The Mysterious Birthday of Dorothy L. Sayers

On June 13, celebrate the mysterious birthday of Dorothy L. Sayers by reading one of her witty mystery novels. Her detectives, Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Death Bredon Wimsey, solve murders together and separately. After appearing in several of Sayers' books together, they finally marry.

The mystery series

Lord Peter seems a comical fool at first, a caricature of an eccentric aristocrat, and Harriet appears to be a serious idealist with nothing to her personality but strong convictions. But over the course of the series, readers learn to love the pair just as the characters learn to love one another.

They meet when Lord Peter visits Harriet in jail, where she is under arrest for poisoning her lover. In 'Strong Poison' (1930), Lord Peter declares his love, but Harriet declines his proposal, politely but firmly. The pair collaborate in three more mystery novels, 'Have His Carcase' (1932), 'Gaudy Night' (1935) and 'Busman's Honeymoon' (1937).

Each entertaining mystery touches on social problems: 'Strong Poison' concerns itself with the sexual behavior double standard of the time; 'Have His Carcase' deals with the themes of work and independence in women's lives; 'Gaudy Night' presents the then-new idea of higher education for women; and 'Busman's Honeymoon' raises the issue of equality in marriage. Yet none of Sayers' books preaches -- instead, the elaborate puzzles and whimsical romance sweep readers along.

Later academic work

Dorothy L. Sayers is best remembered for her brilliant detectives, but the author considered her translation of 'Dante's Inferno' to be her best work. A champion of the well-considered life of moderation in all her work, she nevertheless gave birth to an illegitimate child and pretended that he was her nephew throughout her life.

Eventually, she gave up writing mysteries. After about 1940, her heartfelt Christian Humanism led her to concentrate on writing essays and translations. She was, after all, the daughter of a chaplain. Yet she will long be remembered for her beautifully written, intelligent and entertaining stories about the adventures of a fantastical couple, Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane.

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