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, the rules governing behavior between the sexes were strictly enforced, but even so, she developed an...
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