Day 4. D is for Dorothy L. Sayers

Sayers was a periphery not-quite-member of the Inklings, the famed group of British writers that included C.S. Lewis and Tolkien.

Most well known as the writer of the Lord Peter Wimsey mysteries – Wimsey being a pretentious, monocle-wearing aristocrat who is abnormally talented and seems to have nothing better to do with himself than to go around solving murder mysteries.

The only two Wimsey novels I have read are Murder Must Advertise and Gaudy Night. The former doubles as a satire of the advertisement industry, while the latter deals with feminist themes regarding women’s education (this is early 20th century fiction). I suppose some people interested in just the corpses may be put off by the attempts at social commentary in her work, but I think she pulls it off with class.

She also is responsible for an incomplete translation and commentary on Dante’s Divine Comedy, which is notable for actually attempting to mimic Dante’s terza rima rhyme scheme in English. For my money, it is most valuable for the commentary, which is both informative and quite colourful. For instance, her introduction to the Purgatorio begins thus:

Of the three books of the Commedia the Purgatorio is, For English readers, the least known, the least quoted – and the most beloved. It forms, as it were, a test case. Persons who pontificate about Dante without making mention of his Purgatory may reasonably be suspected of knowing him only at second hand, or of having at most skimmed through the circles of his Hell in the hope of finding something to be shocked at. Let no one, therefore, get away with a condemnation — or for that matter a eulogy – of Dante on the mere strength of broiled Popes, disembowelled Schismatics, grotesque Demons, Count Ugolino, Francesca da Rimini, and the Voyage of Ulysses, even if backed up by an erotic mysticism borrowed from the Pre-Raphaelites, and the line “His will is our peace”, recollected from somebody’s sermon. Press him, rather, for an intelligent opinion on the Ship of Souls and Peter’s Gate; on Buonconte, Sapia, and Arnaut Daniel; on the Prayer of the Proud, the theology of Free Judgement, Dante’s three Dreams, the Sacred Forest, and the symbolism of the Beatrician Pageant. If he cannot satisfy the examiners on these points, let him be to you as a heathen man and a publican.

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About Josh W

A Catholic; an occasional writer.
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