Sunday, September 30, 2012

L. is for Sayers - a play

Here's the description from

The many shades and nuances of Sayers’ life and writing lend themselves well to a play. One in particular stands out—her creation of that ever cheerful, indomitable romantic hero, Lord Peter Wimsey. Who more fitted to narrate and sing praise of her varied and distinctive accomplishments? The work is essentially a celebration of Sayers’ life and writing, but is also filled with good humor and flights of fancy and is intended to introduce her literary legacy to a whole new generation. Only the vehicle of drama has been added to this imaginative account to bring her work and values to light.

It looks interesting - check it out!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Agatha Christie: why I got fed up with Poirot

From the Guardian:  Agatha Christie: why I got fed up with Poirot

In a long-lost essay from the 1930s, the novelist reflects on the art of detective fiction as well as the strengths and weaknesses of her contemporaries

 What kind of people read detective stories and why? Invariably, I think, the busy people, the workers of the world. Highly placed men in the scientific world, even if they read nothing else, seem to have time for a detective story; perhaps because a detective story is complete relaxation, an escape from the realism of everyday life. It has, too, the tonic value of a puzzle – a challenge to the ingenuity. It sharpens your wits – makes you mentally alert. To follow a detective story closely you need concentration. To spot the criminal needs acumen and good reasoning powers. It has also a sporting interest and is much less expensive than betting on horses or gambling at cards. Its ethical background is usually sound. Very, very rarely is the criminal the hero of the book. Society unites to hunt him down, and the reader can have all the fun of the chase without moving from a comfortable armchair.

Before speaking of present-day English writers, I must first pay tribute to Conan Doyle, the pioneer of detective writing, with his two great creations Sherlock Holmes and Watson – Watson, perhaps the greater creation of the two. Holmes after all has his properties, his violin, his dressing gown, his cocaine, etc – Watson has just himself – lovable, obtuse, faithful, maddening, guaranteed to be always wrong, and perpetually in a state of admiration. How badly we all need a Watson in our lives!

Most detective writing since then is modelled roughly on the same structure. The detective is the "central character". But there has come to be something too artificial about a "private investigator". The essence of a detective story is that it shall be "natural" in its setting and characters. My own Hercule Poirot is often somewhat of an embarrassment to me – not in himself, but in the calling of his life. Would anyone go and "consult" him? One feels not. So, more and more, his entry into a murder drama has to be fortuitous. My Miss Marple is more happily placed – an elderly, gossipy lady in a small village, who pokes her nose into all that does or does not concern her, and draws deductions based on years of experience of human nature.

At the present day, I should call Margery Allingham one of the foremost writers of detective fiction. Not only does she write excellent English, but her drawing of character is masterly and she has wonderful power in creating atmosphere. You can feel the sinister influences behind the scenes, and her characters live on in your memory long after you have put the book away; the grim autocrat Mrs Faraday of Police at the Funeral. The kindly and lovable "belle" in Death of a Ghost. Jimmy Sutane, the sad-faced dancer with the twinkling feet. They are unusual but real personalities, vividly interesting. And through the books moves "Mr Campion", apparently vacuous, actually keenly acute, and with him the faithful Lugg (in whom, alas, I never can quite believe). The pleasant negative inconsequence of Campion makes a dramatic contrast with the undercurrent of suspicion and fear that grows to a climax – particularly in Flowers for the Judge. Sometimes, one feels, Allingham is inclined to subordinate plot to characters. She is so interested in them that the dénouement of the crime sometimes comes rather flatly as inevitable, rather than as a surprising bombshell.

Dorothy Sayers, alas, has wearied of the detective story and has turned her attention elsewhere. We all regret it, for she was such an exceptionally good detective story writer and a delightfully witty one. Her earlier books Whose Body?, Unnatural Death, Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club are decidedly her best, having greater simplicity and more "punch" to them. Also her detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, whose face was originally piquantly described as "emerging from his top hat like a maggot emerging from a gorgonzola cheese", became through the course of years merely a "handsome hero", and admirers of his early prowess can hardly forgive his attachment to, and lengthy courtship of, a tiresome young woman called Harriet. One had hoped that, once married to her, he would resume his old form, but alas, Lord Peter remains an example of a good man spoilt.

Dickson Carr (or Carter Dickson, for they are one and the same) is a master magician. I believe that only those who write detective stories themselves can really appreciate his marvellous sleight of hand. For that is what it is – he is the supreme conjurer, the king of the art of misdirection. Each of his books is a brilliant, fantastic, quite impossible conjuring trick: "You watch my hands, ladies and gentlemen, you watch my sleeves, the hat is empty, nothing anywhere – Hey presto! A rabbit!"

He has, too, the gift of storytelling; once you begin a book of his, you simply cannot put it down. As each chapter draws to a close, you see ahead a reasonable explanation, then, like Alice through the Looking Glass's path, it seems to shake itself, and off it goes in a twist of fresh bewilderment. His characterisation is not particularly good, his people talk in a way quite unlike life, his events are fantastic. It is all stagey – set behind footlights – but what a performance!

His penchant is for the impossible situation. He starts with that – either with the familiar "closed room" or "closed circle" or with, as in the "Arabian Nights Mystery", a setting of pure fantasy, with a set of people behaving apparently like lunatics. Then a shake of the kaleidoscope, and you get the reason of it, the thing is after all quite normal – and then fresh impossibilities, fresh rationalisations. For some people, the twists of the plot may be too complicated. He can certainly be accused of occasionally loading the dice, but that crime can be forgiven for the brilliance with which it is done. The clues to the truth are so slight as to be almost unfair. One little sentence slipped into the middle of a tense situation. A mention of a car radiator on page 30 that does not agree with the same car's radiator on page 180. Do you notice it? Of course not! Your eyes are riveted on a suspicious circumstance which you think only you have spotted. Misdirection again.

A crowd of people are assembled round a dinner table in The Red Widow Murders. There is a sinister room in the house, nailed up for many years. Anyone who stays in it alone is found dead. A man goes in, locks himself in while the others wait outside. Every quarter of an hour they call to him and he replies – but when the door is opened the man is dead, in a room with locked shutters and no secret ways in or out, and, what is more, that man has been dead for over an hour. The impossible has happened. You never noticed a little descriptive phrase about the man at dinner; pale, nervous, eating nothing but soup … your clue was there, in those four words.

Dickson Carr's detective is the beer drinking Dr Fell, Carter Dickson's sleuth is Sir Henry Merrivale, the "old man", a former chief of military intelligence. I much prefer him of the two – but it is the actual unfolding of the story that is the real strength of Carr's genius. He is a male Scheherazade – and certainly no cruel empress could order his execution until she had heard the next instalment.

Ngaio Marsh is another deservedly popular detective writer. Her style is amusing and her characterisations excellent. Surfeit of Lampreys was a delightful book, though perhaps one so enjoyed the Lamprey family that one rather forgot about the murder. Death in Ecstasy is a very clever picture of a little coterie of worshippers in a "New Religion" adroitly put over by the infamous Father Garnett. Artists in Crime is a good story of murder among a collection of painters. Both the atmosphere and the people are first rate.

There are many other good detective writers – space forbids the mention of all of them. There is Michael Innes, a brilliant and witty writer. There is Gladys Mitchell with her fascinating Mrs Bradley, ugly as a toad and armed with the latest up-to-date theories of psychology. R Austin Freeman's books remain interesting examples of scientific methods of crime deduction.

I have chosen for fullest description those writers whom I myself admire most and consider at the top of their profession. And now I may say, perhaps, a few words about myself. Since I have been writing detective stories for a quarter of a century and have some 40-odd novels to my credit, I may lay claim at least to being an industrious craftsman. A more aristocratic title was given to me by an American paper, which dubbed me "the Duchess of Death".

I have enjoyed writing detective stories, and I think the austerity and stern discipline that goes to making a "tight" detective plot is good for one's thought processes. It is the kind of writing that does not permit loose or slipshod thinking. It all has to dovetail, to fit in as part of a carefully constructed whole. You must have your blueprint first and it needs really constructive thinking to make a workmanlike job of it.

Naturally one's methods alter. I have become more interested as the years go on in the preliminaries of crime. The interplay of character upon character, the deep smouldering resentments and dissatisfactions that do not always come to the surface but which may suddenly explode into violence. I have written light-hearted murder stories, and serious crime stories, and technical extravaganzas like Ten Little Niggers. I have laid a crime story in ancient Egypt, and a murder play on a modern Nile steamer. I have had the conventional body in the library, and bodies in aeroplanes, and on boats and in trans-European Trains. Hercule Poirot has made quite a place for himself in the world and is regarded perhaps with more affection by outsiders than by his own creator. I would give one piece of advice to young detective writers: be very careful what central character you create – you may have him with you for a very long time!


Monday, September 24, 2012

What that Nokia ad was really about

From The Independent (UK):  What that Nokia ad was really about

Optical image stabilisation is a piece of mobile phone software to reduce shaking in a hand-held video. But it could equally be a piece of PR jargon for the strategy that executives at Nokia have just had to employ when it emerged that an advert for their latest flagship product – which purported to be shot on a shaky bicycle using the new device – had in fact been shot with a high-tech professional camera from a smooth-running white van just behind the cyclist.A sharp-eyed techno geek spotted a reflection of the real cameraman in a window when Nokia put the video on the internet. (See
It was a PR nightmare. The launch was supposed to arrest the dramatic decline of Nokia, once the world's biggest mobile phone maker, whose share of the market has plummeted thanks to the launch of the iPhone. Instead, the firm's advertising gurus risk joining greedy bankers, expense-fiddling MPs, paedophile priests, dodgy journalists and bribe-taking policemen in the dubious pantheon of professions whom the public can no longer trust.
Many might think the advertising industry did not have so far to fall. But in the past there were respectable arguments of advertising apologia. "Advertising nourishes the consuming power of men," said Winston Churchill. "It creates wants for a better standard of living … It spurs individual exertion and greater production." It informs consumers about new products and stimulates economic growth. And it employs large numbers of people.
But even in those early days it had a more sinister aspect. The economist J K Galbraith saw advertising as the creation of artificial wants. Indeed, it tricks people into buying things they don't need and shouldn't want. Vance Packard's 1957 book The Hidden Persuaders explored the dark arts of motivational research, deep psychology and subliminal advertising.
The difference between information and persuasion was eloquently put by the crime writer Dorothy L Sayers, who began her career as an advertising copywriter. In one Lord Peter Wimsey story, set in an advertising agency, the detective is instructed about an ad for margarine. Write "Just as good as butter, but half the price," he is told. In which case, he replies, what is the argument for butter? Butter doesn't need an argument, he is told, because eating it is natural.
The creation of unnatural tastes is a specialism of the industry, as anyone who remembers the 1980s carpet freshener Shake n' Vac will recall. Until recently, there was no cultural tradition that conceived of sticking a wedge of lime in the neck of a bottle of lager. The practice was invented, according to Martin Lindstrom in Buyology, when an advertiser placed a bet with a friend at a bar that he could make the masses stick a slice of lime in a bottle of Corona.
There is a more metaphysical reservation. It is that manipulative advertising overrides our autonomy. It does so with techniques that influence us subconsciously on emotional rather than rational grounds. The philosopher Kant would not have approved, for it robs us of our rational judgement by underhand methods.
Regulators might complain that they remove misleading ads from the public sphere. Indeed, the Advertising Standards Authority had a record 4,591 ads changed or withdrawn last year. But we all know adverts persuade by form not content. The ad as entertainment has reached such heights that I know of two junior school girls who rush to the TV as soon as the adverts come on and turn away when the programme recommences.
However amusing or engaging ads may be, they never have that quality of pure gift that genuine entertainment, or art, offers. The intent is always to seduce, because their primary obligation is to serve the financial interests of their sponsor. At their most subtle, they are not selling the product so much as the association of that product with something more intangible: svelte young bodies, taut and tanned, images of glamour, success, vigour, power or prestige. Such ads bypass conscious reasoning or cloud it with bogus emotional appeal.
Admen know that, though they deny it. That is why "creatives" who sell alcohol or tobacco insist that their ads have little influence on consumers – and then wink to their clients that they can influence consumers strongly. And they play to something negative in our nature. Psychologists call it the "margin of discontent"; it is the gap between what we have and what we want.
Advertising increases the margin of discontent by making us feel dissatisfied. The creation of unhappiness is at the heart of advertising, for it plays on desires that cannot be sated. It offers only an abundance of meaningless choices between variations of things that we didn't need in the first place. A Buddhist master might suggest that the correct response is to give up wanting.
Nokia's executives stressed, when their bogus video was rumbled, that it was "never the company's intention to deceive anyone". They win either way. The error has won them far more publicity than a properly-shot advertisement ever could.


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Posts resume 24 Sep 2012

My mom, who is 75, wants to go up to teeny tiny town near Rapid City, to see her sister, who is 80. They live in a house in the boonies and have no internet.

I'll be back online on Monday the 24th and promise not to miss another day.

Please bear with me, your patience is appreciated!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Taproot woos fans of Dorothy L. Sayers in upcoming 'Gaudy Night'

From the Seattle Times:  Taproot woos fans of Dorothy L. Sayers in upcoming 'Gaudy Night'

Lord Peter Wimsey was not really looking for love. But when he took on the challenge of trying to clear an erudite, attractive and resolute young woman charged with murder, it just happened. The dapper aristocrat and amateur sleuth fell, and fell hard.
It all transpired in "Strong Poison," a 1930 mystery novel in the popular Lord Peter cycle written by Dorothy L. Sayers.
It wasn't until five years later, when another book in the series, titled "Gaudy Night," came out, that Sayers turned Harriet Vane, the woman whose life he had saved, into a protagonist — a character well ahead of her time, and in key respects similar to the remarkable author who created her.
Vane is, in effect, a heroine in "Gaudy Night," which has been successfully dramatized for British television and radio. A stage adaptation of the novel, by Frances Limoncelli, was well-received in its Chicago debut and opens this week at Seattle's Taproot Theatre.
The crux of the plot: Harriet, a brainy British mystery writer, gets embroiled in a sinister disturbance when she attends a "gaudy night" (an expression borrowed from Shakespeare, to connote an all-out party) at her alma mater, fictional Shrewsbury College, Oxford. Though no murder takes place during the reunion, the proceedings are marred by an ominous succession of physical and verbal attacks on female teachers and alums.
With her friend, the expert crime-solver Lord Peter, off on a diplomatic mission to Italy, it is largely up to Vane to sort through the suspects and arcane clues, and identify the crafty perpetrator.
That's the mystery part. And what was groundbreaking about both "Strong Poison" and "Gaudy Night"? The brilliance and fierce independence of a witty, learned female character viewed by some scholars as the first openly feminist sleuth in mystery literature.
Private lives
The Vane File: Orphaned young, Harriet earned her living by the pen from her early 20s on. She defied social mores by hanging out with the free-loving artistic rebels of London's Bloomsbury set. Determined to maintain her autonomy, suspicious of extreme wealth and wary of a conventional, male-dominated marriage, she turned down the dashing Lord Peter's hasty proposal of marriage in "Strong Poison" — with second thoughts later.
Sayers' own eventful, accomplished life did not include sleuthing.
But Dorothy Leigh Sayers, the daughter of an Oxford school headmaster, was also a scholarly woman intrigued by mystery. She studied Latin from the age of 6, and was among the first wave of women to be educated at the vaunted Oxford University, graduating with honors in modern languages.
Sayers probably had the goods to be an Oxford don herself. But after receiving her degree, she preferred working for publishers and an ad agency rather than in the "ivory tower" of academia. Writing was her passion, and after introducing Lord Peter Wimsey in the 1923 novel "Whose Body?" she penned 10 more Wimsey mysteries (several featuring his beloved Harriet Vane), and made her living writing.
However, Sayers had one hand in classic literature, the other in modern lit. In addition to best-selling mysteries she wrote poetry, translated medieval French and Italian works, turned out thoughtful essays on religion and philosophy, lectured frequently. She was part of a heady literary circle that included her friends and fellow scribes T.S. Eliot and C.S. Lewis.
The Wimsey-Vane saga ended with the book "Busman's Honeymoon." (Upon her death in 1957, Sayers left an unfinished Wimsey-Vane mystery, "Thrones, Dominations" which was later "completed" by author Jill Paton Walsh.)
Eventually Sayers turned to another passion: the theater. She adapted "Busman's Honeymoon" for the stage and wrote several other plays — including a controversial radio drama for children about the life of Jesus. A champion of humanistic Christianity, Sayers had Christ speaking in modern rather than biblical parlance, thereby triggering a fierce public debate.
For her time, Sayers' private life was as unconventional as Vane's. After an intense affair, she bore a son out of wedlock. (He was raised by relatives, as her nephew). In her early 30s, she married a journalist, yet continued her demanding literary career unabated.
She apparently rejected the term "feminism" and did not want to be allied with any liberation movement. Yet she championed higher education for women in "Gaudy Night," and gave Harriet Vane a keen sense of autonomy (as well as a lacerating wit). And in a pair of intriguing think pieces collected in her book "Are Women Human? Penetrating, Sensible, and Witty Essays on the Role of Women in Society," Sayers made a strong case for equal opportunity, and the right to reach one's highest potential in any chosen calling — regardless of gender or social class.
"What is repugnant to every human being," Sayers wrote, "is to be reckoned always as a member of a class and not as an individual person."
Harriet Vane could not have said it better.


Thursday, September 6, 2012

Dorothy Sayers bio

Dorothy Leigh Sayersand encouraged the use of her middle initial to facilitate this pronunciation;


Childhood, youth and education

Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, where Sayers' father was headmaster of the Choir School
Sayers, an only child, was born on 13 June 1893 at the Head Master's House, Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford, where her father, the Rev. Henry Sayers, M.A., was chaplain of Christ Church and headmaster of the Choir School. (When she was six he started teaching her Latin.) She grew up in the tiny village of Bluntisham-cum-Earith in Huntingdonshire, after her father was given the living there as rector. The Regency rectory is an elegant building, while the church graveyard features the surnames of several characters from her mystery The Nine Tailors. The proximity of the River Great Ouse and the Fens invites comparison with the book's vivid description of a massive flood around the village.
From 1909 she was educated at the Godolphin School, a boarding school in Salisbury. Her father later moved to the less luxurious living of Christchurch, also in Cambridgeshire.
In 1912, she won a scholarship to Somerville College, Oxford, and studied modern languages and medieval literature. She finished with first-class honours in 1915. Although women could not be awarded degrees at that time, Sayers was among the first to receive a degree when the position changed a few years later, and in 1920 she graduated as a MA. Her experience of Oxford academic life eventually inspired her penultimate Peter Wimsey novel, Gaudy Night.
Her father was from a line of Sayerses from Littlehampton, West Sussex, and her mother (Helen Mary Leigh – whence Sayers' second name) was born at "The Chestnuts", Millbrook, Hampshire to Frederick Leigh, a solicitor, whose family roots were in the Isle of Wight. Dorothy's aunt Amy, her mother's sister, married Henry Richard Shrimpton.


Poetry, teaching, and advertisements

Dorothy Sayers' first book, of poetry, was published in 1916 as OP. I by Blackwell Publishing in Oxford. Later Sayers worked for Blackwell's and then as a teacher in several locations including Normandy, France, just before World War I began.
Sayers' longest employment was from 1922 to 1931 as a copywriter at S.H. Benson's advertising agency in London. This was located on the Victoria Embankment overlooking the Thames. Sayers was quite successful as an advertiser. Her collaboration with artist John Gilroy resulted in "The Mustard Club" for Colman's Mustard and the Guinness "Zoo" advertisements, variations of which still appear today. One famous example was the Toucan, his bill arching under a glass of Guinness, with Sayers's jingle:
If he can say as you can
Guinness is good for you
How grand to be a Toucan
Just think what Toucan do
Sayers is also credited with coining the slogan "It pays to advertise!"She used the advertising industry as the setting of Murder Must Advertise, where she describes the role of truth in advertising:
. . . the firm of Pym’s Publicity, Ltd., Advertising Agents . . . “Now, Mr. Pym is a man of rigid morality—except, of course, as regards his profession, whose essence is to tell plausible lies for money—“
“How about truth in advertising?”
“Of course, there is some truth in advertising. There’s yeast in bread, but you can’t make bread with yeast alone. Truth in advertising . . . is like leaven, which a woman hid in three measures of meal. It provides a suitable quantity of gas, with which to blow out a mass of crude misrepresentation into a form that the public can swallow.”

Detective fiction

Paperback edition cover of the Lord Peter Wimsey novel Murder Must Advertise
Sayers began working out the plot of her first novel some time in 1920–21. The seeds of the plot for Whose Body? can be seen in a letter Sayers wrote on 22 January 1921:
My detective story begins brightly, with a fat lady found dead in her bath with nothing on but her pince-nez. Now why did she wear pince-nez in her bath? If you can guess, you will be in a position to lay hands upon the murderer, but he's a very cool and cunning fellow... (p. 101, Reynolds)
Lord Peter Wimsey burst upon the world of detective fiction with an explosive "Oh, damn!" and continued to engage readers in eleven novels and two sets of short stories; the final novel ended with a very different "Oh, damn!". Sayers once commented that Lord Peter was a mixture of Fred Astaire and Bertie Wooster, which is most evident in the first five novels. However, it is evident through Lord Peter's development as a rounded character that he existed in Sayers's mind as a living, breathing, fully human being. Sayers introduced detective novelist Harriet Vane in Strong Poison. Sayers remarked more than once that she had developed the "husky voiced, dark-eyed" Harriet to put an end to Lord Peter via matrimony. But in the course of writing Gaudy Night, Sayers imbued Lord Peter and Harriet with so much life that she was never able, as she put it, to "see Lord Peter exit the stage".
Sayers did not content herself with writing pure detective stories; she explored the difficulties of World War I veterans in The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club, discussed the ethics of advertising in Murder Must Advertise, and advocated women's education (then a controversial subject) and role in society in Gaudy Night. In Gaudy Night, Miss Barton writes a book attacking the Nazi doctrine of Kinder, Kirche, Küche, which restricted women's roles to family activities, and in many ways the whole of Gaudy Night can be read as an attack on Nazi social doctrine. The book has been described as "the first feminist mystery novel."[10]
Sayers's Christian and academic interests are also apparent in her detective series. In The Nine Tailors, one of her most well-known detective novels, the plot unfolds largely in and around an old church dating back to the Middle Ages. Change ringing of bells also forms an important part of the novel. In Have His Carcase, the Playfair cipher and the principles of cryptanalysis are explained. Her short story Absolutely Elsewhere refers to the fact that (in the language of modern physics) the only perfect alibi for a crime is to be outside its light cone, while The Fascinating Problem of Uncle Meleager's Will contains a literary crossword puzzle.
Sayers also wrote a number of short stories about Montague Egg, a wine salesman who solves mysteries.


Dante shown holding a copy of the Divine Comedy, next to the entrance to Hell, the seven terraces of Mount Purgatory and the city of Florence, with the spheres of Heaven above
Sayers herself considered her translation of Dante's Divine Comedy to be her best work. The boldly titled Hell appeared in 1949, as one of the recently introduced series of Penguin Classics. Purgatory followed in 1955. Unfinished at her death, the third volume (Paradise) was completed by Barbara Reynolds in 1962.
On a line-by-line basis, Sayers's translation can seem idiosyncratic. For example, the famous line usually rendered "Abandon all hope, ye who enter here" turns, in the Sayers translation, into "Lay down all hope, you who go in by me." As the Italian reads "Lasciate ogne speranza, voi ch'intrate", both the traditional and Sayers' translation add to the source text in an effort to preserve the original length: "here" is added in the first case, and "by me" in the second. It can be argued that Sayers' translation is actually more accurate, in that the original intimates to "abandon all hope". Also, the addition of "by me" draws from the previous lines of the canto: "Per me si va ne la città dolente;/ per me si va ne l'etterno dolore;/ per me si va tra la perduta gente." (Longfellow: "Through me the way is to the city dolent;/ through me the way is to the eternal dole;/ through me the way is to the people lost.")
The idiosyncratic character of Sayers's translation results from her decision to preserve the original Italian terza rima rhyme scheme, so that her "go in by me" rhymes with "made to be" two lines earlier, and "unsearchably" two lines before that. Umberto Eco in his book Mouse or Rat? suggests that, of the various English translations, Sayers "does the best in at least partially preserving the hendecasyllables and the rhyme."[11]
Sayers's translation of the Divine Comedy is also notable for extensive notes at the end of each canto, explaining the theological meaning of what she calls "a great Christian allegory." Her translation has remained popular: in spite of publishing new translations by Mark Musa and Robin Kirkpatrick, as of 2009 Penguin Books was still publishing the Sayers edition.
In the introduction to her translation of The Song of Roland, Sayers expressed an outspoken feeling of attraction and love for:
"(...) That new-washed world of clear sun and glittering colour which we call the Middle Age (as though it were middle-aged) but which has perhaps a better right than the blown rose of the Renaissance to be called the Age of Re-birth".
She praised "Roland" for being a purely Christian myth, in contrast to such epics as Beowulf in which she found a strong pagan content.

Other Christian and academic work

Cover of Are Women Human?, which contains two of Sayers' feminist essays
Sayers's most notable religious book is probably The Mind of the Maker (1941) which explores at length the analogy between a human Creator (especially a writer of novels and plays) and the doctrine of The Trinity in creation. She suggests that any human creation of significance involves the Idea, the Energy (roughly: the process of writing and that actual 'incarnation' as a material object) and the Power (roughly: the process of reading/hearing and the effect it has on the audience) and that this "trinity" has useful analogies with the theological Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
In addition to the ingenious thinking in working out this analogy, the book contains striking examples drawn from her own experiences as a writer and elegant criticisms of writers when the balance between Idea, Energy and Power is not, in her view, adequate. She defends strongly the view that literary creatures have a nature of their own, vehemently replying to a well-wisher who wanted Lord Peter to "end up a convinced Christian". "From what I know of him, nothing is more unlikely... Peter is not the Ideal Man".
Creed or Chaos? is a restatement of basic historical Christian Doctrine, based on the Apostles' Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed, similar to but somewhat more densely written than C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity; both sought clearly and concisely to explain the central doctrines of Christianity to those who had encountered them in distorted or watered-down forms, on the grounds that if you are going to criticize something you had best know what it is first.
Her very influential essay The Lost Tools of Learninghas been used by many schools in the US as a basis for the classical education movement, reviving the medieval trivium subjects (grammar, logic and rhetoric) as tools to enable the analysis and mastery of every other subject. Sayers also wrote three volumes of commentaries about Dante, religious essays, and several plays, of which The Man Born to be King may be the best known.
Her religious works did so well at presenting the orthodox Anglican position that, in 1943, the Archbishop of Canterbury offered her a Lambeth doctorate in divinity, which she declined. In 1950, however, she accepted an honorary doctorate of letters from the University of Durham.
Although she never describes herself as such, her economic and political ideas, rooted as they are in the classical Christian doctrines of Creation and Incarnation, are very close to the Chesterton-Belloc theory of Distributism.[17]

Criticism of Sayers

Criticism of background material in her novels

The literary and academic themes in Sayers's novels have appealed to a great many readers, but by no means to all. Poet W. H. Auden and philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein were critics of her novels, for example.[18][19] A savage attack on Sayers's writing ability came from the prominent American critic and man of letters Edmund Wilson, in a well-known 1945 article in The New Yorker called Who Cares Who Killed Roger Ackroyd?He briefly writes about her famous novel The Nine Tailors, saying "I set out to read [it] in the hope of tasting some novel excitement, and I declare that it seems to me one of the dullest books I have ever encountered in any field. The first part is all about bell-ringing as it is practised in English churches and contains a lot of information of the kind that you might expect to find in an encyclopedia article on campanology. I skipped a good deal of this, and found myself skipping, also, a large section of the conversations between conventional English village characters..." Wilson continues "I had often heard people say that Dorothy Sayers wrote well... but, really, she does not write very well: it is simply that she is more consciously literary than most of the other detective-story writers and that she thus attracts attention in a field which is mostly on a sub-literary level."
The academic critic Q.D. Leavis, in a review of Gaudy Night and Busman's Honeymoon published in the critical journal Scrutiny, criticises Sayers in more specific terms. The basis of Leavis' criticism is that Sayers' fiction is "popular and romantic while pretending to realism." Leavis argues that Sayers presents academic life as "sound and sincere because it is scholarly", a place of "invulnerable standards of taste charging the charmed atmosphere". But, Leavis says, this is unrealistic: "If such a world ever existed, and I should be surprised to hear as much, it does no longer, and to give substance to a lie or to perpetrate a dead myth is to do no one any service really." Leavis suggests that "people in the academic world who earn their livings by scholarly specialities are not as a general thing wiser, better, finer, decenter or in any way more estimable than those of the same social class outside", but that Sayers is popular among educated readers because "the accepted pretence is that things are as Miss Sayers relates". Leavis comments that "only best-seller novelists could have such illusions about human nature".
Critic Sean Latham has defended Sayers, arguing that Wilson "chooses arrogant condescension over serious critical consideration" and suggests that both he and Leavis, rather than seriously assessing Sayers' writing, simply objected to a detective-story writer having pretensions beyond what they saw as her role of popular-culture "hack". Latham claims that, in their eyes, "Sayers's primary crime lay in her attempt to transform the detective novel into something other than an ephemeral bit of popular culture". All writers of hugely popular detective fiction have been roundly criticized at various times and for various reasons; what makes Sayers' case perhaps unusual are the sources of many of the criticisms: literary and academic figures. But in fact there is nothing remarkable in this: Sayers' fiction touches on a number of controversial topics relating to academia and the literary community, so vociferous criticism of her work must be expected.

Criticism of major characters

Lord Peter Wimsey, Sayers' heroic detective, has been criticized for being too perfect; over time the various talents he displays grow too numerous for some readers to swallow. Edmund Wilson also expressed his distaste for Lord Peter in his criticism of The Nine Tailors: "There was also a dreadful stock English nobleman of the casual and debonair kind, with the embarrassing name of Lord Peter Wimsey, and, although he was the focal character in the novel... I had to skip a good deal of him, too." On the other hand, this characterization of Wilson's omits some of the complexities of Lord Peter's character, and these same complexities are what have endeared him to readers fond of protagonists who transcend the standards of the genre.
Wimsey is rich, well-educated, charming, and brave, as well as an accomplished musician, an exceptional athlete, and a notable lover. He does, however, have serious flaws: the habit of over-engaging in what other characters regard as silly prattling, a nervous disorder (shell-shock) and a fear of responsibility. The latter two both originate from his service in World War I. The fear of responsibility turns out to be a serious obstacle to his maturation into full adulthood (a fact not lost on the character himself).
The character Harriet Vane, featured in four novels, has been criticized for being a mere stand-in for the author. Many of the themes and settings of Sayers's novels, particularly those involving Harriet Vane, seem to reflect Sayers's own concerns and experiences. Vane, like Sayers, was educated at Oxford (unusual for a woman at the time) and is a mystery writer. Vane initially meets Wimsey when she is tried for poisoning her lover (Strong Poison); he insists on participating in the defence preparations for her re-trial, where he falls for her but she rejects him. In Have His Carcase she collaborates with Wimsey to solve a murder but still rejects his proposals of marriage. She eventually accepts (Gaudy Night) and marries him (Busman's Honeymoon).

Alleged racism and anti-Semitism in Sayers's writing

Biographers of Sayers have disagreed as to whether Sayers was anti-Semitic. In Sayers: A Biography,James Brabazon argues that Sayers was anti-Semitic. This is rebutted by Carolyn G. Heilbrun in Dorothy L. Sayers: Biography Between the Lines.] McGregor and Lewis argue in Conundrums for the Long Week-End that Sayers was not anti-Semitic but used popular British stereotypes of class and ethnicity. In 1936, a translator wanted "to soften the thrusts against the Jews" in Whose Body?; Sayers, surprised, replied that the only characters "treated in a favourable light were the Jews!"

Personal life

Blue plaque for Dorothy L. Sayers on 23 & 24 Gt. James Street, WC1
On January 3, 1924, at the age of 30, Sayers secretly gave birth to an illegitimate son, John Anthony [later surnamed Fleming, though his father was Bill White], who was cared for as a child by her aunt and cousin, Amy and Ivy Amy Shrimpton, and passed off as her nephew to friends.Two years later, after publishing her first two detective novels, Sayers married Captain Oswald Atherton "Mac" Fleming, a Scottish journalist whose professional name was "Atherton Fleming." The wedding took place on 8 April 1926 at Holborn Register Office, London. Fleming was divorced with two children. Sayers and Fleming lived in the flat at 24 Great James Street in St Pancras, London that Sayers maintained for the rest of her life. Both worked, Fleming as an author and journalist and Sayers as an advertising copywriter and author. Over time, Fleming's health worsened, largely due to his World War I service, and as a result he became unable to work.
Sayers was a good friend of C. S. Lewis and several of the other Inklings. On some occasions, Sayers joined Lewis at meetings of the Socratic Club. Lewis said he read The Man Born to be King every Easter, but he claimed to be unable to appreciate detective stories. J. R. R. Tolkien read some of the Wimsey novels but scorned the later ones, such as Gaudy Night.
Fleming died on 9 June 1950, at Sunnyside Cottage, Witham, Essex. Sayers died suddenly of a coronary thrombosis on 17 December 1957 at the same place. Fleming was buried in Ipswich, while Dorothy's remains were cremated and her ashes buried beneath the tower of St Anne's Church, Soho, London, where she had been a churchwarden for many years. Upon her death it was revealed that her nephew, John Anthony, was her son; he was the sole beneficiary under his mother's will. He died on 26 November 1984 at age 60, in St. Francis's Hospital, Miami Beach, Florida.


Some of the character Harriet Vane's observations reveal Sayers poking fun at the mystery genre, even while adhering to various conventions.
Sayers' work was frequently parodied by her contemporaries. E. C. Bentley, the author of the early modern detective novel Trent's Last Case, wrote a parody entitled "Greedy Night" (1938).
Her characters, and Sayers herself, have been placed in some other works, including:
Oxford, 13 June 1893 – Witham, 17 December 1957) was a renowned English crime writer, poet, playwright, essayist, translator and Christian humanist. She was also a student of classical and modern languages. She is best known for her mysteries, a series of novels and short stories set between World War I and World War II that feature English aristocrat and amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey, that remain popular to this day. However, Sayers herself considered her translation of Dante's Divine Comedy to be her best work. She is also known for her plays and essays.