Dorothy L. Sayers: A Biography

Dorothy L. Sayers: A Biography - James Brabazon This was the first "authorized" biography of Sayers, anticipating by several decades her request that no biography be written for 50 years after her death (which occurred in 1957). Brabazon was acquainted with Sayers in the latter years of her life, and that acquaintance spills over, perhaps sometimes a little too much, in his characterizations. While there's nothing wrong in themselves with his frequent references to her intellectual arrogance, loud voice and impatience with folks who were slow off the mark, I found them a bit repetitive; most of all, I found myself being rubbed very much the wrong way by his endless references to her weight, which appears to have greatly bothered him.

That said, he clearly strives to do her justice, and he makes solid use of his sources, in particular the voluminous letters. The analysis of her early autobiographical novel fragment, Cat o' Mary, as a key to her life in girlhood and young adulthood is very interesting indeed.

Brabazon tells what he can about the early loves of Dorothy's life, chiefly unrequited, again drawing on substantial manuscript resources relating to Eric Whelpton and John Cournos (the discovery of the letters to the latter, at Harvard, appears to have been Brabazon's major scholarly breakthrough). He was greatly inhibited, though, it appears, in his account of the affair which resulted in the birth of Dorothy's "adopted" son, Anthony Fleming, who never really became part of her family; Anthony Fleming himself writes the preface, but it becomes clear that he was far from giving Brabazon a free hand. The full story doesn't appear to have been publishable until after Fleming's death; I see there is an appendix on the subject in the second volume of Sayers' published letters.

Brabazon is interesting on the subject of how the developments in Sayers' life affected the evolution of the Wimsey books, and the development of Wimsey's character. I am so pleased that the plan to kill off the mystery-writing by marrying him off in Strong Poison did not come to fruition - it would have been dreadful not to have the subsequent books.

The latter half of Sayers' literary career has always been a little more difficult for me to sympathize with, because we are poles apart politically and theologically. Nonetheless, it is a mark of her vigour of expression that I can read her at all, and that I appreciate her religious plays (especially the Man Born to be King series) for the vividly imagined and moving pieces of work they are. This biography gives a lot of interesting detail about the genesis, writing, and production (Sayers was very involved in the production).

I will be interested to read the more recent (1992) biography by Coomes with this one still relatively fresh in my mind. I do hope he doesn't harp upon D.L. Sayers' weight!