Day 224 of Colourisation Project – December 17
Challenge: to publish daily a colourised photo that has some significance around the day of publication.
Renowned for her pioneering and entertaining crime novels, Dorothy L. Sayers was a dominant force in the Golden Age of detective fiction throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Born in Oxford in 1893, the only child of an Anglican clergyman, her personal life as it panned out, proved to be a mystery in itself. More on that later.
Sayers studied medieval literature at Oxford’s Somerville College, finishing with first-class honours in 1915; a time when women could not be awarded degrees. It was not till five years later in 1920, that this policy was reversed. Sayers was then amongst the first women to receive a degree from Oxford.
A classic scholar, Sayers was poet, playwright, essayist, translator and student of classical and modern languages and like many students of the classics, Sayers fell into ‘advertising’. Between 1922 and 1931, she worked as a copywriter at S.H. Benson’s advertising agency in London, where she coined the enduring slogans “It pays to advertise,” “Guinness Is Good For You”and “My Goodness, My Guinness.”
It was whilst working at the agancy that Sayers had started on the path of crime and mystery writing. She was a founding member of the Detective Club, a private society of mystery writers, formed in 1930 and which included other luminaries of the genre, such as her good friends, Agatha Christie and G.K. Chesterton. Influenced by the works of Edgar Allen Poe, Conan Doyle and Wilkie Collins, whom she considered the father of the detective story, she is best remembered for her series of novels featuring English aristocrat and bon vivant sleuth, Lord Peter Bredon Wimsey and the detective novelist, Harriet Vane.
Though she achieved international acclaim through these stories, Sayers considered her translation of Dante’s Divina Commedia, which she began in 1949 to be her best work.
Soon after a failed relationship with Russian poet and novelist John Cournos, Sayers gave birth to an illegitimate son in 1924, whom she named John Anthony. The pregnancy was a closely guarded secret. Sayers had hidden herself away from friends and family and continued working at Benson’s until the beginning of her last trimester, at which point she pleaded exhaustion and took extended leave. Unfortunately, the child’s father, Bill White, an unemployed car salesman was a married man who wanted nothing to do with his child.
Alone and under an assumed name she took herself to a “mother’s hospital,” in Southbourne, Hampshire, where John Anthony was born. Sayers nursed and cared for her child for three weeks after which she placed him in the care of her cousin, Ivy Shrimpton, who was the only person she confided in. At that time Shrimpton who was single, was already fostering two other young children.
After Shrimpton agreed to take on another child, Sayers sent her a letter with the heading, “Strictly Confidential. Particulars about Baby,” swearing Shrimpton to silence. Sayers’ parents never knew of their grandchild and though her cousin took care of him, Sayers provided financial support and closely followed his upbringing. Though she became a frequent visitor, she was not particularly comfortable with young children. Two years later she married Oswald Fleming, a Scottish journalist who officially adopted young John, but the child never went to live with them.
Only a few knew the truth about John. Sayers had never publicly acknowledged him as her biological son but rather her ‘nephew’. Upon her death however, all was revealed when he became the sole beneficiary of her will.
Dorothy L. Sayers died of a heart attack on this day, December 17, 1957, whilst working on the third volume of Paradiso. She was 64 years old.
“I always have a quotation for everything – it saves original thinking.”
Dorothy L. Sayers