One of the Four Golden Age’s Queens of Crime
In 1915, twenty three year old Dorothy Leigh Sayers graduated with a degree in modern languages. (She learned classical languages in later years.) She spent the next sixteen years honing her writing skills while working at a publishing firm, as well as working as a copywriter for an advertising company.
While continuing to work her “day jobs,” Sayers found time to start publishing her Lord Peter Wimsey mystery novels. She was soon able to become a full-time mystery author, but continued finding the time to write plays and introductions to other’s books, editing, and translating works, as well as working on her poetry. Among her translations are: Dante’s Divine Comedy from Old Italian and also the Song of Roland, which she translated from Old French.
Sayers was very active in the Anglican Church. Her father (the Reverend Henry Sayers) had been Christ Church Cathedrals schools’ headmaster. The family of Dorothy’s mother (Helen Mary Leigh) came from the Isle of Wight.
Sayers wrote her mysteries during the 1920s and 1930s, thus she garnered a position as one of the four Queens of Crime of the Golden Age. The Golden Age of mysteries took place in Britain, between WW I and WW II. The other three Queens of Crime are Agatha Christie, Margery Allingham, and Ngaio Marsh… formidable company!
Sayers fell in love, but that relationship ended. While in the “rebound mode,” she became pregnant at a time when that was simply unacceptable for a single woman in Britain. She secured a home for her son with a cousin who was sworn to secrecy. Upon Dorothy’s death, her son’s identity was made public, as he was her beneficiary. The two had been in contact throughout Dorothy’s life via the mail.
Sayers married Mac Fleming, a journalist and author. At the beginning of their marriage, both were gainfully employed. Unfortunately, Mac slowly had to rely on Dorothy’s income. He had health problems stemming from his WW I service. Although Dorothy had married, her son was brought up solely by her cousin.
It is said that Sayers based Lord Peter Wimsey on a blending of (author) P. G. Wodehouse’s Bertie Wooster and the dapper (dancer and actor) Fred Astaire. Harriet Vane, a strong and intelligent mystery author, is the female character in the series. She is a good match for Lord Peter Wimsey.
Sayers introduced themes throughout the mysteries in her Lord Peter Wimsey mystery series that reflected the times in Britain. WW I had produced many veterans and also many families where women had to became the sole wage-earners due to deaths and disabilities of their husbands, fathers, and sons. Women who had worked in the work force during the war and were lucky enough to welcome their husbands home had learned that education was the way to insure good jobs outside of the home. Sayers interwove these themes (and more) into her mysteries.
In the 1970s and 1980s, two British television series were made featuring Lord Peter Wimsey and his “side-kick” Harriet Vane. These productions helped to introduce this Cozy Mystery series by Dorothy L. Sayers to a whole new audience.