Authors: Dorothy L. Sayers

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English novelist, playwright, scholar, and essayist

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Whose Body?, 1923

Clouds of Witness, 1926

Unnatural Death, 1927 (also known as The Dawson Pedigree)

Lord Peter Views the Body, 1928

The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, 1928

The Documents in the Case, 1930 (with Robert Eustace)

Strong Poison, 1930

The Five Red Herrings, 1931 (also known as Suspicious Characters)

The Floating Admiral, 1931 (with others)

Have His Carcase, 1932

Ask a Policeman, 1933 (with others)

Murder Must Advertise, 1933

The Nine Tailors, 1934

Gaudy Night, 1935

Six Against the Yard, 1936 (with others; also known as Six Against Scotland Yard)

Busman’s Honeymoon, 1937

Double Death: A Murder Story, 1939 (with others)

The Scoop, and Behind the Scenes, 1983 (with others)

Crime on the Coast, and No Flowers by Request, 1984 (with others)

Short Fiction:

Hangman’s Holiday, 1933

In the Teeth of the Evidence, and Other Stories, 1939

Lord Peter, 1972 (James Sandoe, editor)

Striding Folly, 1972

Drama:

Busman’s Honeymoon, pr. 1937 (with Muriel St. Clare Byrne)

The Zeal of Thy House, pr., pb. 1937

The Devil to Pay, Being the Famous Play of John Faustus, pr., pb. 1939

Love All, pr. 1940

The Just Vengeance, pr., pb. 1946

The Emperor Constantine, pr. 1951 (revised as Christ’s Emperor, 1952)

Radio Plays:

The Man Born to Be King: A Play-Cycle on the Life of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, 1941-1942

Poetry:

Op 1, 1916

Catholic Tales and Christian Songs, 1918

Lord, I Thank Thee–, 1943

The Story of Adam and Christ, 1955

Nonfiction:

The Greatest Drama Ever Staged, 1938

Strong Meat, 1939

Begin Here: A War-Time Essay, 1940

Creed or Chaos?, 1940

The Mysterious English, 1941

The Mind of the Maker, 1941

Why Work?, 1942

The Other Six Deadly Sins, 1943

Unpopular Opinions, 1946

Making Sense of the Universe, 1946

Creed or Chaos? and Other Essays in Popular Theology, 1947

The Lost Tools of Learning, 1948

The Days of Christ’s Coming, 1953, revised 1960

The Story of Easter, 1955

The Story of Noah’s Ark, 1955

Introductory Papers on Dante, 1957

Further Papers on Dante, 1957

The Poetry of Search and the Poetry of Statement, and Other Posthumous Essays on Literature, Religion, and Language, 1963

Christian Letters to a Post-Christian World, 1969

Are Women Human?, 1971

A Matter of Eternity, 1973

Wilkie Collins: A Critical and Biographical Study, 1977 (E. R. Gregory, editor)

Children’s/Young Adult Literature:

Even the Parrot: Exemplary Conversations for Enlightened Children, 1944

Translations:

Tristan in Brittany, 1929 (Thomas the Troubadour)

The Heart of Stone, Being the Four Canzoni of the “Pietra” Group, 1946 (Dante)

The Comedy of Dante Alighieri the Florentine, 1949-1962 (Cantica III with Barbara Reynolds)

The Song of Roland, 1957

Edited Texts:

Oxford Poetry 1917, 1918 (with Wilfred R. Childe and Thomas W. Earp)

Oxford Poetry 1918, 1918 (with Earp and E. F. A. Geach)

Oxford Poetry 1919, 1919 (with Earp and Siegfried Sassoon)

Great Short Stories of Detection, Mystery, and Horror, 1928-1934 (also known as The Omnibus of Crime)

Tales of Detection, 1936

Biography

Dorothy Leigh Sayers (SA-uhrz) is one of the world’s most admired mystery writers and her detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, one of its most celebrated fictional sleuths. Sayers was the only child of an Anglican clergyman and his wife; her childhood was spent in Oxford and in England’s bleak Fen country, both of which would later serve as settings for her novels. Educated at home until she was fifteen, she attended the Godolphin School in Salisbury and later entered the University of Oxford, where she studied modern languages and became one of the first women to receive a degree. In the years that followed, she worked as a teacher and as a reader and editor for Blackwell’s, an Oxford company that published two volumes of her religious poetry, before taking a job in 1922 with a London advertising firm. She continued to work as an advertising copywriter for nearly a decade, until the success of her novels permitted her to devote herself full-time to her writing.{$I[AN]9810000815}{$I[A]Sayers, Dorothy L.}{$I[geo]WOMEN;Sayers, Dorothy L.}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Sayers, Dorothy L.}{$I[tim]1893;Sayers, Dorothy L.}

Dorothy L. Sayers

(Library of Congress)

In 1923 Sayers embarked on her career as a mystery writer with Whose Body?, the first of the Lord Peter Wimsey books. Wimsey is an amateur sleuth; the witty, brilliant second son of the fifteenth Duke of Denver, he wears a monocle, collects rare books, quotes liberally from the classics, and occasionally undertakes a bit of detective work, assisted by his manservant, Bunter. Yet Wimsey’s outwardly frivolous manner masks an inner depth of character that Sayers would develop as the series continued, allowing him to grow and change in a manner unlike most fictional detectives. Although Wimsey initially undertakes crime solving as little more than a diverting hobby, by the third book, Unnatural Death, Sayers is exploring her detective’s moral qualms over the resolution of the case. Later books find Wimsey, who suffered a nervous breakdown following his service in World War I, falling into deep depression after bringing a criminal to justice.

Sayers herself was living a far from conventional life during the early years of the Wimsey series; as a member of London’s bohemian artistic society, she entered into several brief love affairs and secretly bore an illegitimate son, who was reared by her cousin. Although she married Oswald Arthur Fleming in 1926, her earlier experiences would find their way obliquely into Strong Poison, the novel that introduces Harriet Vane. Like her creator, Harriet is a brilliant onetime Oxford scholar, a writer of detective fiction, and a member of London’s bohemian subculture; when Wimsey encounters her, she is on trial for the murder of her former lover. The Wimsey-Vane romance would stretch over seven years, four novels–Strong Poison, Have His Carcase, Gaudy Night, and Busman’s Honeymoon–and two short stories, causing several critics to note with amusement that their author appeared to have fallen in love with her own detective and effectively written herself into his life. Wimsey gradually drops the aristocratic mannerisms that mark his style in the series’ earlier entries as he examines himself through Harriet’s eyes and sets about reshaping his life with a new determination and purpose.

Interspersed with the four “Harriet Vane” novels are three Wimsey books and several short-story collections, including Murder Must Advertise, which draws on Sayers’s years in advertising as Lord Peter takes a job at an agency while investigating a murder, and The Nine Tailors, a book praised by many critics as not only the best of the Wimsey novels but also one of the best mysteries ever written. Set in a small country village, the story is an elaborate puzzle that hinges on the art of bell ringing, and its well-drawn characters, vividly evoked setting, and intricate plotting offer ample proof of Sayers’s talents as a writer.

Despite her popularity as a mystery writer, Sayers abandoned the form in the late 1930’s to devote herself entirely to religious writings and scholarship. During the last twenty years of her life, she published several collections of essays, including Creed or Chaos? and Other Essays in Popular Theology and Unpopular Opinions, which analyze the moral and ethical dilemmas of the modern world. Her work The Mind of the Maker explores Christianity through the idea of God as a creative artist. She also enjoyed success as a dramatist, both on the radio with The Man Born to Be King, a twelve-part series on the life of Christ, and on the stage with The Devil to Pay and The Emperor Constantine. In her later years, Sayers published several translations of classic works.

It is as a mystery writer, however, that Sayers remains best known, and she is often credited with helping to bring the genre into the twentieth century through her well developed, three-dimensional characters and her experimentations in plotting and criminal methodology. Sayers’s wide-ranging interests and traditional education in the classics make her novels among the most literate of the genre, although her detractors–who include authors Rex Stout and Julian Symons–describe her books as snobbish and socially conservative and Wimsey as an aristocratic prig. Her fluidity and skill as a writer, however, have won praise from her many admirers, including mystery author P. D. James. Certainly Sayers’s work has stood the test of time; her books remain continually in print, and her name appears repeatedly on lists of influential mystery writers.

BibliographyBrabazon, James. Dorothy L. Sayers: A Biography. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1981. The “authorized” biography based upon Sayers’s private papers, containing an introduction by her only son, Anthony Fleming. Brabazon shows that Sayers’s real desire was to be remembered as an author of poetry and religious dramas and as a translator of Dante.Brown, Janice. The Seven Deadly Sins in the Work of Dorothy L. Sayers. Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 1998. Links Sayers’s literary and religious works by analyzing her representation of the seven deadly sins in her mystery fiction.Brunsdale, Mitzi. Dorothy L. Sayers: Solving the Mystery of Wickedness. New York: Berg, 1990.Coomes, David. Dorothy L. Sayers: A Careless Rage for Life. New York: Lion, 1992. Coomes concentrates on reconciling the author of religious tracts with the detective novelist, thereby providing a portrayal of a more complex Sayers. He draws heavily on her papers at Wheaton College. Brief notes.Dale, Alzina, ed. Dorothy L. Sayers: The Centenary Celebration. New York: Walker, 1993. Memoirs and essays situating Sayers in the history of detective fiction. Includes a brief biography and annotated bibliography.Dale, Alzina Stone. Maker and Craftsman: The Story of Dorothy L. Sayers. Wheaton, Ill.: H. Shaw Publishers, 1992.Downing, Crystal. Writing Performances: The Stages of Dorothy L. Sayers. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. This study discusses Sayers’s popular detective fiction and later dramatic works in the context of the modernist disdain for such forms. It argues that despite the negative judgment of her contemporaries in the academy, Sayers actually holds an important position with relation both to literary modernism and to postmodern dramatic works.Freeling, Nicolas. Criminal Convictions: Errant Essays on Perpetrators of Literary License. Boston: D. R. Godine, 1994.Gaillard, Dawson. Dorothy L. Sayers. New York: F. Ungar, 1981. In a brief 123 pages, Gaillard tries to establish a link between Sayers’s detective fiction and her other literary works. One chapter is devoted to her short stories, four to her mystery novels, and a sixth to a summary of Sayers’s literary virtues.Hall, Trevor H. Dorothy L. Sayers: Nine Literary Studies. Hamden, Conn.: Archon Books, 1980. Hall discusses the connection between Sayers’s creation, Lord Peter Wimsey, and Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation, Sherlock Holmes. Hall also speculates in some detail on the influence of Sayers’s husband, Atherton Fleming, on her writing.Lewis, Terance L. Dorothy L. Sayers’s Peter Wimsey and British Interwar Society. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 1994. Analyzes Sayers’s detective and her mysteries as they reflect and comment on British society in the 1920’s and 1930’s.McGregor, Robert Kuhn, and Ethan Lewis. Conundrums for the Long Week-End: England, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Lord Peter Wimsey. Kent, Ohio: Kent State, 2000. A cultural study of interwar England through the lens of Sayers’s Wimsey books.Pitt, Valerie. “Dorothy Sayers: The Masks of Lord Peter.” In Twentieth-Century Suspense: The Thriller Comes of Age, edited by Clive Bloom. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1990. Analysis of Sayers’s use of masquerade and disguise in the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries.Reynolds, Barbara. Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1993.Reynolds, Moira Davison. Women Authors of Detective Series: Twenty-one American and British Authors, 1900-2000. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2001. Examines the life and work of major female mystery writers, including Sayers.Youngberg, Ruth Tanis. Dorothy L. Sayers: A Reference Guide. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1982. An extensive guide to 942 English-language reviews, articles, books, introductions, and addresses published between 1917 and 1981. The annotations are designed to provide information, rather than criticism, to allow the reader to evaluate the particular item’s usefulness.
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