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Dorothy Sayers biography




Dorothy Sayers

(1893 - 1957)

British novelist, essayist, medieval scholar and anthologist. Sayers is best-known for her stories about the amateur aristocratic detective hero Lord Peter Wimsey, who made his breakthrough in the novel WHOSE BODY? (1923), wearing a top hat like Fred Astaire. After the late 1930s, Sayers wrote no more detective novels, but concentrated on theological dramas, radio plays and verse.

"Lord Peter's library was one of the most delightful bachelor rooms in London. Its scheme was black and primose; its walls were lined with rare editions, and its chairs and Chesterfield sofa suggested the embraces of the houris. In one corner stood a black baby-grand, and wood fire leaped on a wide old-fashioned hearth, and the Sevres vases on the chimney-piece were filled with ruddy and gold chrysanthemums." (from Whose Body?)

Dorothy Sayers was born in Oxford as the daughter of the Rev. Henry Sayers, the director of the Christchurch Cathedral Choir School, and Helen Mary (Leigh) Sayers. She was very gifted from the early age in languages, learning Latin by the age of seven and French from her governess. In 1912 she won a scholarship to the Oxford women's college Somerville, and in 1916 she published her first book, a verse collection titled OP I.

In 1920 Sayers earned her M.A., among one of the first group of women to be granted degrees from Oxford University. She worked as a teacher in Yorkshire and in France, and as a reader for an Oxford publishing house. During these years Sayers went through a period she did not advertise much later. She had an illegitimate son, who was brought up by her cousin, Ivy Shrimpton. The father was Bill White, a motorcyclist and car salesman. As a Catholic, Sayers rejected contraceptives, which caused a problem with the Russian born-novelist John Cournos. Letters from an unhappy love affair with him are now housed at Harvad University. Although her cousin took care of the child, Sayers followed closely his upbringing and supplied funds for this purpose. In 1926 Sayers married to the journalist, Captain Oswald Arthur Fleming. He was divorced and had two children. He died in 1950.

Sayers' seven-year long job at Benson's advertising agency in London began in 1922. Soon after joining the agency she published the novel, Whose Body? in which Wimsey is the major character. In the story Lord Peter solves the puzzle of the body in the bath. Wimsey's prime criteria is to find out how the murder was done. "Once you've got the How, the Why drives it home," says the detective in BUSMAN'S HONEYMOON (1937). Wimsey appeared in 11 novels and 21 stories. In the beginning the young protagonist was a carefree war hero, who has money, free time and who known the important people. His professional companion is Charler Parker, who balanced the fast thinking and impulsive Lord Peter with his cautious and solid character. Wimsey developed gradually into a man of conscience and moral responsibility, but humor prevailed throughout the novel series.

--Lord Peter drew a writing pad towards him.
--'What are you going to write? asked Parker, looking over his shoulder with some amusement.
--Lord Peter wrote:
--'Isn't civilization wonderful?'
--He signed this simple message and slipped it into an envelope.
--'If you want to b immune from silly letters, Charlles.' he said, 'don't carry your monomark in your hat.' (from Unnatural Death, 1927)

In Busman's Honeymoon the monocled detective marries Harriet Vane, a writer of mystery books, Sayers's own alter ego. Vane was introduced in STRONG POISON (1930), in which Lord Peter saves Harriet. She is accused of poisoning the novelist Philip Boyes, with whom she had lived for almost a year. The love interest started to build from HAVE HIS CARCASE (1932). MURDER MUST ADVERTISE (1933) was full of observations of manner and mocked the superficial world of conspicuous consumption.

'How should anything be sacred to an advertiser?' demanded Ingleby, helping himself to four lumps of sugar. 'We spend our whole time asking intimate questions of perfect strangers and it naturally blunts our finer feelings. "Mother! has yours Child Learnt Regular Habits?" "Are you Troubled with Fullness after Eating?" "Are you satisfied about your Drains?" ... Upon my soul, I sometimes wonder why the long-suffering public doesn't rise up and slay us.' (from Murder Must Advertise)
With such writers as G.K. Chesterton, Christie, and Fr. Ronald Knox, Sayers founded the Detection Club in 1929. She purchased a home at Withman in Essex, and from 1931 Sayers devoted herself entirely to writing and preparing radio plays for the BBC. After the appearance of Busman's Honeymoon Sayers turned from mystery fiction to other genres. Her only detective novel without Wimsey was THE DOCUMENT IN THE CASE (with Robert Eustace, 1930). She published also 11 short stories in which the commercial traveller Montague Egg solved crimes, and wrote with members of The Detection Club such composite novels as THE FLOATING ADMIRAL (1931), ASK A POLICEMAN (1933), and DOUBLE DEATH (1939).

A devout Anglo-Catholic, Sayers was for many years a friend of the Oxford writers known as the Inklings. In THE MIND OF THE MAKER Sayers tried to explain the Trinitarian nature of God, the Divine Creator, by analogy with the three-fold activity of the creative artist - involving idea, energy, and power. With few exceptions her plays were religious dramas, among them THE ZEAL OF THY HOUSE (1937), set in the twelfth century and based on an incident that had occurred during the burning and rebuilding of the choir at Canterbury, and THE DEVIL TO PAY (1939).

In 1950 Sayers was awarded a Litt.D. by the University of Durham. Her last major work was translation of Dante's Divine Comedy. The result was a fast-paced text, in Victorian style verse, which takes many liberties with the original. The work was finished by Barbara Reynolds after Sayers's death on December 17, 1957 from a heart failure.

Sayers put aside her 13th full-length Lord Peter novel in 1938. The book appeared in 1998 under the title THRONES, DOMINATIONS, finished by Jill Paton Walsh. In the story two beautiful young women, involved with a theatrical producer, are murdered. There's also a subplot involving the soon-to-abdicate King Edward VII.

Information source: wikipedia