argued, women are human, with the same dazzling and bewildering array of talents and foibles as any other subset of humans. In an era when many feminists emphasized the special contributions women could make—to the arts of peace in international relations, say—the members of the MAS were, by contrast, strictly egalitarian. Women, they argued, mostly weren’t special: they were just human, and deserved to be allowed to live and work as people first, rather than having all their actions and efforts read through the lens of gender.

For DLS and her friends, the category of “human” was capacious. It could hold all sorts of expression and eccentricity and possibility. “Woman,” by contrast, was flattening. It turned half the population into a homogenous lump to be summarized and then controlled. The members of the MAS were profoundly shaped by the fact that they were women, within a changing but still highly restrictive gender order. They thought, consistently and deeply, about that order in all aspects of their work. In their lives, too, they challenged any narrow interpretation of what it meant to be a woman. Their self-expression ranged from the masculine to the feminine, with multiple variations in between, and they experienced romance, sex, marriage, and parenthood in a variety of ways, too. The reluctance around the homogenizing category of “woman,” in other words, was grounded in the very real diversity of their own experiences.

Nor were they interested only in expanding access to culture for women as such. Their work was usually aimed at “everyone,” or at least that subset of everyone who read English and was interested in art and ideas. The MAS intervened, in various ways, in what was arguably the core problem of the first half of the twentieth century: the democratization of culture and politics. This widening of access to cultural and political power brought opportunities and perils. Universal suffrage became the British norm for the first time, and literacy rates improved. Britons became famous for newspaper reading, as well as for being devotees of the new art form of cinema. Giving ordinary people unprecedented access to culture and mass democracy could look promising or dangerous, depending on your perspective. Was the new society a crowd of dupes, easily manipulated by advertisers or, worse, demagogues? Or was it a collective of citizens, able to be educated in improved, scientific ways of living and interacting? Was mass culture, in other words, a liberation or a trap?3

Facing these questions, the members of the MAS were simultaneously insiders and outsiders: members of an elite social class, but women. From that very particular position they were able to develop a distinctive set of ideas about the relationships between high art and popular culture, and between elite intellectual ideas and ordinary life. I suspect they would have been somewhat boring men. DLS and Muriel would surely have been fulltime academics, DLS a professor of medieval French, Muriel of Tudor history and paleography, perhaps. D. Rowe might have been a headmaster of a small boys’ school; Charis, a pater familias and competent administrator. (That is, if they hadn’t died serving in World War I, as at least some of them would have.) No doubt they would have done good, even excellent, work. But instead, their marginality within the gender politics of their era served a role like sand in an oyster. They struggled and were pushed out of the main lines of promotion and success, and instead of reproducing the world of their fathers or their mothers, they made something new.

All four worked at the intersections of elite and popular culture. DLS wrote detective novels, that most beloved of middlebrow genres, which merged modernist experimentation with the formulaic delights of thrillers and true-crime stories. Later, she brought religious and ethical ideas to a wide audience, notably through a BBC radio play-cycle on the life of Jesus and a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy published by Penguin. Muriel St. Clare Byrne wrote the history of daily Tudor life, for the ordinary reader as well as for the scholar. D. Rowe brought Shakespeare to her students and moderately experimental theater to provincial amateur dramatics. And Charis Frankenburg sought to popularize the latest ideas about parenting, birth control, and healthy motherhood through clinics and advice books. Their diverse efforts were united by a shared conviction in the value of intellectual rigor and artistic integrity.4

They were linked, too, by the belief that those values should and could be shared beyond traditional circles and traditional modes. Through theater, novels, plays, clinics, cartoons, and more, they sought to bring the most serious of ideas to the largest number of people. DLS formulated the reason behind this goal most clearly: because serious, creative work is what gives meaning to our lives, and a meaningful life’s work is the right of every person. She framed this in religious terms. Creative work is what people share with God, the ultimate creator, and it is our solace in a world defined otherwise by our tendency toward destruction and sin. Charis would have put it differently but meant much the same thing. For her, access to the best science of health and living laid the foundation for a good life in which one could work seriously in respectful cooperation with one’s fellows. Underlying all four careers, though, was the core emphasis on the value of rigorous thought for everyone.

They were not naïve optimists. They were well aware, for instance, that mass advertising and pop psychology fooled people into making disastrous decisions, and that mass politics could produce mass destruction. The answer, they argued, was not a return to stifling hierarchies that limited power and learning to a few well-born men. It was rather to educate better, to turn the mechanisms of mass culture into conduits for enlightenment and imaginative work, instead of simple tools to generate higher profits or more votes. Their encounter with learning and scholarship had been liberating and joyful and ultimately profoundly humanizing. At Oxford, they were transformed from schoolgirls into creative adults by means of conversation with texts and each other. Their work spanned from midwifery to mystery novels, and from theology to theater, but it was united by the desire to share that transformative education more widely.

On one level, their story reveals the generative power of friendships, which create an intimate local space in which we can become something or someone quite different from our assigned social or familial categories. It also suggests the generative power of marginalization. This is not to argue that exclusion is a good thing, but to recognize that the experience of being marginalized can generate sharp insights, original approaches, and powerful solidarities alongside the toll of damage and loss. The members of the MAS lived at a very particular moment in the histories of both democracy and of women’s rights. They experienced radical shifts in inclusion—the ability to attend Oxford and then to receive degrees and the right to vote, most notably. They also experienced the effects of persistent structural exclusions, manifesting most obviously in their struggles to earn adequate salaries independently. As a result, they saw the widening of access to culture as a movement of immense promise and possibility.

They were no revolutionaries. If their position in the gender order rendered them marginal, then class, race, and political affiliation largely placed the members of the MAS in a very central, privileged position. Their party politics varied—DLS once referred to her “vaguely church-&-landed-gentry bias,” in contrast to Muriel’s “vaguely sympathy-for-labour-&-women bias.” But they agreed more than they disagreed. In keeping with the mood of interwar Britain as well as with their politics, they tended to support what has been called “conservative modernity” by historians of this era. The phrase suggests an embrace of new technologies and perspectives—mass communication, political rights for women—alongside a reverence for what was traditional, local, and even insular.5

For the members of the MAS, conservative modernity meant recognizing the many benefits to breaking down the walls that kept the ancient traditions of learning and scholarship separate from ordinary people. As DLS recognized early on, even illiterate audiences shaped the development of medieval drama; the grand traditions of European literature grew out of their cheers and boos. She and her friends applied that principle to modern life, believing that vibrant, organic culture only thrived in a society that thoroughly integrated its highest culture with the full range of its population. Through their diverse careers, they worked to make the best ideas, the most creative work, and a joyful encounter with learning accessible to a wide range of people. That, they believed, was one of the greatest achievements to which a democratic society could aspire.

In advance of its sixtieth birthday, Somerville College began, in 1938, to compile information about the careers of its graduates. The Observer pointed out the “exceptionally large number of good writers” included in that list, singling out DLS and Muriel St. Clare Byrne among others. But, the paper went on: “not less important are the diligent scholars who live out-of-the-way lives, the scientists, social workers, and school-mistresses who may not be known to the general public, but who continue to raise the level of women’s mental responsibility.” In their careers, the members of the MAS did more than that. As writers, but also as teachers and public figures, they sought to raise everyone’s level of mental responsibility, by insisting that women be heard, finally, as fully human members of society.6

Part 1

Oxford, 1912–1918



ON OCTOBER 11, 1912, CHARIS Barnett and her mother took the train from London to Oxford. Her aunt met them at the station, and together the three women went to Somerville College, where Charis planned to spend the next several years living and studying. They spent the day readying her room, breaking only for lunch at the Cadena Café in Cornmarket, where, as the advertisement said, dinners, luncheons, and afternoon teas were “daintily served with dispatch.” Then Charis brought her mother back to the railway station. After tea, they parted: her mother went home, and Charis returned to Somerville to begin her university education.1

In its own simple way, the scene, which was repeated dozens of times around the ancient city that week, was remarkable. Charis came from a middle-class family. She was not part of the vast class of young women in Victorian and Edwardian Britain who were expected to work as a servant or in a factory. Had she been born earlier, or into a family that cared less about educating its daughters, she might have assumed she would remain at home until (and unless) she married. Instead, she left home to study, following in the footsteps of centuries of men but only a few short decades of women. Despite the poignancy of leaving her mother at the station, she was already ecstatic the next day, writing home: “I am very happy here—I don’t know of anything that I would alter if I could.”2

Somerville College, one of the first women’s societies, or colleges, at Oxford, was well designed to foster the transition between a sheltered girlhood and modern adulthood. The culture it created honored both the ideals of middle-class femininity and the traditions of the university. It gave the members of the MAS, as well as their classmates, the necessary support to enable them to master a challenging curriculum and develop their intellectual interests. The MAS took that a step further. Seeing one another without the limiting lens of Edwardian gender roles, they gave each other scope to develop. In their writing, in theatrical productions, in debating societies, and in their relationships, they tried on different styles and personalities and perspectives. They expected, mostly, to use their educations in order to gain paid employment later in life. But for the MAS, work was never only about passing examinations or securing future employment. Writing and thinking instead took on a transcendent importance, not least as the medium through which new friendships and new identities could be consolidated.

Somerville’s own position was still tenuous: not everyone at Oxford welcomed the increasing presence of women as nearly equal students at the ancient, masculine university. Even as they studied, the members of the MAS had to negotiate intense anxieties about gender and the place of women within the university.

Although Somerville College was only thirty-three years old, the cohort of 1912 entered “a ready-made inheritance” in an appropriately imposing edifice. Beyond the tiny entrance was a large quadrangle that housed one hundred students, as well as common rooms, dining facilities, and a library. In her first year, Muriel sent postcards home to her mother. One featured the library and another showed the Common Room, where, she explained, “one works after brekker.” When it was founded, Somerville had been in a manor house, but over the intervening years it became less and less like a Victorian home and more and more like any other Oxford college. The construction of Maitland Hall and a new entrance in the summer of 1913 would plunge the college into what DLS called “a most grisly turmoil,” with “dust & workmen everywhere.”3

The buildings were tangible evidence of the progress made toward including women in higher education at all levels. This had begun with the establishment of the Ladies’ Educational Associations in the mid-nineteenth century, which offered instruction for women as well as support in preparing for university examinations. The first university in Britain to offer degrees to women was the University of London, in 1878. By the beginning of the twentieth century, women could study and take degrees at numerous universities in Britain and elsewhere, but not yet at Oxford. Oxford resisted in no small part because its characteristic traditions—boat racing, formal debating societies, and so on—were designed, in the nineteenth century, to promote a professional, imperial, masculine elite. The MAS and their fellow students arrived only a few decades later, and they pushed the university to widen those traditions to include middle-class British women.4

Muriel St. Clare Byrne, probably at Somerville (MSBC 9/3)

Female students living at Oxford were a curiosity, and the spectacle of young women living the kind of studious, single-sex college life that had for so long been exclusively male attracted attention and questions. Writing to her fellow student and future MAS member Tony Godfrey during Easter vacation in 1913, DLS complained at length about it:

I’m simply dead sick of telling people about Oxford, & how many there are of us at Somerville & how many dons there are, & why have I got to do an exam in German when my subject’s French, & do I see much of the Prince of Wales, & do we have lectures with the men, & is there a tennis-court at Somerville, & what is the name of our Head, & what times are lights put out at night, & how do we get milk when we make our own tea, & may we go to the theatre, & have I made any particular friends, & what sort of people live in my passage, & have I one room or two & will the new buildings be finished when we get back, & do the maids wear caps & aprons, & when was the college founded & are there more women students at Oxford or Cambridge?

But this was at home. Back within the walls of Somerville, students were sheltered from the limelight and assimilated into an ordinary college life.5


  • Winner of the Anthony Award for Best Critical Non-fiction Work
  • “Pioneering.”—Washington Post
  • "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

On Sale
Nov 5, 2019
Page Count
384 pages
Basic Books

Mo Moulton

About the Author

Mo Moulton is currently a lecturer in the history department of the University of Birmingham. They earned their PhD in history from Brown University in 2010 and taught in the History & Literature program at Harvard University for six years. Their previous book, Ireland and the Irish in Interwar England, was named a 2014 “Book of the Year” by History Today and was the runner-up for the Royal History Society’s 2015 Whitfield Prize for first book in British or Irish history. Moulton regularly writes for outlets such as The Atlantic, Public Books, Disclaimer Magazine, and the Toast. They live in London, UK.

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