(LITR034) Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Crimes in Historical Context

Open Book


Open for late registrations for a limited time

Course start date: 24th April 2023
Course end date: 14th July 2023
Price: £150

Tutor:  Lynne Thompson
Course Code: LITR034
Level: Non-accredited, non-credit bearing
Assessments/Exams: None. Throughout the course you will be given ideas and questions to respond to in the online discussion area. Participation in online discussion is encouraged, but not compulsory.
Duration: 12 weeks
Estimated Student Study Time: 3 – 4 hours per week are recommended, but time spent is flexible and at your discretion.
Fee: £150.00
Pre-Requisites: No academic qualifications or experience of studying literature are required – only a strong enthusiasm for this subject.  You are encouraged to read as many of Sayers’ crime novels as possible before the course starts
Delivery: Online Distance Learning
Late Entrants: If this course is not full by the start date then late entrants will be accepted for up to two weeks after the start of the course. As a late entrant you can choose to catch up on the material you have missed or you can skip the missed weeks and concentrate on the material at the point where you join the course, but unfortunately we cannot offer fee reductions or course extensions for late entrants.
Recommended Reading**:

All of Dorothy L Sayers crime novels are recommended reading and students are invited to refresh their memories of the following prior to beginning the course.

Any edition will suffice.

  • Whose Body? (1923)
  • Clouds of Witness (1926)
  • Unnatural Death   (1927)
  • The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1928)
  • Strong Poison (1930)
  • The Documents in the Case (with Robert Eustace) (1930)
  • Five Red Herrings (1931)
  • Have his Carcass (1932)
  • Murder Must Advertise (1933)
  • The Nine Tailors (1934)
  • Gaudy Night (1935)
  • Busman’s Honeymoon (1937)

and it might also be interesting to read a recent biography of her life

  • Dorothy L Sayers; her life and soul (1993) Barbara Reynolds

Required Reading**: There are no required texts for this course.

**Please note: All courses are subject to sufficient numbers of students registering before they are confirmed as running. Therefore, after booking your place you are advised not to purchase any texts until you have received confirmation that the course is running.

This course was previously taught by Lynne Thompson when it was offered by the University of Exeter*. If you studied it with the University of Exeter* you might not wish to study it again with Learn for Pleasure as although we have revised and updated our courses where necessary, it will likely be substantively the same.


Journey into the 1930s Golden Age of detective fiction by exploring the novels, life and times of Dorothy L. Sayers, and her partners in crime, Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane.

In this course we gain a greater appreciation of Sayers’ crime novels by placing the writer and her plots in historical context, through which her characters spring to life.

Her novels also provide interesting and topical parallels with modern times:

  • wars and their aftermath
  • boom and bust
  • Europe in flux
  • social and cultural tensions
  • and the impact of scientific and technological change.

We will focus on Busman’s Honeymoon and Gaudy Night, where the relationships between Harriet Vane and Lord Peter Wimsey are finally resolved, but Sayers’ earlier novels, reflecting contentious and political issues of the day will also be explored.

Syllabus Plan

Week 01: Introduction – themes of the course
Week 02: Two biographies – Dorothy L Sayers and Lord Peter Wimsey in context
Week 03: The impact of the First World War on interwar England
Week 04: Revolutions, rebels and race
Week 05: Sex, scandals and science
Week 06: Relationships (1) Tradition and modernity
Week 07: The ‘Woman Question’ in interwar England (1)
Week 08: The ‘Woman Question’ in interwar England (2)
Week 09: Relationships (2) Social issues
Week 10: Dorothy L Sayers and other women crime writers in the interwar period
Week 11: Dorothy L Sayers and religion
Week 12: Some conclusions