Monday, June 13, 2016

Happy Birthday, Dorothy L. Sayers!

Dorothy Leigh Sayers, novelist, translator, and Anglo-Catholic Christian apologist, was born on June 13, 1893; she died on December 17, 1957. She was born at the Christ Church Cathedral headmaster's house in Oxford because her father was chaplain. She attended Somerville College, the women's college in Oxford and received an MA degree in 1920. Sayers worked in the advertising field as a copywriter for several years, working on Guinness and Colman's Mustard accounts. She also worked in publishing, at Blackwell's of Oxford.

The Dorothy L. Sayers Society provides more detail about her life and works and her alma mater is proud of its influence on her life and work.

Although she is better known for her Lord Peter Wimsey series of mystery novels, I have always appreciated her more for the translation of Dante's Divine Comedy (particularly her introductions to Hell and Purgatory) and her Christian apologetics and other works. Like C.S. Lewis and T.S. Eliot, she stands high in my short-list of 20th century Anglo Catholics. 

I am very sorry that Penguin diverted her from completing the translation of Paradise to translate The Song of Roland! I know that her translation of the Divine Comedy, left incomplete at her death, is not considered the best--but I thought her introductions displayed an excellent understanding of Catholic doctrine and medieval culture.

Creed or ChaosThe Mind of the Maker, and The Whimsical Christian all offer good orthodox Christian doctrine and a valid theological viewpoint. Her emphasis -- her insistence -- on the importance of doctrine called Blessed John Henry Newman's Oxford Sermons to mind. 

I went through a Dorothy L. Sayers phase when I was working for Eighth Day Books after being laid off from an advertising firm in the 1980's--I read the mysteries, the essays, the translations, everything--except for the book I'm reading now. I've pulled just about all those books off my shelf because I'm preparing a talk about Dorothy L. Sayers for the Second Annual Inklings Festival held by the Eighth Day Institute here in Wichita on Saturday, July 23rd.

The title of my presentation, in keeping with theme of the festival, is "Are Women Human? Can We Be Divine?: Dorothy L. Sayers Takes the Case" and the book I'm reading now is Are Women Human? from Eerdmans:

One of the first women to graduate from Oxford University, Dorothy Sayers pursued her goals whether or not what she wanted to do was ordinarily understood to be "feminine." Sayers did not devote a great deal of time to talking or writing about feminism, but she did explicitly address the issue of women's role in society in the two classic essays collected here.

Central to Sayers's reflections is the conviction that both men and women are first of all human beings and must be regarded as essentially much more alike than different. We are to be true not so much to our sex as to our humanity. The proper role of both men and women, in her view, is to find the work for which they are suited and to do it.

Though written several decades ago, these essays still offer in Sayers's piquant style a sensible and conciliatory approach to ongoing gender issues.


  1. I too love her translations of the Divine Comedy. I reread Purgatory and Heaven (even though not completely hers) about every two years and Hell on a somewhat longer cycle. But Purgatory is my personal favorite.

    1. I have dipped into them since reading them several years ago, but have not re-read them so devotedly. She accepted the doctrine of Purgatory as surely as any "Roman" Catholic!