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. Though some of the women stipulated that certain personal papers should be destroyed, the towering boxes of letters, journals, newspaper clippings, theater programs, photographs, and manuscripts that survived clearly provided Moulton with everything that was necessary to reanimate the women’s voices and perspectives. 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.
... a glowingly egalitarian tale despite seeming to have one standout star ... Through extensive research and in leanly eloquent prose, Moulton brings this grand, snarky, fiercely intelligent old group alive on the page, drawn together as much by their shared passions as by their shared obstacles ... glows with life, even though Moulton is always unblinkingly clear about the limitations these women faced ... a wonderful, inviting work of scholarship and a reconstruction long overdue - and of course a must-read for DLS’s legion of fans.
...at times this rigorous writer, examining people who took their work but not themselves that seriously, risks sounding like a teacher confronting a class of unruly girls ... the terrain the book sets out to cover is so broad and so complex—nothing less than British society and private life through two world wars and beyond as reflected in these women’s careers and domestic partnerships—that there is little time for lighthearted diversions. Moreover, The Mutual Admiration Society is not just a group biography, that most unwieldy of forms; it is also, at first glance, a manifesto ... From youth to maturity, the writer and the woman emerge intermittently yet strikingly here, surrounded by remarkable friends, who might say of their work, as Sayers did of one of her creations, 'it is, in its small way, right.'