Sunday, May 20, 2012

Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag?

I have never liked this photo. My marriage had just croaked and someone told me to smile. And I did.  (Mom, Dad, and my cousin Beth Peterson Ratto.)

"One gets over everything," repeated Wimsey firmly. "Particularly if one tells somebody about it."
The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1928)
Dorothy L. Sayers

One of the problems with living a life in the public eye, is that one's public self begins to take on a life of its own. It may be a life that runs alongside your real life, and (if it travels in a wavy line), it can actually intersect your real life at certain points. But a public life cannot be entirely one's own life as--because of its nature--a public life belongs to the public who created it. Not to you.

This strange bifurcation isn't particularly healthy for many people in the public eye. (Think John Edwards!)

The fact that I was comfortable with this sort of lack-of-intimacy-non-interpersonal "relationship" with my viewers, for more than two decades, suggests lots of things to me now: my lack of understanding about what real relationships were like; its symbiosis with my chronic desire to run around pleasing narcissists and other unknowable people, and; my own complicated family dynamic.

The truth is: we are all extremely complicated. But, as Lord Peter Wimsey tells a young woman in the story I quote above; it is the complex about each of us that can give us strength and depth. It is in the deepest parts of our private selves that we are given the best opportunity to learn life's lessons.

In the Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, Wimsey shows great understanding of and insight into a damaged young woman--and this, of course, helps him solve a crime. It all comes from the sorrow he himself has experienced. The story was written in the 1920s and Wimsey, like so many of his generation, was a veteran of the Great War. Unlike many, he survived, though he was severely damaged by it and suffered what was then called shell shock--something we would call PTSD today.

The writer Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957), who created Wimsey, was the daughter of a clergyman and one of the first women to receive a degree from Oxford. Four years before she wrote The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, she had secretly given birth to a son, though she was unmarried. For the rest of her life, this child was told he was her nephew. He did not learn she was his mother until she died.

This was Dorothy L. Sayers own Great War, and like all good writers, she used it in her work. In Lord Peter Wimsey, she gives us a man with both a public and a private self--as she had. He's titled, good looking, and rich. But that is not all he is. He is also a man who has learned compassion and understanding.

What great gifts these are with which Dorothy Sayers has anointed her detective. What great insight she herself had gained through the events of her life. Wimsey may be fictional, but the truths she has him discover are real. A public face is not a private face, though the two may be related. And one more thing.

As the daughter of a chaplain, I suspect Dorothy Sayers had something else to tell us. I think she knew: compassion and understanding are what we have all been put here to learn.

Add to 
Google Reader or Homepage
Subscribe to Robin Chapman News


Don Meuler said...

It's a nice picture. Maybe it's just the memory you don't like?

Robin Chapman said...

I know it is a "nice" picture. But it is a lie. I was feeling really horrible and shouldn't have been posing for the camera. I don't like the fact that I was a) put in that situation and b) went along with it, as I always did. It was that bifurcation again and it wasn't healthy!