Saturday, June 13, 2015

Writers Born Today - Dorothy L Sayers

It's the birthday of English crime writer Dorothy L Sayers, born June 13, 1893 in Oxford, England. She was the daughter of a schoolmaster, so it's no surprise that she won a scholarship to college and graduated with honors. Her first job was in an advertising agency. For a while she wrote mostly ads for mustard. She invented a jingle for Guinness that is still known today.

If he can say as you can
Guinness is good for you
How grand to be a Toucan
Just think what Toucan do

Her first published work was a book of poetry, released in 1916. But by 1923, she had published a novel, Whose Body. It was the first to feature amateur sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey, but not the last. He would appear in ten more novels and two collections of stories.

Her detective novels were popular with the public, but not always with the critics. The infamous Edmund Wilson panned her detective novels. But then again, he also panned J.R.R Tolkien, H.P. Lovecraft, Raymond Chandler, and mystery writing in general. Critic Sean Latham defended Ms. Sayers, saying "Wilson chooses arrogant condescension over serious critical consideration" and added "Sayers's primary crime lay in her attempt to transform the detective novel into something other than an ephemeral bit of popular culture".

Her mystery novels sold so well that by 1936 she was financially secure. She continued to write for the stage, and her pen was rarely silent. With her knowledge of languages, she even translated works from medieval French and taught herself Italian so she could translate Dante's Divine ComedyThis was her proudest achievement.  It's still in print.

Of course her detective novels are also still read today and, along with Agatha Christie, she created the standard by which the modern "cozy" is judged by millions of readers.

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