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Image Credit: Dorothy L. Sayers, 1893-1957, writer and scholar, remembered for her mystery stories and her amateur detective, Lord Peter Wimsey
Society & Culture

The Theatrical Tradition of Dorothy Sayers

In 1941, bestselling novelist Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957) ignited a religious controversy that reverberated throughout England. Leading to discussion in Parliament, her BBC radio plays about Jesus were accused of being subversive and irreverent. Ironically, Sayers was motivated not by a defiance of tradition but by an intense desire to preserve it.

Sayers’ lifelong interest in theater prepared her for the nationwide scandal. The only child of an Oxford-educated clergyman who knew Oscar Wilde while at university, the young Dorothy seemed to assimilate the histrionics of Wilde more than the piety of her father. She loved participating in dramatic performances, both at home and at school: acting out full-costumed scenes from Dumas’ The Three Musketeers (1844) with her governess, taking on the role of Shylock for a boarding school production of The Merchant of Venice, and performing a parody of her beloved Oxford University Bach Choir Director for Somerville College’s going-down (commencement) play.

After earning highest honors at Oxford, Sayers tried her hand at writing scenarios for silent cinema: a task that depended upon her sensitivity to theatric pantomime. When her screenplays failed to sell, she went into another field dependent upon drama: advertising. Credited with coining the phrase “it pays to advertise,” Sayers helped ignite two of the most effective advertising...

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