Dorothy L. Sayers

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Dorothy L. Sayers once said that her idea of a good biography was one that allowed the subject to speak for him or her self through diaries and letters. Measured by Sayers’ definition and by the reception this book has received, DOROTHY L. SAYERS is a success. In addition to making extensive use of Sayers’ private papers and letters (many of which were not available to other biographers), Reynolds also draws on personal memories from her eleven-year friendship with her subject. The result is a powerful work which British novelist P. D. James says has brought Sayers alive for her as no previous biography has done.

Sayers is not a simple personality to delve into, and her life was full of twists and turns. Although Sayers did not believe that her fiction reflected her personal circumstances, Reynolds notes some interesting parallels. She develops Sayers as an exciting woman of great inner resolve, one who was more confidant in her intellect than her emotions, but one who also came to the joyous realization that “where the intellect is dominant it becomes the channel of all the other feelings.” Sayers wrote from a “creative exuberance of mind” which Reynolds shows surviving even in the midst of personal difficulties—a painful affair, a son born out-of-wedlock and unknown to the public until after Sayers’ death, problems in her two marriages.

Readers who know Sayers primarily through Lord Peter Wimsey may be surprised to learn that, for the last twenty years of Sayers’ life, she was acclaimed in Great Britain as an authority on religious drama and Christian theology. Reynolds’ well-written biography offers a balanced understanding of Sayers’ heart and mind, refuting the common misconception that she was unfeeling and aloof. It will delight readers of Wimsey novels and Christian scholarship alike, as it sheds light on a passionate woman who “regarded the intellect as androgynous—neither male or female, but human” and found deep satisfaction in using it well.