DOROTHY L. SAYERS: A Biography by James Brabazon

DOROTHY L. SAYERS: A Biography

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Sayers wanted no biography till 50 years after her death; but, largely because of many unofficial biographical attempts (particularly Janet Hitchman's sketchy Such a Strange Lady), Brabazon has been given the Sayers papers and the family's blessing. The result is a literate, full, intriguing, but not especially perceptive or forceful book--and one that, for Wimsey fans, leans rather too heavily on Sayers' theological writing. Making extensive use of an unfinished, utterly autobiographical novel, Brabazon (Albert Schweitzer, 1975) concentrates hard, yet fuzzily, on Dorothy's isolated Edwardian childhood: a vicar's daughter, she grew up with few playmates, living in books, too freely cultivating her superior intellect and ""Musketeer"" spirit, becoming subject to ""lack of contact with reality"" and unable to ""trust her emotions."" And as Dorothy goes on, to Oxford and London and success, often behaving quite badly, this handicap--""how much freedom did her early conditioning really allow her?""--is sometimes invoked, without much persuasiveness. Still, nearly all the facts are here, many of them only guessed at before: her emphatic heterosexuality, despite longtime virginity; one unrequited love and one (a Russian-Jewish-American writer) who wanted sex without marriage; her subsequent affair with motor-mechanic ""Bill,"" father of her secret son (raised by a cousin); and her marriage to older journalist ""Mac""--whose illness ""shackled"" Dorothy to the profitable Wimsey series, which she regarded as an ""aberration"" in her career. Brabazon doesn't go quite that far, perhaps, but he does seem largely uninterested in the mysteries (except the non-Wimsey Documents in the Case, ""the first indication that Dorothy might have become a significant novelist""). And he moves on quickly to the later careers: playwright; the Church of England's ""multi-purpose champion"" (in lectures and earthy radio plays), despite her own lack of spiritual ""inner experience""; creative theologist (of all her work, The Mind of the Maker ""deserves to last""); and possessed translator of Dante. To his credit, Brabazon doesn't hide Sayers' snobbishness, her petulant feuds, her ""self-indulgence"" in food, drink, and verbal abuse. But he seems excessively anxious to justify and dignify her behavior--and his downplaying of her quasi-Wagnerian anti-Semitism is totally unconvincing. As life history, then, this Finally seems half-baked--dabbling with psychology but failing to follow through. And those looking for an evocation of Wimsey backgrounds will be disappointed. But it's thorough, modest, fairly stylish--and, simply on the basis of source material, without competition as the Sayers biography of choice.

Pub Date: June 1st, 1981
Publisher: Scribners