Dorothy L. Sayers Biography


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery 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....

(The entire section is 416 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

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...

(The entire section is 689 words.)