Born in 1893, Dorothy Sayers is one of England’s most revered writers, particularly for her twelve detective novels. But she also wrote twenty works of poetry, critical essays, and plays in addition to her popular fiction, and penned forty-four short stories as well.
Educated at Oxford, where she earned honors in medieval studies and was one of the first women ever to earn a degree, she taught for several years and then gained work as a reader for publisher Basil Blackwell. Her first publication was a volume of her poetry published during this period. Sayers changed jobs in the 1920s and went to work for an advertising agency. She also made another important shift in hobbies by joining the Detection Club. This enterprise, which included fellow member G.K. Chesterton, was dedicated to raising the reputation and quality of detective fiction.
Dorothy Sayers was most effective at improving the genre by her own efforts, and for the next twenty years became the top writer of detective fiction. Her first novel was Whose Body?, released in 1923; eight years later, she was making a good living solely from her witty, sophisticated novels.
Her recurring character is Lord Peter Wimsey, an aristocrat who did sleuthing as a pastime. Clearly a favorite of both Sayers and her readers, Lord Wimsey is present in all but one of her detective novels. Another recurring character is Harriet Vane, a woman sleuth based on the author herself, who provided equal opportunity for both genders in the genre that became her domain. After writing Busman’s Honeymoon in 1937, she turned to composing religious scripts for radio, as well as essays on a multitude of topics such as theology and—what else?—murder mysteries.
Dorothy Sayers’ Five Red Herrings is regarded as one of the classics of its kind, and her oeuvre continues to sell briskly more than fifty years after her death in 1957.
Allow me to inform you that I never at any time either sought or desired an Oxford fellowship…. Neither was I “forced” into either the publishing or advertising profession…. Nor do I quite understand why earning one’s living should be represented as a hardship. ‘Intellectual frustration’ be blowed! … It was all very good fun while it lasted.
Dorothy L. Sayers, in a 1955 letter to the Church Times, which had erroneously described her as a wannabe Oxford don