The 11 novels and clutch of short stories featuring Lord Peter Wimsey are some of the most beloved examples of Golden Age detective fiction. Their author, Dorothy L. Sayers (1893–1957), presented me with a daunting figure when I first began to research her life and social circle for my book. One of the first women to receive an Oxford degree—with first-class honors, no less—she was witty, polished, and apparently able to do just about anything she wanted: advertising, fiction, theology, even learning medieval Italian in order to produce a translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy.

Circle of Influence

Taken as a lone genius, Sayers is a bit overwhelming. Place her in the context of the writing circle she founded at Oxford, and a different picture emerges. The group called itself the Mutual Admiration Society—so that, as Sayers explained, no one else could be the first to call them one. They were a remarkable group of women whose friendship lasted a lifetime and whose careers spanned literature, theater, history, education, midwifery, and advocacy.