If the name Dorothy L Sayers simply conjures up an image of Edward Petherbridge or Ian Carmichael portraying a ‘silly ass’ aristocratic sleuth with a monocle, perhaps it is time to think again.
Lord Peter Whimsey’s fast cars and ample wealth may have been created as wish fulfillment in hard times, but Sayers’ reality was much closer to that of her fictional heroine Harriet Vane, an independent woman of limited means trying to make a career as a writer.
D L Sayers’ own life and the London in which she lived and worked shine through several of her novels and short stories. Pym’s agency in Murder Must Advertise is modeled closely on Benson’s where Sayers worked for many years as a successful copywriter, and in Gaudy Night it is Sayers’ own first floor bedsit overlooking Mecklenburg Square that is home for Harriet.
When we first meet Harriet in Strong Poison she is on trial for her life, accused of murder. Is there any parallel with Sayers’ own life? Is this literary revenge on her own faithless lover?
Despite murder Sayers’ writing often has a light touch and ready wit. Miss Climpson’s “cattery” of female investigators disguised as a secretarial agency appears in several stories and is a nice nod to Sherlock Holmes’ Bow Street Irregulars, the street urchins who are his eyes and ears. Miss Murchison’s nail-biting infiltration of the Bedford Row office of a murderous solicitor makes the heart beat faster!
This walk explores places Sayers lived and worked and her personal and professional life unfolds and interweaves with that of her characters. Fact and fiction overlap on the walk as they do in the novels where, for one example, fictional pathologist James Lubbock shares a strikingly similar career with real-life Bernard Spilsbury, each living in the same Bloomsbury Square and each acquiring a knighthood at much the same time. Why not join Sue on this walk through Bloomsbury to find out more?
The next two Dorothy L Sayers’ Bloomsbury walks are in October and part of the Footprints of London Literary festival 2019