Writer of detective fiction, author of religious plays, translator of Dante, arbiter of English usage, and lay theologian, Sayers was an influential exponent of orthodox Christian faith during the middle third of the twentieth century. She was born into the home of an Anglican minister, displayed an early aptitude for languages, and studied medieval literature at Somerville College, Oxford. While teaching secondary school in England and France and working at an advertising agency, she began her career as author and lecturer. Sayers first came to public notice through her detective novels, featuring Lord Peter Wimsey, which were published from 1923 through 1938. The success of these books gave her the financial stability to turn to her first love—religious verse plays and translations of medieval literature, of which her edition of Dante's Divine Comedy (published 1949, 1955, 1962) was the major effort. A radio play, Man Born to Be King (performed on the BBC, 1941-42, published 1943), was both a successful drama and a creative, respectful presentation of the life of Christ. Earlier her play for the 1937 Canterbury Festival, Zeal of Thy House, had revealed her imaginative skill at historical drama. Her occasional essays and a book-length treatment of God and the creative process, Mind of the Maker (1942), constituted a forceful body of theology as well.
Sayers, a lifelong member of the Church of England, published her learned, yet eminently readable, theological essays to promote a basic understanding of historic orthodoxy. Her theology reflected her historical studies in medieval Christianity, her particular love for Dante, and the influence of contemporaries like the Catholic writer G. K. Chesterton and the Anglican novelist and critic Charles Williams. The essays defended the intellectual fiber of traditional dogma, proposed canons of literary common sense for reading the Bible, offered Christian reflections on the changing roles of women in the modern world, and during the years of World War II reminded British citizens of Christian values that superseded the virtues of patriotism.
In Mind of the Maker Sayers provided extended exposition of a theme that she had treated in several occasional papers. The creative process, she argued, can be regarded profitably as an analogy to the way in which the triune God governs the world. If we think of God as an author of a drama, in which humans are the actors, we can learn much about human freedom, divine sovereignty, and the history of salvation. Sayers was not above using her own experience in writing detective stories to explain how God may govern the destiny of his “characters” even as they take on a life of their own in fulfilling the Divine Author's sublime and harmonious plot.
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