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Dorothy L. Sayers

Front cover of the biography by Barbara Reynolds
Born 13 June 1893(1893-06-13)
Oxford, England, U.K.
Died 17 December 1957 (aged 64)
Witham, Essex, England, U.K.
Occupation Novelist, Playwright, Essayist, Translator, Copywriter, Poet
Genres crime fiction
Literary movement Golden Age of Detective Fiction

Dorothy Leigh Sayers (usually pronounced /ˈseɪ.ərz/, although Sayers herself preferred [ˈsɛːz] and encouraged the use of her middle initial to facilitate this pronunciation[1]) (Oxford, 13 June 1893 – Witham, 17 December 1957) was a renowned English crime writer, poet, playwright, essayist, translator and Christian humanist. She was also a student of classical and modern languages. She is best known for her mysteries, a series of novels and short stories set between World War I and World War II that feature English aristocrat and amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey. However, Sayers herself considered her translation of Dante's Divina Commedia to be her best work. She is also known for her plays and essays.



Childhood, youth and education

Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, where Sayers' father was headmaster of the Choir School

Sayers, an only child, was born on 13 June 1893 at the Head Master's House, Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, where her father, the Rev. Henry Sayers, M.A., was chaplain of Christ Church and headmaster of the Choir School. (When she was six he started teaching her Latin.)[2] She grew up in the tiny village of Bluntisham-cum-Earith after her father was given the living there as rector. The elegance of the Regency rectory she called home is worthy of her description of Duke's Denver, Lord Wimsey's family seat, while the church graveyard features the surnames of several characters from her mystery The Nine Tailors. The proximity of the River Great Ouse and the Fens explains the book's vivid description of a massive flood around the village.[3]

From 1909 she was educated at the Godolphin School,[4] a boarding school in Salisbury. Her father later moved to the less luxurious living of Christchurch, also in Cambridgeshire.

In 1912, she won a scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford,[5] and studied modern languages and medieval literature. She finished with first-class honours in 1916. Although women could not be awarded degrees at that time, Sayers was among the first to receive a degree when the position changed a few years later, and in 1920 she graduated as a MA. Her personal experience of Oxford academic life is evident in her novel Gaudy Night.

Dorothy's father was from a line of Sayers from Littlehampton, West Sussex, and her mother (Helen Mary Leigh – whence Dorothy's second name) was born at "The Chestnuts", Millbrook, Hampshire to Frederick Leigh, a solicitor, whose family roots were in the Isle of Wight. Dorothy's aunt Amy, her mother's sister, married Henry Richard Shrimpton, a fact that was to become important later in Dorothy's life.

The 1920s in Britain was a time of social upheaval. The massive mobilization of able-bodied men in World War I had sent many women into the paid workforce. While the men returning from war expected to return to their old positions, the women who enjoyed self-sufficiency were not ready to leave. In addition, many women had to be self-supporting as family members had been disabled or perished in the war. Some women were given the vote in 1918, although full women's suffrage was not granted until the Representation of the People Act of 1928.


When she was 29, Dorothy Sayers fell in love with novelist John Cournos; it was the first intense romance of her life. He wanted her to ignore social mores and live with him without marriage, but she wanted to marry and have children. After a year of agony between 1921 and 1922, she learned that Cournos had claimed to be against marriage only to test her devotion, and she broke off her relationship with him. Her heart broken, Sayers rebounded by becoming involved with Bill White, an unemployed motor car salesman. After a brief, intense and mainly sexual relationship, Sayers discovered that she was pregnant. White reacted badly, storming out "in rage & misery" when Sayers announced her pregnancy.

Sayers hid from her friends and family in fear of how her pregnancy might affect her parents, who were then in their seventies. She continued to work until she was six months pregnant; she then pleaded exhaustion and took extended leave. She went alone to a "mothers' hospital", Tuckton Lodge, Iford Lane, Southbourne, Hampshire (now in Dorset, following boundary changes) under an assumed name and gave birth to John Anthony on 3 January 1924. She remained with John for three weeks, nursing and caring for him.

Her sole responsibility for her child prevented Sayers' return to her former life and work. She investigated a family connection. Her aunt and cousin, Amy and Ivy Amy Shrimpton, were supporting themselves by fostering children. Sayers' mother had visited the Shrimptons and had written a glowing account to Dorothy of the good job they did with their charges. Sayers wrote to Ivy, relating a sad story about "a friend" and enquiring about boarding fees and whether Ivy had room for an additional baby. After Ivy agreed to take the child, Sayers sent her another letter in an envelope marked "Strictly Confidential: Particulars about Baby"[6] which revealed the child's parentage and swore her to silence. Neither Sayers' parents nor Aunt Amy were to know. Sayers's friends learned of John Anthony's existence only after her death in 1957: he was the sole beneficiary under his mother's will. However Sayers corresponded frequently with her son by mail. Shortly before he died in 1984 John Anthony said that his mother "did the very best she could."[7]

Ivy continued to look after John Anthony at her house, "The Sidelings", Wooton Barton, Oxfordshire, until he grew up, but he became known by his second forename, abandoning the use of "John" except for legal purposes. He preferred to be known as Tony to friends and family. He assumed the surname of Fleming after his mother married, although nothing formal was ever attempted to register that change. Tony regarded Ivy as his mother for all practical purposes. When she died on 29 March 1951 at Horton General Hospital, Banbury, he arranged the funeral.

In 1924–25, Sayers wrote eleven letters to John Cournos about their unhappy relationship, her relationship with White, and that with her son. The letters are now housed at Harvard University. Both Sayers and Cournos would eventually fictionalize their experience: Sayers in Strong Poison, published in 1930, and Cournos in The Devil Is an English Gentleman, published in 1932.

Marriage and later life

Two years later, by which time she had published her first two detective novels, Sayers married Captain Oswald Atherton "Mac" Fleming, a Scottish journalist whose professional name was "Atherton Fleming." The wedding took place on 8 April 1926 at Holborn Register Office, London. Mac was divorced with two children, which in those days meant they could not have a church wedding. Despite this disappointment, her parents welcomed Mac into the fold. Mac and Dorothy lived in the flat at 24 Great James Street in St Pancras, London that Dorothy maintained for the rest of her life.

The marriage began happily with a strong partnership at home. Both were working a great deal, Mac as an author and journalist and Dorothy as an advertising copywriter and author. Over time, Mac's health worsened, largely due to his World War I service, and as a result he became unable to work. His income dwindled while Sayers' fame continued to grow and he began to feel eclipsed.

Although he never lived with them, Tony was told that "Cousin Dorothy" and Fleming had adopted him when he was ten. (As the legal parent, Dorothy had no need to adopt him. Fleming had agreed to adopt her son when they married, but the legal process was never carried out.) Sayers continued to provide for his upbringing, although she never publicly acknowledged him as her biological son.

Sayers was a good friend of C. S. Lewis and several of the other Inklings. On some occasions, Sayers joined Lewis at meetings of the Socratic Club. Lewis said he read The Man Born to be King every Easter, but he claimed to be unable to appreciate detective stories. J. R. R. Tolkien read some of the Wimsey novels but scorned the later ones, such as Gaudy Night.[8]

Mac Fleming died on 9 June 1950, at Sunnyside Cottage, Witham, Essex. Dorothy died suddenly of a stroke on 17 December 1957 at the same place. She had purchased 20–24 Newland Street, Witham (subsequently known as Sunnyside) in 1925 as a home for her mother following the death of her father, but on the death of her mother on 27 July 1929 at The County Hospital, Colchester, she occupied it herself.

Mac was buried in Ipswich, while Dorothy's remains were cremated and her ashes buried beneath the tower of St Anne's Church, Soho, London, where she had been a churchwarden for many years. Tony died on 26 November 1984 at age 60, in St. Francis's Hospital, Miami Beach, Florida.


Poetry, teaching, and advertisements

One of the Guinness Toucan advertising posters.

Dorothy Sayers' first book, of poetry, was published in 1916 as Op. I by Blackwell Publishing in Oxford. Later Sayers worked for Blackwell's and then as a teacher in several locations including Normandy, France, just before World War I began.

Sayers' longest employment was from 1922-1931 as a copywriter at S. H. Benson's advertising agency in London. This was located on the Victoria Embankment overlooking the Thames; Benson's subsequently became Ogilvy & Mather. Sayers was quite successful as an advertiser. Her collaboration with artist John Gilroy resulted in "The Mustard Club" for Colman's Mustard and the Guinness "Zoo" advertisements, variations of which still appear today. One famous example was the Toucan, his bill arching under a glass of Guinness, with Sayers's jingle:

If he can say as you can

Guinness is good for you

How grand to be a Toucan

Just think what Toucan do

Sayers is also credited with coining the phrase "It pays to advertise." She used the advertising industry as the setting of Murder Must Advertise.

Detective fiction

Paperback edition cover of the Lord Peter Wimsey novel Murder Must Advertise

Sayers began working out the plot of her first novel some time in 1920–21. The seeds of the plot for Whose Body? can be seen in a letter Sayers wrote on 22 January 1921:

My detective story begins brightly, with a fat lady found dead in her bath with nothing on but her pince-nez. Now why did she wear pince-nez in her bath? If you can guess, you will be in a position to lay hands upon the murderer, but he's a very cool and cunning fellow... (p. 101, Reynolds)

Lord Peter Wimsey burst upon the world of detective fiction with an explosive "Oh, damn!" and continued to engage readers in ten novels and two sets of short stories; the final novel ended with a very different "Oh, damn!". Sayers once commented that Lord Peter was a mixture of Fred Astaire and Bertie Wooster, which is most evident in the first five novels. However, it is evident through Lord Peter's development as a rounded character that he existed in Sayers' mind as a living, breathing, fully human being. Sayers introduced detective novelist Harriet Vane in Strong Poison. Sayers remarked more than once that she had developed the "husky voiced, dark-eyed" Harriet to put an end to Lord Peter via matrimony. But in the course of writing Gaudy Night, Sayers imbued Lord Peter and Harriet with so much life that she was never able, as she put it, to "see Lord Peter exit the stage".

Sayers did not content herself with writing pure detective stories; she explored the difficulties of World War I veterans in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, discussed the ethics of advertising in Murder Must Advertise, and advocated women's education (then a controversial subject) and role in society in Gaudy Night. In Gaudy Night, Miss Barton writes a book attacking the Nazi doctrine of Kinder, Kirche, Küche, which restricted women's roles to family activities, and in many ways the whole of Gaudy Night can be read as an attack on Nazi social doctrine. The book has been described as "the first feminist mystery novel."[9]

Sayers' Christian and academic interests also shine through in her detective stories. In The Nine Tailors, one of her most well-known detective novels, the plot unfolds largely in and around an old church dating back to the Middle Ages, and the writer's familiarity with and affection for such a milieu is very evident. Change ringing of bells also forms an important part of the novel. In Have His Carcase, the Playfair cipher and the principles of cryptanalysis are explained. Her short story Absolutely Elsewhere refers to the fact that (in the language of modern physics) the only perfect alibi for a crime is to be outside its light cone, while The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager's Will contains a literary crossword puzzle.

Sayers also wrote a number of short stories about Montague Egg, a wine salesman who solves mysteries.


Dante shown holding a copy of the Divina Commedia, next to the entrance to Hell, the seven terraces of Mount Purgatory and the city of Florence, with the spheres of Heaven above

Sayers herself considered her translation of Dante's Divina Commedia to be her best work. The baldly titled Hell appeared in 1949, as one of the recently introduced series of Penguin Classics. Purgatory followed in 1955. Unfinished at her death, the third volume (Paradise) was completed by Barbara Reynolds in 1962.

On a line-by-line basis, Sayers' translation can seem idiosyncratic. For example, the famous line usually rendered "Abandon hope, all ye who enter here" turns, in the Sayers translation, into "Lay down all hope, you who go in by me." As the Italian reads "Lasciate ogni speranza, o voi ch'intrate", both the traditional and Sayers' translation add to the source text in an effort to preserve the original length: "here" is added in the first case, and "by me" in the second. It can be argued that Sayers' translation is actually more accurate, in that the original intimates to "abandon all hope". Also, the addition of "by me" draws from the previous lines of the canto: "Per me si va ne la città dolente;/ per me si va ne l'etterno dolore;/ per me si va tra la perduta gente." (Longfellow: "Through me the way is to the city dolent;/ through me the way is to the eternal dole;/ through me the way is to the people lost.")

The idiosyncratic character of Sayer's translation results from her decision to preserve the original Italian terza rima rhyme scheme, so that her "go in by me" rhymes with "made to be" two lines earlier, and "unsearchably" two lines before that. Umberto Eco in his book Mouse or Rat? suggests that, of the various English translations, Sayers "does the best in at least partially preserving the hendecasyllables and the rhyme." [10]

Sayers' translation of the Divina Commedia is also notable for extensive notes at the end of each canto, explaining the theological meaning of what she calls "a great Christian allegory."[11] Her translation has remained popular: in spite of publishing new translations by Mark Musa and Robin Kirkpatrick, as of 2009 Penguin Books was still publishing the Sayers edition.[12]

In the introduction to her translation of The Song of Roland, Sayers expressed an outspoken feeling of attraction and love for

"(...) That new-washed world of clear sun and glittering colour which we call the Middle Age (as though it were middle-aged) but which has perhaps a better right than the blown rose of the Renaissance to be called the Age of Re-birth".

She praised "Roland" for being a purely Christian myth, in contrast to such epics as Beowulf in which she found a strong pagan content.

Other Christian and academic work

Cover of Are Women Human?, which contains two of Sayers' feminist essays

Sayers' most notable religious book is probably The Mind of the Maker (1941) which explores at length the analogy between a human Creator (especially a writer of novels and plays) and the doctrine of The Trinity in creation. She suggests that any human creation of significance involves the Idea, the Energy (roughly: the process of writing and that actual 'incarnation' as a material object) and the Power (roughly: the process of reading/hearing and the effect it has on the audience) and that this "trinity" has useful analogies with the theological Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

In addition to the ingenious thinking in working out this analogy, the book contains striking examples drawn from her own experiences as a writer and elegant criticisms of writers when the balance between Idea, Energy and Power is not, in her view, adequate.[13] She defends strongly the view that literary creatures have a nature of their own, vehemently replying to a well-wisher who wanted Lord Peter to "end up a convinced Christian". "From what I know of him, nothing is more unlikely ... Peter is not the Ideal Man".[14]

Creed or Chaos? is a restatement of basic historical Christian Doctrine, based on the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, similar to but somewhat more densely written than C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity; both sought to clearly and concisely explain the central doctrines of Christianity to those who had encountered them in distorted or watered-down forms, on the grounds that if you are going to criticize something you had best know what it is first.

Her very influential essay The Lost Tools of Learning ISBN 978-1-60051-025-0 has been used by many schools in the US as a basis for the classical education movement, reviving the medieval trivium subjects (grammar, logic and rhetoric) as tools to enable the analysis and mastery of every other subject. Sayers also wrote three volumes of commentaries about Dante, religious essays, and several plays, of which The Man Born to be King may be the best known.

Her religious works did so well at presenting the orthodox Anglican position that in 1943 the Archbishop of Canterbury offered her a Lambeth doctorate in divinity, which she declined. In 1950, however, she accepted an honorary doctorate of letters from the University of Durham.

Although she never describes herself as such, her economic and political ideas are very close to the Chesterton-Belloc theory of Distributism, rooted as they are--in good Anglican fashion--in classical Christian doctrines of Creation and Incarnation.[citation needed]

Criticism of Sayers

Criticism of background material in her novels

The literary and academic themes in Sayers' novels have appealed to a great many readers, but by no means to all. Poet W. H. Auden and philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein were critics of her novels, for example.[15][16] A savage attack on Sayers' writing ability came from the prominent American critic and man of letters Edmund Wilson, in a well-known 1945 article in The New Yorker called Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?[17] He briefly writes about her famous novel The Nine Tailors, saying "I set out to read [it] in the hope of tasting some novel excitement, and I declare that it seems to me one of the dullest books I have ever encountered in any field. The first part is all about bell-ringing as it is practised in English churches and contains a lot of information of the kind that you might expect to find in an encyclopedia article on campanology. I skipped a good deal of this, and found myself skipping, also, a large section of the conversations between conventional English village characters..." Wilson continues "I had often heard people say that Dorothy Sayers wrote well... but, really, she does not write very well: it is simply that she is more consciously literary than most of the other detective-story writers and that she thus attracts attention in a field which is mostly on a sub-literary level."

The academic critic Q.D. Leavis, in a review of Gaudy Night and Busman's Honeymoon published in the critical journal Scrutiny, criticises Sayers in more specific terms. The basis of Leavis' criticism is that Sayers' fiction is "popular and romantic while pretending to realism."[18] Leavis argues that Sayers presents academic life as "sound and sincere because it is scholarly", a place of "invulnerable standards of taste charging the charmed atmosphere".[19] But, Leavis says, this is unrealistic: "If such a world ever existed, and I should be surprised to hear as much, it does no longer, and to give substance to a lie or to perpetrate a dead myth is to do no one any service really."[20] Leavis suggests that "people in the academic world who earn their livings by scholarly specialities are not as a general thing wiser, better, finer, decenter or in any way more estimable than those of the same social class outside", but that Sayers is popular among educated readers because "the accepted pretence is that things are as Miss Sayers relates". Leavis comments that "only best-seller novelists could have such illusions about human nature".[20]

Critic Sean Latham has defended Sayers, arguing that Wilson "chooses arrogant condescension over serious critical consideration" and suggests that both he and Leavis, rather than seriously assessing Sayers' writing, simply objected to a detective-story writer having pretensions beyond what they saw as her role of popular-culture "hack".[21] Latham claims that, in their eyes, "Sayers's primary crime lay in her attempt to transform the detective novel into something other than an ephemeral bit of popular culture".[22] All writers of hugely popular detective fiction have been roundly criticized at various times and for various reasons; what makes Sayers' case perhaps unusual are the sources of many of the criticisms: literary and academic figures. But in fact there is nothing remarkable in this: Sayers' fiction touches on a number of controversial topics relating to academia and the literary community, so vociferous criticism of her work must be expected.

Criticism of major characters

Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, the two main characters in Sayers' novels, have also been criticised. Wimsey has been criticized for being too perfect; over time the various talents he displays grow too numerous for some readers to swallow. Edmund Wilson also expressed his distaste for Lord Peter in his criticism of The Nine Tailors: "There was also a dreadful stock English nobleman of the casual and debonair kind, with the embarrassing name of Lord Peter Wimsey, and, although he was the focal character in the novel... I had to skip a good deal of him, too."[17] On the other hand, this characterization of Wilson's omits some of the complexities of Lord Peter's character, and these same complexities are what have endeared him to readers fond of protagonists who transcend the standards of the genre.

Wimsey is rich, well-educated, charming, and brave, as well as an accomplished musician, an exceptional athlete, and a notable lover. He does, however, have serious flaws: the habit of over-engaging in what other characters regard as silly prattling, a nervous disorder (shell-shock) and a fear of responsibility. The latter two both originate from his service in World War I. The fear of responsibility turns out to be a serious obstacle to his maturation into full adulthood (a fact not lost on the character himself).

The character Harriet Vane, featured in four novels, has been criticized for being a mere stand-in for the author. Vane, like Sayers, was educated at Oxford (unusual for a woman at the time) and is a mystery writer. Vane initially meets Wimsey when she is tried for poisoning her lover (Strong Poison); he insists on participating in the defense preparations for her re-trial, where he falls for her but she rejects him. In Have His Carcase she collaborates with Wimsey to solve a murder but still rejects his proposals of marriage. She eventually accepts (Gaudy Night) and marries him (Busman's Honeymoon). After Sayers' affairs with Cournos and White were revealed posthumously, the comparisons between Sayers and Vane became more emphatic. Certainly Harriet's struggle to find a balance between independence and surrender to love is reflected in Sayers' own experience.

Many of the themes and settings of Sayers' novels, particularly those involving Harriet Vane, seem to reflect Sayers' own concerns and experiences.[23] However, McGregor and Lewis suggest that Vane and Wimsey's discussions about mystery in story versus real life – within the context of a mystery story – merely reflect Sayers' sense of fun.

Alleged racism and anti-semitism in Sayers' writing

The characters in Sayers' novels reflect the culture of their time, and some of them express explicit racist, or anti-Semitic views. In particular, the portrayal of Jews in Sayers' fictional work has been criticized by some for being stereotypical.[citation needed] The views expressed by characters in the novel can reasonably be understood as reflecting the 1930s English society in which the novel was set, rather than the author's own views. Some critics consider Sayers to be subtly criticizing misogyny, anti-Semitism, racism, and class distinctions in her novels. Even Lord Peter Wimsey does not necessarily reflect Sayers' own point of view: in Unnatural Death the author briefly criticises her detective for condemning another character's "greediness" with "the unconscious brutality of one who never lacked for money".

Characters in Unnatural Death also display racist attitudes. For instance, a maid who refused to serve a person of colour voices many racist sentiments, but the overall story upholds the person of colour as an innocent and virtuous person. Within the story, Miss Climpson, a sympathetic character, roundly condemns the maid's racism, although her own choice of language implies that she has (consciously or unconsciously) adopted what would now be felt to be racist assumptions herself. Later in the book, the murderer tries to blame the crimes upon a non-existent gang composed of Blacks and Jews, and the book shows how some policemen initially take up the racist canard and how it is eagerly picked up by the popular press; in her essay The Other Six Deadly Sins, Sayers comments that to "foment grievance and to set men at variance is the trade by which agitators thrive and journalists make money".[24] In the end, the alleged plot is shown to have been a red herring fabricated by the real culprit.

The 1923 novel Whose Body? involves several Jewish characters, notably the murder victim, Levy. Several other characters express anti-Semitic attitudes towards these Jews. The victim's butler, for example, states "I don't hold with Hebrews as a rule." The medical students who dissect the victim's body refer to him by the highly racist term Sheeny. However, once again such views should be taken as a reflection of contemporary English society, and not as the author's own view. A more positive attitude is taken by one of Sayers's recurring (and sympathetic) characters, the Hon. Frederick Arbuthnot, who falls in love with the victim's daughter, to the cheerful acceptance of best man Lord Peter Wimsey. Both Arbuthnot and Wimsey are also shown to have positive contacts with Jews on a professional level.

Sayers herself had a number of personal and professional associations with Jewish people. Her original publisher was Jewish, and the Chief Rabbi was a frequent visitor at her salons. She had had an unsuccessful relationship with a Jewish man (novelist John Cournos), and Barbara Reynolds, her friend and biographer, suggests that Whose Body? was influenced by thoughts of how society would have treated her as the wife of a Jew.[25]

Other biographers of Sayers have disagreed as to whether Sayers was anti-Semitic. In Sayers: A Biography,[26] James Brabazon argues that Sayers was anti-Semitic. This is refuted by Carolyn G. Heilbrun in Dorothy L. Sayers: Biography Between the Lines.[27] McGregor and Lewis argue in Conundrums for the Long Week-End that Sayers was not anti-Semitic but used popular British stereotypes of class and ethnicity. Anti-Semitism was common in Sayers' social class before the Second World War, and Sayers may not have regarded herself as anti-Semitic. In 1936, a translator wanted "to soften the thrusts against the Jews" in Whose Body?; Sayers, surprised, replied that the only characters "treated in a favorable light were the Jews!"[28]


Sayers' work was frequently parodied by her contemporaries (and sometimes by herself). McGregor and Lewis suggest that some of the character Harriet Vane's observations reveal Sayers poking fun at the mystery genre - even while adhering to various conventions herself.

Her characters in others' works

Jill Paton Walsh completed and published two novels about Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane: Thrones, Dominations, based on Sayers's manuscript, left unfinished at her death; and A Presumption of Death, based on the "Wimsey Papers", letters ostensibly written by various Wimseys and published in The Spectator during World War II.

E. C. Bentley, the author of the early modern detective novel Trent's Last Case, a work which Sayers admired, wrote a parody entitled "Greedy Night" (1938).

Lord Peter Wimsey appears (together with Hercule Poirot and Father Brown) in C. Northcote Parkinson's comic novel Jeeves (after Jeeves, the gentleman's gentleman of the P.G. Wodehouse canon).

Lord Peter Wimsey makes a cameo appearance in Laurie R. King's A Letter of Mary, one of a series of books relating the further adventures of Sherlock Holmes, and his equally talented partner and spouse, Mary Russell. This book takes place in 1923, the year in which Sayers introduced him.

Audrey Niffenegger, author of The Time Traveler's Wife, has claimed in interviews that her main characters, Henry and Clare, are loosely based on Sayers' Peter and Harriet.

In the novel "To Say Nothing of the Dog" by Connie Willis, the characters of Ned Henry and Verity Kindle openly mirror the courtship of Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane.

Sayers in others' works

Sayers appears, with Agatha Christie, as a title character in Dorothy and Agatha [ISBN 0-451-40314-2], a murder mystery by Gaylord Larsen, in which a man is murdered in her dining room, and Sayers has to solve the crime.

Sayers's god-daughter Barbara Reynolds has suggested that the character of Aunt Dot in Rose Macaulay's novel The Towers of Trebizond (1956) is based on Dorothy L. Sayers.[29]


See also Plays of Dorothy L. Sayers
See also List of fictional books#Works invented by Dorothy L. Sayers


  • Op. I (1916) [2]
  • Catholic Tales and Christian Songs (1918) [3]

Lord Peter Wimsey novels and short stories

  • Sayers also wrote the scenario for the film The Silent Passenger (1935), a Lord Peter story which was never published in book form, and whose script was altered greatly by the film company from her original.[30]

Other crime fiction

  • The Documents in the Case (1930) written with Robert Eustace
  • The Floating Admiral (1931) (Written with members of The Detection Club, a chapter each)
  • Ask a Policeman (1933) (Written with members of The Detection Club)
  • Six against the Yard (1936) (Written with members of The Detection Club)
  • The Sultry Tiger (1936) (Originally written under a pseudonym, republished in 1965)
  • Double Death: a Murder Story (1939) (Written with members of The Detection Club)
  • The Scoop and Behind the Screen (1983) (Originally published in The Listener (1931) and (1930), both written by members of The Detection Club)
  • Crime on the Coast and No Flowers by Request (1984) (Written by members of The Detection Club, Sayers takes part in the second, originally published in Daily Sketch (1953)
  • The Travelling Rug (2005) (A previously unpublished short detective story, probably written in the early to middle 1930's, planned as the first in a series to be called The Situations of Judkin. It features a house-maid, Jane Eurydice Judkins. This book contains a printed version of the story, as well as a photographic reproduction of the manuscript in Wheaton College Library.)

Dante translations and commentaries

  • The Divine Comedy, Part 1: Hell ISBN 0-14-044006-2
  • The Divine Comedy, Part 2: Purgatory ISBN 0-14-044046-1
  • The Divine Comedy, Part 3: Paradise (completed by Barbara Reynolds) ISBN 0-14-044105-0
  • Introductory Papers on Dante: Volume 1: The Poet Alive in His Writings
  • Further Papers on Dante Volume 2: His Heirs and His Ancestors
  • The Poetry of Search and the Poetry of Statement Volume 3: On Dante and Other Writers

Essays and non-fiction

  • Begin Here (A Wartime Essay) Victor Gollancz (1940)
  • Even The Parrot (Exemplary Conversations for Enlightened Children) Methuen (1944)
  • The Mind of the Maker (1941) ISBN 0-8371-3372-6
  • The Lost Tools of Learning (1947) ISBN 978-1-60051-025-0
  • Unpopular Opinions (1947)
  • Are Women Human? (two essays reprinted from Unpopular Opinions) ISBN 0-8028-2996-1
  • The Greatest Drama Ever Staged (reprinted from Unpopular Opinions in a series of pocket-sized booklets) St Hugh's Press
  • Creed or Chaos?:Why Christians Must Choose Either Dogma or Disaster (Or, Why It Really Does Matter What You Believe) ISBN 0-918477-31-X
  • The Man Born to be King, a cycle of 12 plays on the life of Jesus (1941)
  • Sayers on Holmes ISBN 1-887726-08-X
  • The Whimsical Christian ISBN 0-02-096430-7
  • Les Origines du Roman Policier: A Wartime Wireless Talk to the French: The Original French Text with an English Translation (ed. and trans. Suzanne Bray, Hurstpierpoint: Dorothy L. Sayers Society, 2003) ISBN 0-9545636-0-3

Unpublished work

  • Smith & Smith Removals: I


Five volumes of Sayers' letters have been published, edited by Barbara Reynolds.

  • The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers: 1899-1936: The Making of a Detective Novelist ISBN 0-312-14001-0
  • The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers: 1937-1943, From Novelist to Playwright ISBN 0-312-18127-2
  • The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers: 1944-1950, A Noble Daring ISBN 0-951-80051-5
  • The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers: 1951-1957, In the Midst of Life ISBN 0-951-80006-X
  • The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers: Child and Woman of Her Time ISBN 0-951-80007-8

External links


  1. ^ Barbara Reynolds (1993). Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul. London: Hodder and Stoughton. pp. 361. 
  2. ^ Barbara Reynolds, op. cit., pp. 1–14
  3. ^ Alzina Stone Dale (2003). Master and CraftsmanThe Story of Dorothy L. Sayers. iUniverse. pp. 3–6. ISBN 9780595266036. 
  4. ^ "Dorothy L. Sayers". Inklings. Taylor University. Retrieved 2008-05-13. 
  5. ^ Barbara Reynolds, op. cit., 43
  6. ^ Barbara Reynolds, op. cit., p. 126
  7. ^ Barbara Reynolds, op. cit., p. 346
  8. ^ The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien p. 95.
  9. ^ Randi Sørsdal (2006). From Mystery to Manners: A Study of Five Detective Novels by Dorothy L. Sayers (Masters thesis). University of Bergen. pp. 45. [1]
  10. ^ Umberto Eco (2003). Mouse or Rat? Translation as Negotiation. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson. pp. 141. 
  11. ^ Dorothy L. Sayers (1949). The Divine Comedy 1: Hell (introduction). London: Pengun Books. pp. 11. 
  12. ^ Penguin UK web site (accessed 26 August 2009)
  13. ^ Examples, some hilarious, given in Chapter 10 of The Mind of the Maker, including a poet whose solemn ode to the Ark of the Covenant crossing Jordan contains the immortal couplet: "The [something] torrent, leaping in the air / Left the astounded river's bottom bare
  14. ^ ibid. p. 105
  15. ^ Sean Latham (2003). Am I A Snob? Modernism and the Novel. Cornell University Press. pp. 197. 
  16. ^ from a letter to his former pupil Norman Malcolm, reproduced on page 109 of Malcolm's Ludwig Wittgenstein: A Memoir, O.U.P., 2001, ISBN 0199247595
  17. ^ a b Wilson, Edmund. "Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?" Originally published in The New Yorker, January 20, 1945.
  18. ^ Leavis 1968, p. 143
  19. ^ Leavis 1968, pp. 143-144
  20. ^ a b Leavis 1968, p. 144
  21. ^ Latham, op. cit., 197
  22. ^ Latham, op. cit., p. 197
  23. ^ Barbara Reynolds, op. cit.
  24. ^ Dorothy L. Sayers (1949). Creed or Chaos?. Harcourt, Brace. 
  25. ^ Barbara Reynolds, op. cit., p. 177
  26. ^ James Brabazon, Sayers: A Biography, pp. 216-219
  27. ^ Carolyn G. Heilbrun in 'Dorothy L. Sayers: Biography Between the Lines' in Sayers Centenary.
  28. ^ From a letter Sayers wrote to David Highan, November 27, 1936, published in Sayers' Letters.
  29. ^ "Take away the camel, and all is revealed" by Barbara Reynolds at (accessed 14 November 2007)
  30. ^ Barbara Reynolds, op. cit., p. 262

References and scholarship

  • Op. I by Dorothy Sayers (poetry):
  • The Lost Tools of Learning by Dorothy L. Sayers: Audio of this Essay: ISBN 978-1-60051-025-0
  • Brabazon, James, Dorothy L. Sayers: a Biography (1980; New York: Avon, 1982) ISBN 978-0-380-58990-6
  • Brown, Janice, The Seven Deadly Sins in the Work of Dorothy L. Sayers (Kent, OH, & London: Kent State University Press, 1998) ISBN 0-87338-605-1
  • Connelly, Kelly C. "From Detective Fiction to Detective Literature: Psychology in the Novels of Dorothy L. Sayers and Margaret Millar." CLUES: A Journal of Detection 25.3 (Spring 2007): 35-47
  • Coomes, David, Dorothy L. Sayers: A Careless Rage for Life (1992; London: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1997) ISBN 978-0-7459-2241-6
  • Dale, Alzine Stone, Maker and Craftsman: The Story of Dorothy L. Sayers (1993;, 2003) ISBN 978-0595266-03-6
  • Dean, Christopher, ed., Encounters with Lord Peter (Hurstpierpoint: Dorothy L. Sayers Society, 1991) ISBN 0-9518000-0-0
  • -- Studies in Sayers: Essays presented to Dr Barbara Reynolds on her 80th Birthday (Hurstpierpoint: Dorothy L. Sayers Society, 1991) ISBN 0-9518000-1-9
  • Downing, Crystal, Writing Performances: The Stages of Dorothy Sayers (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004) ISBN 1-4039-6452-1
  • Gorman, Anita G., and Leslie R. Mateer. "The Medium Is the Message: Busman's Honeymoon as Play, Novel, and Film." CLUES: A Journal of Detection 23.4 (Summer 2005): 54-62
  • Kenney, Catherine, The Remarkable Case of Dorothy L. Sayers (1990; Kent, OH, & London: Kent State University Press, 1992) ISBN 0-87338-458-X
  • Leavis, Q.D. (1937). "The Case of Miss Dorothy Sayers". Scrutiny VI. 
  • Lennard, John, 'Of Purgatory and Yorkshire: Dorothy L. Sayers and Reginald Hill's Divine Comedy', in Of Modern Dragons and other essays on Genre Fiction (Tirril: Humanities-Ebooks, 2007), pp. 33–55. ISBN 978-1-84760-038-7
  • McGregor, Robert Kuhn & Lewis, Ethan Conundrums for the Long Week-End : England, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Lord Peter Wimsey (Kent, OH, & London: Kent State University Press, 2000) ISBN 0-87338-665-5
  • Reynolds, Barbara, Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1993; rev. eds 1998, 2002) ISBN 0-340-72845-0
  • Sørsdal, Randi, From Mystery to Manners: A Study of Five Detective Novels by Dorothy L. Sayers, Masters thesis, University of Bergen. [4]
  • Young, Laurel. "Dorothy L. Sayers and the New Woman Detective Novel."CLUES: A Journal of Detection 23.4 (Summer 2005): 39-53


Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Dorothy Leigh Sayers (Oxford, 13 June 1893 – Witham, 17 December 1957) was a renowned British author, translator, student of classical and modern languages, and Christian humanist.



Clouds of Witness (1926)

  • Your mother, Bunter? Oh, I never knew you had one. I always thought you just sort of came along already-made, so it were. - Lord Peter Wimsey
  • My old mother always used to say, my lord, that facts are like cows. If you stare them in the face hard enough, and they generally run away. - Bunter
  • I always said the professional advocate was the most amoral person on the face of the earth. I'm certain of it now. - Lord Peter Wimsey
  • Lawyers enjoy a little mystery, you know. Why, if everybody came forward and told the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth straight out, we should all retire to the workhouse.
  • Time and trouble will tame an advanced young woman, but an advanced old woman is uncontrollable by any earthly force.

The Unpleasantness at The Bellona Club (1928)

  • Books...are like lobster shells, we surround ourselves with 'em, then we grow out of 'em and leave 'em behind, as evidence of our earlier stages of development. - Lord Peter Wimsey
  • What’s the damn good of it, Wimsey? A man goes and fights for his country, gets his inside gassed out, and loses his job, and all they give him is the privilege of marching past the Cenotaph once a year and paying four shillings in the pound income-tax. - George Fentiman
  • It’s my belief most of us would only be too pleased to chuck these community hysterics if the beastly newspapers didn’t run it for all it’s worth. However, it won’t do to say so. - Lord Peter Wimsey
    • On Remembrance Day observances

Strong Poison (1930)

  • She has a sense of humor... and brains... life wouldn't be dull. One would wake up, and there would be a whole day full of jolly things to do. And then we would come home and go to bed... and that would be jolly too. - Lord Peter Wimsey
  • I'm told I make love rather nicely. Though I am at a bit of a disadvantage at the moment. One can't be too convincing at the other end of the table with a bloke looking in the window. - Lord Peter Wimsey
  • If anybody does marry you it will be for the pleasure of hearing you talk piffle. - Harriet Vane

The Five Red Herrings (1931)

  • Trouble shared is trouble halved. - Lord Peter Wimsey

Have His Carcase (1932)

  • I always have a quotation for everything - it saves original thinking. - Lord Peter Wimsey

Gaudy Night (1936)

  • I have the most ill-regulated memory. It does those things which it ought not to do and leaves undone the things it ought to have done. But it has not yet gone on strike altogether. - Lord Peter Wimsey
  • Those who make some other person their job . . . are dangerous.
  • A facility for quotation covers the absence of original thought. - Lord Peter Wimsey
  • The worst sin - perhaps the only sin - passion can commit, is to be joyless.
  • The first thing a principle does is kill somebody. - Lord Peter Wimsey

Busman's Honeymoon (1937)

  • And what do all the great words come to in the end, but that? I love you — I am at rest with you — I have come home. - Lord Peter Wimsey to Harriet Vane, now his wife

The Psychology of Advertising

  • Those who prefer their English sloppy have only themselves to thank if the advertisement writer uses his mastery of the vocabulary and syntax to mislead their weak minds.


  • A human being must have occupation, if he or she is not to become a nuisance to the world.
  • Every time a man expects, as he says, his money to work for him, he is expecting other people to work for him.
  • The great advantage about telling the truth is that nobody ever believes it.
  • What is repugnant to every human being is to be reckoned always as a member of a class and not as an individual person.
  • It pays to advertise.
  • As I grow older and older
And totter toward the tomb
I find that I care less and less
Who goes to bed with whom
  • Somehow or other, and with the best of intentions, we have shown the world the typical Christian in the likeness of a crashing and rather ill-natured bore—and this in the name of one who assuredly never bored a soul in those thirty-three years during which he passed through the world like a flame.
  • The Church's approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables. Church by all means, and decent forms of amusement, certainly—but what use is all that if in the very center of his life and occupation he is insulting God with bad carpentry? No crooked table legs or ill-fitting drawers ever came out of the carpenter's shop at Nazareth. Nor, if they did, could anyone believe that they were made by the same hand that made Heaven and earth.
  • What do we find God 'doing about' this business of sin and evil?...God did not abolish the fact of evil; He transformed it. He did not stop the Crucifixion; He rose from the dead.

These last three quotes are in from essays in the collection "Letters to a Diminished Church."

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