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Sayers, Dorothy L. (1893–1957)

  1. Steven P. Mueller

Published Online: 25 NOV 2011

DOI: 10.1002/9780470670606.wbecc1212

The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization

How to Cite

Mueller, S. P. 2011. Sayers, Dorothy L. (1893–1957). The Encyclopedia of Christian Civilization. .

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 25 NOV 2011

Abstract

The daughter of an Anglican priest, Dorothy Leigh Sayers studied modern languages and medieval literature at Somerville College, Oxford. In 1916, when she completed her studies, women were not granted degrees. In 1920 she, along with other women like her, received her baccalaureate and master's degrees. After graduating she worked in publishing and advertising. She first came to public attention through her popular detective novels featuring the aristocratic detective Lord Peter Wimsey. Among Sayers' numerous Christian writings are a number of plays including Zeal of Thy House, a cathedral play that was performed in the Canterbury festival in 1937. Similarly, she wrote a series of 12 radio plays, The Man Born to be King, which were broadcast on the BBC in 1941 and 1942. Sayers rendered Christ's words in modern English, resulting in some controversy but also considerable influence on later writings. After reading Dante's Divine Comedy in a bomb shelter, Sayers learned Italian to better appreciate Dante's artistry. This eventually led to her own translation of the Divine Comedy. The third volume, Heaven (more commonly known as Paradiso), was incomplete when she died and was finished by her friend Barbara Reynolds. Though Sayers took some liberties with certain aspects of the translation, they are in the spirit of the text. Sayers considered this translation her best work. She likewise translated the medieval poem La chanson de Roland (The Song of Roland). Sayers wrote a number of essays and books on Christian theology; she upheld traditional Anglican dogma but was willing to question and critique inconsistencies and misapplications. She advocated a straightforward approach to interpreting Scripture. One of her most notable theological works is The Mind of the Maker, a book that compares God as creator to human creators. This book maintains that all human creative works parallel the Holy Trinity. They begin with a creative idea, paralleling the Father, a creative energy paralleling the Word, and a creative power paralleling the indwelling Spirit. Sayers addressed a number of other topics in her writings. In time of war, she advocated the supremacy of Christian virtues to nationalism. She wrote on Christian art and the need for creative works to be of the highest quality. Perhaps her most provocative works address the role of women. Her essay “Are Women Human?” satirically demonstrates that sexism does not merely distinguish between males and females but actually treats women as subhuman. The Archbishop of Canterbury offered her a Lambeth doctorate of Divinity in 1943, which she declined. Had she accepted, she would have been the first woman to be so honored. In 1950 she accepted an honorary doctorate of Letters from Durham University. Sayers is often mistakenly identified as a member of the Inklings. Though she was acquainted with some of its members, she never attended these literary meetings. She did, however, correspond with C. S. Lewis and was influential in his beginning the book Miracles. At her funeral, Lewis read his poignant tribute, “A Panegyric for Dorothy L. Sayers.”

Keywords:

  • sayers, dorothy l. (1893–1957);
  • 12 radio plays, the man born to be king, on BBC;
  • translation of the divine comedy