Oxford’s secret Dead Poets Society for women, circa 1912

I hope there are still many spaces and gatherings like this, but ones that are secret for the fun of it, not because they need to be to escape patriarchal persecution. (How the frig does LitHub get so many good articles? How do they pay people? Do they want to hire a Canadian editor? My questions are endless.)

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.

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