Biography (Critical Survey of Mystery & Detective Fiction, Revised Edition)
Dorothy Leigh Sayers was born in Oxford, England, on June 13, 1893, the only child of the Reverend Henry Sayers, headmaster of the Christ Church Choir School, and his talented wife, Helen Leigh Sayers. When Dorothy was four, the family moved to the fen country immortalized in The Nine Tailors (1934), and there she was educated by her parents and governesses. By the time she entered the Godolphin School in Salisbury in 1909, she was fluent in French and German and an avid reader and writer. Her life as a pampered only child did not, however, prepare her well to fit in with her contemporaries, and she found real friends only when she entered Somerville College, Oxford, in 1912. There she participated enthusiastically in musical, dramatic, and social activities and won first-class honors in French. She was among the first group of women granted degrees in 1920.
After leaving Oxford in 1915, she held a variety of jobs, finally settling at Benson’s Advertising Agency in London as a copywriter. Shortly after she joined Benson’s, she began work on her first detective novel, Whose Body? (1923). Following its publication, she took a leave of absence from her work, ostensibly to work on a second book but in reality to give birth to a son out of wedlock. One of her biographers, James Brabazon, has identified her child’s father as a working-class man to whom she may have turned in reaction to a painful affair with the writer John Cournos....
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Dorothy Leigh Sayers was born on June 13, 1893, in the Choir House of Christ Church College, Oxford, where her father, the Reverend Henry Sayers, was headmaster. Mr. Sayers’s family came from county Tipperary, Ireland; his wife, the former Helen Mary Leigh, was a member of the old landed English family that also produced Percival Leigh, a noted contributor to the humor magazine Punch. Sayers’s biographer James Brabazon postulates that her preference for the Leigh side of the family caused her to insist on including her middle initial in her name; whatever the reason, the writer wished to be known as Dorothy L. Sayers.
When Sayers was four, her father left Oxford to accept the living of Bluntisham-cum-Earith in Huntingdonshire, on the southern edge of the Fens, those bleak expanses of drained marshland in eastern England. The contrast between Oxford and the rectory at Bluntisham was great, especially as the new home isolated the family and its only child. Sayers’s fine education in Latin, English, French, history, and mathematics was conducted at the rectory until she was almost sixteen, when she was sent to study at the Godolphin School, Salisbury, where she seems to have been quite unhappy. Several of her happiest years followed this experience, however, when she won the Gilchrist Scholarship in Modern Languages and went up to Somerville College, Oxford, in 1912. At Somerville, Sayers enjoyed the congenial company of other extraordinary women and men and made some lasting friends, including Muriel St. Clare Byrne. Although women were not granted Oxford degrees during Sayers’s time at Somerville, the university’s statutes were changed in 1920, and Sayers...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Born in Oxford, England, on June 13, 1893, Dorothy Leigh Sayers (SAY-urz) was the daughter of the Reverend Henry Sayers and Helen Leigh Sayers. Her father was a classical scholar and, at the time of her birth, headmaster of Christ Church Cathedral Choir School. Her mother was the grandniece of Percival Leigh, one of the founders of Punch. Sayers always included the initial “L” in her name.
As often happened in the 1890’s, Sayers’s father was financially responsible for his mother, two unmarried sisters, and a brother who had been crippled by a stroke. He probably also considered himself responsible for their moral and spiritual well-being. When their Brewer Street house could no longer contain them all, they moved to Lincolnshire, where the Reverend Sayers took up the position of a country clergyman.
Sayers lived most of her childhood in an isolated rectory in the Fen Country. Her mother settled happily into the life of a country minister’s wife. Her father believed that a good Christian helped others, and he often used his own funds to help his parishioners, even opening his house when necessary. Bluntisham Rectory was enormous but, even in those times, somewhat primitive. While candles and oil lamps lit the rooms, they also threw strange shadows on the wall. Hot water had to be hauled upstairs and then back down again. The entire family found it quite a change from their house in Oxford, where they had running water and gaslights. Nevertheless, Sayers had plenty of fresh air and large lawns on which to play whenever her friends came to call.
Her early schooling took place at home. Her father usually taught boys and saw no reason to teach Sayers differently from the way he taught them. By the age of four, she could read; by six she had begun to learn Latin. She was taught French by a governess, and she also mastered German. Sayers entered the Godolphin School when she was sixteen. Her only knowledge about boarding school had come from books, and Godolphin did not quite fit her preconceived notions. Girls, however, were allowed some freedom there, and one of her essays was published in the school magazine. Measles, complicated by pneumonia, forced her to leave Godolphin for a time. She did return to school but chose to continue her studies at home. She won the Gilchrist Scholarship to Somerville College in Oxford.
Oxford challenged Sayers. She made friends and was able to expand her heretofore limited social opportunities with men. Of course,...
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Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Dorothy L. Sayers played with words just as a poet does. Indeed, some of her first published works were poems. No doubt the discipline of this art form helped her construct the settings and dialogues that make her novels so memorable. Her fascination with the ways in which people use words differently shows up in the conversations she wrote for her fictional characters. She suggested using imagination—giving thought to the reader’s situations and evaluations—in interpersonal communication so that better understanding could take place. She knew her tools and used them well.
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
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.
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...
(The entire section is 890 words.)