DOROTHY L. SAYERS by Barbara Reynolds


Her Life and Soul
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 Another ``interim report'' on the life (1893-1957) of the creator of Lord Peter Wimsey and reluctant Christian apologist, by a longtime friend, completer of Sayers's translation of Dante and author of The Passionate Intellect: Dorothy L. Sayers' Encounter with Dante (1989- -not reviewed). The problem all Sayers's biographers face is to reconcile her early career as a pioneer and leading theorist of the formal detective story with the religious plays, essays, and lectures to which she committed her last 15 years. In the absence of a collected edition of Sayers's letters, Reynolds still tries to make Sayers speak for herself whenever possible by quoting letters, conversations, and passages from her voluminous writings. The result is a view of the writer that Sayers herself would likely have approved of: as a generous, fiercely intelligent woman whose cardinal passion, her intellectual ardor, led her from Oxford to the hand-to-mouth London bohemianism that spawned the inimitably foppish Wimsey and then, quite logically, to a defense of the writer's imagination (The Mind of the Maker) that set forth Sayers's understanding of the Trinity. Despite some stiffness in the early chapters, and a disinclination to criticize her subject even mildly, Reynolds captures the ardent nature that sustained Sayers through her unrequited love affairs, her pregnancy without marriage, her lifelong support of the son she never publicly acknowledged, and the writing she felt certain from the beginning was her vocation. It isn't until the popular Wimsey books are behind, though, that Reynolds's matching passion comes out--she calls The Mind of the Maker and The Man Born to Be King Sayers's ``two greatest works''--and the biography comes into its own, even though only a few years of Sayers's life remain before Reynolds encounters the preemptive shadow of her own earlier book. Best, then, on the later years--the years of her own friendship with Sayers--that Reynolds has already described so sympathetically. Fans of Lord Peter may feel let down. (Thirty b&w photographs)

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1993
ISBN: 0-312-09787-5
Page count: 416pp
Publisher: St. Martin's
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 1993