Monday, 12 December 2011

Dorothy and Wilkie

Dorothy L Sayers had a huge admiration for her Victorian predecessor Wilkie Collins. I too am a Collins fan, and it's interesting to see the ways in which his work sometimesinfluenced hers. Perhaps the most notable example is to be found in theepistolary form that she adopted for her non-Wimsey novel The Documents in theCase.

For many years, Sayerstalked about writing a biography of Collins. She did start work on it, butnever managed to complete it – for reasons that are not entirely clear. She hadall the attributes, certainly including a gift for scholarship, that would haveequipped her ideally for the task.

I've often wonderedabout the incomplete biography, and recently John Curran told me that it hadbeen published, but was very difficult to obtain. Now, thanks to the kindnessof Christopher Dean, the chairman of the Dorothy L Sayers Society, I have beenable to borrow a copy, which I read with much interest.

There are one or twopassing observations to her fellow detective story writers, J.J. Connington andHenry Wade, but sadly, the manuscript finishes before Sayers reaches the pointin Collins' life when he wrote his masterpieces, The Moonstone and The Woman in White. What a pity that we do not have a really detailed study of those booksfrom Sayers in the context of Collins' life story. Perhaps she meant to returnto the book one day in the future. Her sudden and rather premature death meantthat she did not have the chance to do so – and we are the poorer for it, eventhough it is pleasing that the fragment remains in existence.


Kelly Robinson said...

I didn't know about this. Sad that it's incomplete, but how lucky you are to have read it!

The Passing Tramp said...

I think that in the end Dante trumped Collins for Dorothy! A shame for mystery fans.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, Kelly. Curt, I agree, a real shame.

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

A. B. Emrys's book _Wilkie Collins, Vera Caspary, and the Evolution of the Casebook Novel_ looks at Collins's influence on Vera Caspary; Caspary made notes on and applied Collins's techniques in writing _Laura_ and other works.

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks for your comment, Elizabeth. I've just acquired that book, but not read it yet.