Wednesday, December 7th, 2011...9:47 pm
Dorothy L. Sayers (13 June 1893 – 17 December 1957)
Dorothy L. Sayers is often ranked with Agatha Christie as being one of the finest mystery writers, especially of the Golden Age of Detective fiction, the ’20′s, 30′s, and 40′s. But where Christie was known for her exquisite and tricky plots, Sayers became known for her engaging characters, chiefly the apt-named Sir Peter Wimsey, and later, Wimsey’s true love, Harriet Vane. Many critics feel that Harriet Vane is a disguised characterization of Sayers herself. Many events in the real-life Sayers mirror those of the fictional Harriet Vane – although Sayres was never arrested for murder, which is how we are introduced to Harriet Vane. The romance and courtship of Wimsey and Vane continue over the course of several books. Sayers is then also one of the first mystery writers to write several novels in a story arc, whereas before writers wrote stand-alone adventures.
Sayers was more than just a crime writer. She was also a student of classical and modern languages, and one of the first women to graduate from Oxford University. She was known as a poet, playwright, essayist, and translator. Sayers herself considered her translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy to be her best work. She was one of the first academics to also write mysteries. The depth of her knowledge is evident in much of her work. She considered mystery novels to be a modern form of medieval morality plays. But while her novels address morality, and many social issues of her time, she retains a charming and entertaining tone that make her novels a delight to read decades later.
In 1998, Jill Patton Walsh, herself an accomplished scholar, picked up the task of completing Sayers unfinished Wimsey manuscript, Thrones, Dominations. In 2002, Patton published A Presumption of Death, based on The Wimsey Papers, a collection of articles that Sayers wrote during the second World War. In 2010, Patton published The Attenbury Emeralds, a Wimsey pastiche based on Sayers’ novels.
Sayers’ work is still in print in many different editions. I am particularly fond of the HarperCollins editions - very handsome black oversize paperbacks with nice easy-to-read print. I was thrilled to find an almost complete set of them rummaging through an indoor flea market one day. I added two more to the set at a library sale. Harper also does a very nice regular- sized edition which I have only seen at a bookstore. But there is a wide variety of editions to be had at used bookstores/library sales. Thrones, Dominations are considered Sayers’ works, and can be found easily in libraries, or the used book market. Walsh’s other two novels are more difficult to find in the used book market, but are of course available on Amazon or regular bookstores.
Sayers’ books are a real treat, and should be a part of anyone’s mystery library.