Dorothy Leigh Sayers was born in 1893 in Oxford to the Anglican Reverend Henry Sayers and his wife, Helen Mary, both of whom were educated, highly literate, and, by Dorothy’s account, caring and solicitous parents. The majority of Sayers’s childhood was spent with her parents in East Anglia, where she received a private education at the hands of her father and a governess. By her early teens, she was writing and performing plays and experimenting with writing poetry in a variety of verse forms. She was sent to boarding school in 1908, where she cultivated a love of languages, music, literature, and drama. Entering Sommerville College at Oxford in 1912 and concluding her studies in 1915, she enjoyed a lively social and academic experience, participating in dramatic and choral productions, and evincing a strong enthusiasm for German and French.
After unsuccessfully attempting to train as a nurse, Sayers accepted a post as schoolmistress in Hull, at the same time writing poetry that was published by Oxford Magazine. During her summer vacations, she worked on translating the Chanson de Roland into rhymed couplets (eventually published in 1957). In 1917, Sayers’s father arranged a position for her as an apprentice to the publisher Basil Blackwell, and the following year she published her collection of poems, Catholic Tales and Christian Songs. At this time, Sayers fell in love with Captain Eric Whelpton, and in 1919, she accepted his invitation to work as his assistant at a boarding school in Normandy. When Whelpton gave up his position, Sayers returned to England and was in the first group of women to be formally invested with a B.A. and an M.A. at Oxford in 1920. Taking a copywriting position at an advertising firm, Benson’s, in 1922, Sayers also began to work on her novels, producing such famous Peter Wimsey detective stories as Whose Body (1922), Clouds of Witness (1926), The Five Red Herrings (1931), Murder Must Advertise (1932), Gaudy Night (1935), and Busman’s Honeymoon (1937). In 1930, Sayers introduced the character of Harriet Vane