As faithful readers will know I am a fan of Lord Peter Wimsey and Dorothy L. Sayers. And before I owned all the Lord Peter novels, I would quite often search the the crime section for Sayers' books. When I handed in my dissertation in December 2004 I therefore had a look through the bookshelves of Borders in Glasgow traveling back home, and next to her novels someone had put Barbara Reynolds' biography of Dorothy L. Sayers. I bought the book, but it stayed untouched in my bookshelves for a long time. Since then I have reread many of Sayers' books and thus grown more interested in the author. It was therefore with high expectations I started reading the biography earlier this summer. I hoped Sayers' life would bring some of the wisdom and wit that surrounds Lord Peter.
However, Dorothy L. Sayers. Her Life and Soul by Barbara Reynolds - although not being uninteresting - did not fill my expectations. Barbara Reynolds was a friend and colleague of Sayers. They both worked on old Italian literature and Reynolds finished the translation Sayers started of Dante's The Divine Comedy. This relationship might be the reason why my expectations were not fulfilled. In my post yesterday I complained that biographies often tend to be too personal and too filled with facts. As this biography is written by one of her friends, I assumed it would do both. However, Reynolds seems to protect her friend by telling as little as possible and leave as many intimate and personal facts as possible.
As I am a Lord Peter fan, I had unconsciously assumed that Sayers had a knowledge of his lifestyle. However, as probably many other authors also will admit to, he was more of the perfect man and the ideal life she was dreaming of. Reynolds never insinuates that Sayers life was never the one she dreamed of, but it feels quite often as she is holding something back. Reading between the lines, it is easy to understand that Sayers must have been quite frustrated at times, but I am not quite sure if this was intentionally done by Reynolds. I seems as Reynolds is so much in awe of Sayers that she does not dare write anything bad about her.
It is also my impression that as Reynolds and Sayers were colleagues, Reynolds does not like to pry in her private and intimate life - and perhaps does not like anyone else to do it either. This is clearly visible in the description of the relationship between Sayers and John Cournos. Reynolds seem a bit embarrassed and thus does not like in her own words. Instead she includes quotations from Cournos' and Sayers' books where she believes they refer to each other.
However, what I find lacking in the book is a story or a motive. Even though a life is not a story, it is best retold as one. There seems to be nothing that links the different chapters in this book together. In the early years it seems as Reynolds want to describe the coming of an authoress, but her development as an author is not the guideline in the description of her adult years. The book's underline - Her Life and Soul - should perhaps point to her religious development. But also this seems to be a bit too personal for Reynolds. Reynolds has also edited Sayers letters The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers: 1899-1936: The Making of a Detective Novelist. Perhaps this is a better book as Reynolds can keep her professional distance.