The influence of a woman storyteller: Dorothy L. Sayers

I was prompted recently to think about woman storytellers who have influenced me. I immediately thought of Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957), a woman author who has meant a lot to my growth as an independent woman, and in my academics and faith.

Sayers was an English crime writer, scholar, and poet. She was in the same literary network as C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and G.K. Chesterton. She was self-admittedly very influenced by Chesterton.

I started reading her mystery novels about Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, who was modeled on Sayers, when I was in junior high. I was obsessed, staying up late into the night with my carousel horse lamp casting a way too dim light while I read. I even tried writing my own mystery novel, “Puddles with No Rain”(yes, I know f-ing brilliant) after first reading her mystery novel series. I still have drafts of it saved over 20 years later. Maybe one day I will finish.  

I probably read Have His Carcase a million times. I still can’t say for sure why that is my favorite, but I do know how Sayers’ writes the character of Harriet in that novel, her independence, ability to focus on her vocation and enjoy solitude after a devastating relationship spoke to me as a young woman and I carried that with me into adulthood.

I have had a lot of friends ask me about my ability to travel and do things alone. I’ve always been comfortable being alone, from trying new restaurants or museums to traveling Europe multiple times by myself. It might seem crazy but I can definitely see how Sayer’s work influenced my independence.

I don’t think it is disconnected that I ended up during my undergrad minoring in Latin, mainly so I could take a class translating Virgil’s Aeneid –Virgil is the character who leads Dante through Hell and Purgatory in the Divine Comedy. That minor in Latin ended up influencing my journey toward a PhD in Medieval Literature– which Sayer’s also studied and was one of the first women to be granted a degree from Oxford– and MLIS in Library Science.

So I can’t deny, the stories Sayers told as a woman undoubtedly influenced my journeys as a scholar and a woman.

In high school I had to read Dante Alighieri’s Divine Comedy, and I discovered that Sayers had translated an edition of this medieval Italian poem. Of course, Sayers’ is my favorite translation of the poem. I remember this is about when I really started uncovering her scholarly activities and her essays on being a woman with a vocation, during a time and in a culture where that was not appreciated.

Click here to visit the site of the Dorothy L. Sayers’ society

On the Dorothy L. Sayers’ Society website they have a list of Sayers’ works, you can click here to go directly

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