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Sayers, Dorothy L(eigh)

(British, 1893–1957)

One of the first women to be granted a degree from Oxford, Sayers was a medieval scholar who completed a notable translation of Dante's Divine Comedy as well as establishing herself as second only to Agatha Christie in the Golden Age of the classic English mystery novel in the 1920s and 1930s. Few writers provoke such extreme responses. In a recent poll of crime writers, Sayers' The Nine Tailors (1934) was voted the best Golden Age mystery; yet the critic Edmund Wilson called the same book ‘one of the dullest … I have ever encountered in any field’. Admirers praise her erudition in the genre, craftsmanship, care with detail, and ability to expose failings in her society. Above all, they love her detective, the upper-class polymath Lord Peter Wimsey. Detractors find Sayers’ work snobbish, long-winded and pretentious.

Begin with Strong Poison (1930); Wimsey is called on to exonerate mystery writer Harriet Vane who stands accused of poisoning her lover. Social attitudes in this novel are radical for their time and Sayers shows strong sympathy for Vane, whose main crime seems to be unconventional behaviour. Continue with Murder Must Advertise (1933) where Sayers' own experience in advertising provides the background for an undercover investigation by Wimsey; The Nine Tailors, with its English village background and carefully researched theme of church bell-ringing; and Gaudy Night (1935), a curiosity in the crime-writing field—a mystery without a murder.

Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, P. D. James. See CRIME  VM

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionBooks & Authors: Award-Winning Fiction (Pa-Sc)