The Remarkable Dorothy L. Sayers – page 5


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From the Summer 2018 issue of Knowing & Doing:

The Remarkable Dorothy L. Sayers

by Lindsey Scholl, Ph.D.
Educator and Writer, Trinity Classical School

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  Her first literary response to Dante was to write several letters to Charles Williams, who had provoked her interest in the poet in the first place. He was so taken by her energy and ability that he suggested publishing her letters. Unfortunately, his sudden death cut that plan short.16 But he had given Sayers a willing ear for her new enthusiasm. She also had another ear listening to her: the editor of Penguin Classics, who happened to be looking for a fresh translation of The Divine Comedy. He wanted something that would make Dante accessible to a broader audience; Sayers had a reputation for accessible writing and had, in fact, already thought through some of the limitations of current translations. “They are afraid to be funny,” she wrote to Williams. And “they insist on being noble and they end by being prim. But prim is the one thing Dante never is.”17 It was a good match. Sayers’s first volume, titled Hell, appeared in 1949. It is a testament to her abilities as a linguist that she learned Italian in order to translate Dante, first for her own enjoyment and then for Penguin. She published Purgatory in 1955, and both books were dedicated to the late Williams. She never finished Paradise because of her sudden death at home at the age of sixty-four.18


  Sayers once requested that if any biography were written about her, it shouldn’t be until fifty years after her death.19 She deplored the idea of her youthful follies being broadcast for evaluation; what’s more, she did not think that the writer was necessarily more interesting than her works:

People are always imagining that if they get hold of the writer himself and, so to speak, shake him long enough and hard enough, something exciting and illuminating will drop out of him. But it doesn’t … If you notice, the first thing that usually crops up out of people’s biographies is the nonsense things about them, so that the general effect made is that the man wasn’t so very remarkable after all.20


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