Monday, August 29, 2022

Sir John Lubbock's 100 Books

Sir John Lubbock: The Pleasures of Life (1887)

One fateful evening in 1886, the Principal of the London Working-Men’s College, Sir John Lubbock, gave a speech to that institution. In it he outlined a list of 100 vital books which, if read attentively, might in themselves constitute a liberal education.

The idea took off with a vengeance, and after the list was reprinted in his essay-collection The Pleasures of Life, earnest self-improvers everywhere started to collect the various volumes.

Sir John Lubbock (1834-1913)

Lubbock himself never attended university, though he came from a privileged background, and had been educated at Eton by his wealthy family. A banker by profession, his real passions were archaeology and evolutionary biology, and he wrote extensively on both subjects.

Amongst other achievements, he was the the first to coin the terms "Neolithic" and "Palaeolithic" in one of his books about early man.

Antoine Galland: The Arabian Nights' Entertainments (London: Routledge, 1865)

The very first copy of the Arabian Nights I ever owned (rather similar to the one pictured above, but more battered and dogeared) proudly proclaimed itself as one of these "hundred books" - which gives some clue to the bonanza this must have constituted for enterprising publishers in the late nineteenth century.

Thomas Hardy: Jude the Obscure (1894-95)

It's easy to see how this idea of self-betterment through focussed reading informs Hardy's last prose masterpiece Jude the Obscure, with its almost unbearably poignant account of rural autodidact Jude's attempts to enter the sheltered cloisters of Christminster University through sheer effort and application. All in vain, of course (it is, after all, a Thomas Hardy novel).

There's a particularly poignant scene where Jude is sitting miserably by the side of the road realising the folly of his grand ambitions, and longing for someone to come by and comfort him:
But nobody did come, because nobody does: and under the crushing recognition of his gigantic error Jude continued to wish himself out of the world.

18 of the 100 Books (London: Routledge, 1890)
[The Shi King of Confucius; The Iliad and Odyssey of Homer; Darwin's Journal of Discoveries; The Origin of Species; The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire I and II; Adam Smith's Wealth of Nations; Captain Cook's Voyages; Humboldt's Travels I-III; Scott's Ivanhoe; La Morte D'Arthur; Spinoza; The Arabian Nights' Entertainments; Bacon's Novum Organum; The Nibelungenleid; Thackeray's Pendennis]

Here, in any case, is a slightly tidied-up list of the original 100 books. It's rather hard to make the numbers fit consistently, given Lubbock's habit of listing multiple works under one author or, alternatively, listing separate works by a writer under different categories. He also published different versions of it at different times.

Each entry has been linked to a free online text wherever possible.

[Works by Living Authors are omitted]

  1. The Holy Bible
  2. The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius
  3. Epictetus
  4. Aristotle’s Ethics
  5. The Analects of Confucius
  6. St Hilaire’s Le Bouddha et sa religion
  7. Wake’s Apostolic Fathers
  8. Thomas à Kempis’ Imitation of Christ
  9. Confessions of St. Augustine
  10. The Koran
  11. Spinoza’s Tractatus Theologico-Politicus
  12. Comte’s Catechism of Positive Philosophy
  13. Pascal’s Pensées
  14. Butler’s Analogy of Religion
  15. Taylor’s Holy Living and Dying
  16. Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress
  17. Keble’s Christian Year
  18. Plato’s Apology, Phædo, & Republic
  19. Xenophon’s Memorabilia
  20. Aristotle’s Politics
  21. The Public Orations of Demosthenes
  22. Cicero’s Treatises on Friendship and Old Age
  23. Plutarch’s Lives
  24. Berkeley’s Human Knowledge
  25. Descartes’ Discours sur la Méthode
  26. Locke’s On the Conduct of the Understanding
  27. Homer’s Iliad & Odyssey
  28. Hesiod
  29. Virgil
  30. Lucretius [1]
  31. The Mahabharata & The Ramayana [Epitomized in Talboy Wheeler’s History of India]
  32. Firdausi’s Shahnameh [Included in Persian Literature]
  33. The Nibelungenlied
  34. Malory’s Morte d’Arthur
  35. The Shi King [or Book of Songs]
  36. Kalidasa’s Sakuntala [or The Lost Ring]
  37. Aeschylus’ Tragedies and Fragments & Trilogy
  38. Sophocles’ Oedipus
  39. Euripides’ Medea
  40. Aristophanes’ The Knights & The Clouds [In Comedies]
  41. Horace
  42. Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales
  43. Shakespeare
  44. Milton’s Paradise Lost & minor poems
  45. Dante’s Divina Commedia (Cary’s translation) (Longfellow’s translation)
  46. Spenser’s Faerie Queene
  47. Dryden’s Poems [vol 1 & vol 2]
  48. Scott’s Poems [The Lady of the Lake & Marmion]
  49. Southey’s Thalaba the Destroyer & The Curse of Kehama [vol 1 & vol 2]
  50. Selected Poems of William Wordsworth
  51. Pope's Essay on Criticism; Essay on Man; Rape of the Lock and Other Poems
  52. Burns
  53. Byron’s Childe Harold
  54. Gray [in The Poetical Works of Johnson, Parnell, Gray, and Smollett]
  55. Herodotus [vol 1 & vol 2]
  56. Xenophon’s Anabasis
  57. Thucydides
  58. Tacitus’ Germania
  59. Livy
  60. Gibbon’s Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire
  61. Hume’s History of England
  62. Grote’s History of Greece
  63. Carlyle’s French Revolution
  64. Green’s Short History of England
  65. Lewes’ History of Philosophy [vol 1 & vol 2]
  66. The Arabian Nights
  67. Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels
  68. Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe
  69. Goldsmith’s Vicar of Wakefield
  70. Cervantes’ Don Quixote
  71. Boswell’s Life of Johnson
  72. Molière
  73. Schiller’s William Tell
  74. Sheridan’s The Critic, School for Scandal, & The Rivals
  75. Carlyle’s Past and Present
  76. Bacon’s Novum Organum
  77. Smith’s Wealth of Nations
  78. Mill’s Political Economy
  79. Cook’s Voyages
  80. Humboldt’s Travels [vol 1, vol 2 & vol 3]
  81. White’s Natural History of Selborne
  82. Darwin's Origin of Species & Naturalist’s Voyage
  83. Mill’s Logic
  84. Bacon’s Essays
  85. Montaigne’s Essays
  86. Hume’s Essays
  87. Macaulay’s Essays
  88. Addison’s Essays
  89. Emerson’s Essays
  90. Burke’s Select Works
  91. Smiles’ Self-Help
  92. Voltaire's Zadig & Micromegas
  93. Goethe’s Faust & Autobiography
  94. Miss Austen’s Emma, or Pride and Prejudice [2]
  95. Thackeray’s Vanity Fair & Pendennis
  96. Dickens' Pickwick, David Copperfield
  97. Lytton’s Last Days of Pompeii
  98. George Eliot’s Adam Bede
  99. Kingsley’s Westward Ho!
  100. Scott’s Waverley Novels


1. Lubbock notes that this is “less generally suitable than most of the others in the list.”
2. Lubbock chose later to omit this entry, commenting that English novelists were “somewhat over-represented.”

A revised version of the list was published in 1930, after Lubbock's death, with the following substituted entries:
  • Comte’s Catechism [no. 12] was replaced by Seneca
  • Dryden’s Poems [no. 47] was replaced by Tennyson’s Idylls of the King
  • Hume’s Essays [no. 86] was replaced by Ruskin’s Modern Painters

Even making due allowance for the era in which it was compiled, it remains a somewhat surprising selection. There are only two female authors - both English novelists - and Lubbock eventually chose to omit Jane Austen and retain only George Eliot. Even there, it's her first novel Adam Bede, rather than the more mature Middlemarch or Daniel Deronda, which makes the cut.

There's also what would now seem a disproportionate emphasis on Christian theology, ancient and modern. I count no fewer than ten such volumes, ranging from Saint Augustine to Keble's Christian Year. By contrast, there's one book on Buddhism, another on Confucianism, one on Hinduism, and another on Islam.

There are ten British novelists there, too. But who would now think to include Edward Bulwer-Lytton and Charles Kingsley among their number? Cervantes, Goethe, and Voltaire are the only other fiction writers on the list. It's odd, moreover, to see the latter represented by Zadig and Micromegas rather than the more obvious Candide.

It's only to be expected, given Victorian ideas on education, that the Greek and Roman classics should make up a substantial part of the listings - Poets such as Homer, Hesiod, Horace, Lucretius & Virgil; Dramatists such as Aeschylus, Sophocles, Euripides & Aristophanes; Philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, Epictetus & Marcus Aurelius; Historians such as Herodotus, Livy, Plutarch, Tacitus, Thucydides & Xenophon; Orators such as Demosthenes & Cicero ... In total, they make up almost a quarter of the readings.

To do him justice, Lubbock himself was the first to admit the limitations of his project:
It is one thing to own a library; it is quite another to use it wisely. I have often been astonished how little care people devote to the selection of what they read. Books, we know, are almost innumerable; our hours for reading are, alas! very few. And yet many people read almost by hazard. They will take any book they chance to find in a room at a friend's house; they will buy a novel at a railway-stall if it has an attractive title; indeed, I believe in some cases even the binding affects their choice.

The selection is, no doubt, far from easy. I have often wished some one would recommend a list of a hundred good books. If we had such lists drawn up by a few good guides they would be most useful. I have indeed sometimes heard it said that in reading every one must choose for himself, but this reminds me of the recommendation not to go into the water till you can swim.

In the absence of such lists I have picked out the books most frequently mentioned with approval by those who have referred directly or indirectly to the pleasure of reading, and have ventured to include some which, though less frequently mentioned, are especial favorites of my own. Every one who looks at the list will wish to suggest other books, as indeed I should myself, but in that case the number would soon run up.
He goes on to specify:
I have abstained, for obvious reasons, from mentioning works by living authors, though from many of them — Tennyson, Ruskin, and others —I have myself derived the keenest enjoyment; and I have omitted works on science, with one or two exceptions, because the subject is so progressive.

I feel that the attempt is over bold, and I must beg for indulgence, while hoping for criticism; indeed one object which I have had in view is to stimulate others more competent far than I am to give us the advantage of their opinions.
There's a lot more detail about his specific choices in chapter 4 of The Pleasures of Life, which makes very interesting reading. His reservations about some of the inclusions are particularly revealing. For instance:
Nor must I omit to mention Sir T. Malory's Morte d'Arthur, though I confess I do so mainly in deference to the judgment of others.
Or, on the subject of which novelists to include:
Macaulay considered Marivaux's La Vie de Marianne the best novel in any language, but my number is so nearly complete that I must content myself with English: and will suggest Thackeray (Vanity Fair and Pendennis), Dickens (Pickwick and David Copperfield), G. Eliot (Adam Bede or The Mill on the Floss), Kingsley (Westward Ho!), Lytton (Last Days of Pompeii), and last, not least, those of Scott, which indeed constitute a library in themselves, but which I must ask, in return for my trouble, to be allowed, as a special favor, to count as one.

Pierre de Marivaux: La Vie de Marianne (1731-45)

Strangely enough, I've actually read La Vie de Marianne. It's a surprisingly entertaining novel, given that its principal subject is the endless rehearsal of the sufferings and woes of the title character - whom I'd always assumed to have been suggested by Samuel Richardson's Pamela in his 1740 novel of that name. Now, however, I see that the dates don't fit, and that if there was influence, it must have been in the opposite direction.

I'm not sure that I'd put it in any lists of must-reads, mind you, but then that just illustrates the invidiousness of such choices. The moment you start to legislate about such things, you end up putting in bizarre tomes such as Samuel Smiles' Self-Help rather than, say, Marx's Das Kapital.

Would it do a modern reader any harm to sit down and start reading their way through Sir John Lubbock's hundred books? No, I don't think so. At the very least it would give you quite a good idea of the classical idea of the canon - as it stood in the late nineteenth century.

I'm not sure that it would do you all that much good, though. You'd have to substitute more reliable texts on the world's great religions, more up-to-date histories than Carlyle's or Grote's, and a greatly increased number of books on economics and science. In fact, you might end up with something like this:

Britannica: Great Books of the Western World (1990)

The Britannica Great Books of the Western World series was first published, as a set of 54 volumes, in 1952:
The original editors had three criteria for including a book in the series drawn from Western Civilization: the book must have been relevant to contemporary matters, and not only important in its historical context; it must be rewarding to re-read repeatedly with respect to liberal education; and it must be a part of "the great conversation about the great ideas", relevant to at least 25 of the 102 "Great Ideas" as identified by the editor of the series's comprehensive index, ... dubbed the "Syntopicon".
A second edition, enlarged to 60 volumes, was published in 1990. Among other revisions, "Four women authors were included, where previously there were none."

You can look at the original lists in the Wikipedia article above. I suspect that most of us probably have a few odd volumes of the series kicking around. The double-columns of print and large format make them difficult to read, but they are a useful source for otherwise difficult to locate texts. I see that I myself own ten of them - marked below in bold - though I've never consciously collected them:
  1. The Great Conversation
  2. Syntopicon I
  3. Syntopicon II
  4. Volume 4: Homer (rendered into English prose by Samuel Butler)
    • The Iliad
    • The Odyssey
    Homer. The Iliad & The Odyssey. Trans. Samuel Butler. 1898. Great Books of the Western World, 4. Ed. Robert Maynard Hutchins. 1952. Chicago: William Benton, Publisher / Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1989.
  5. Aeschylus / Sophocles / Euripides / Aristophanes
  6. Herodotus / Thucydides
  7. Plato
  8. Volume 8: Aristotle I
    • Categories
    • On Interpretation
    • Prior Analytics
    • Posterior Analytics
    • Topics
    • Sophistical Refutations
    • Physics
    • On the Heavens
    • On Generation and Corruption
    • Meteorology
    • Metaphysics
    • On the Soul
    • Minor biological works
    Aristotle. The Works, Volume 1. Ed. W. D. Ross. Great Books of the Western World, 8. Ed. Robert Maynard Hutchins. Chicago: William Benton, Publisher / Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952.
  9. Volume 9: Aristotle II
    • History of Animals
    • Parts of Animals
    • On the Motion of Animals
    • On the Gait of Animals
    • On the Generation of Animals
    • Nicomachean Ethics
    • Politics
    • The Athenian Constitution
    • Rhetoric
    • Poetics
    Aristotle. The Works, Volume 2. Ed. W. D. Ross. Great Books of the Western World, 9. Ed. Robert Maynard Hutchins. Chicago: William Benton, Publisher / Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952.
  10. Hippocrates / Galen
  11. Volume 11:
    • Euclid
      • The Thirteen Books of Euclid's Elements
    • Archimedes
      • On the Sphere and Cylinder
      • Measurement of a Circle
      • On Conoids and Spheroids
      • On Spirals
      • On the Equilibrium of Planes
      • The Sand Reckoner
      • The Quadrature of the Parabola
      • On Floating Bodies
      • Book of Lemmas
      • The Method Treating of Mechanical Problems
    • Apollonius of Perga
      • On Conic Sections
    • Nicomachus of Gerasa
      • Introduction to Arithmetic
    Euclid. The Thirteen Books of the Elements / Archimedes. The Works, Including the Method / Apollonius of Perga. On Conic Sections / Nichomachus of Gerga. Introduction to Arithmetic. Trans. Thomas L. Heath, R. Catesby Taliaferro, & Martin L. D’Ooge. 1926 & 1939. Great Books of the Western World, 11. Ed. Robert Maynard Hutchins. Chicago: William Benton, Publisher / Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952.
  12. Lucretius / Epictetus / Marcus Aurelius
  13. Virgil
  14. Volume 14: Plutarch
    • The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans (translated by John Dryden)
    Plutarch. The Lives of the Noble Grecians and Romans (The Dryden Translation). Great Books of the Western World, 14. Ed. Robert Maynard Hutchins. Chicago: William Benton, Publisher / Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952.
  15. Tacitus
  16. Volume 16:
    • Ptolemy
      • Almagest, (translated by R. Catesby Taliaferro)
    • Nicolaus Copernicus
      • On the Revolutions of Heavenly Spheres (translated by Charles Glenn Wallis)
    • Johannes Kepler (translated by Charles Glenn Wallis)
      • Epitome of Copernican Astronomy (Books IV–V)
      • The Harmonies of the World (Book V)
    Ptolemy. The Almagest / Copernicus. On the Revolutions of the Heavenly Spheres / Kepler. Epitome of Copernican Astronomy: IV & V; The Harmonies of the World: V. Trans. R. Catesby Taliaferro, & Charles Glenn Wallis. Great Books of the Western World, 16. Ed. Robert Maynard Hutchins. Chicago: William Benton, Publisher / Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952.
  17. Plotinus
  18. St. Augustine
  19. Volume 19: Thomas Aquinas
    • Summa Theologica (First part complete, selections from second part, translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province and revised by Daniel J. Sullivan)
    Aquinas, Thomas. The Summa Theologica, 1. Trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province. 1941. Rev. Daniel J. Sullivan. Great Books of the Western World, 19. Ed. Robert Maynard Hutchins. Chicago: William Benton, Publisher / Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952.
  20. Volume 20: Thomas Aquinas
    • Summa Theologica (Selections from second and third parts and supplement, translated by the Fathers of the English Dominican Province and revised by Daniel J. Sullivan)
    Aquinas, Thomas. The Summa Theologica, 2. Trans. Fathers of the English Dominican Province. 1941. Rev. Daniel J. Sullivan. Great Books of the Western World, 20. Ed. Robert Maynard Hutchins. Chicago: William Benton, Publisher / Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952.
  21. Dante
  22. Chaucer
  23. Machiavelli / Hobbes
  24. Rabelais
  25. Montaigne
  26. Shakespeare I
  27. Shakespeare II
  28. Gilbert / Galileo / Harvey
  29. Cervantes: Don Quixote
  30. Sir Francis Bacon
  31. Descartes / Spinoza
  32. Milton
  33. Pascal
  34. Newton / Huygens
  35. Locke/ Berkeley / Hume
  36. Swift: Gulliver's Travels / Sterne: Tristram Shandy
  37. Fielding: Tom Jones
  38. Montesquieu / Rousseau
  39. Adam Smith
  40. Gibbon: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire I
  41. Gibbon: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire II
  42. Kant
  43. American State Papers / Hamilton, Madison, Jay: The Federalist / John Stuart Mill
  44. Boswell: Life of Johnson
  45. Lavoisier / Fourier / Faraday
  46. Hegel
  47. Goethe: Faust
  48. Melville: Moby Dick
  49. Darwin
  50. Karl Marx / Friedrich Engels
  51. Tolstoy: War and Peace
  52. Dostoevsky: The Brothers Karamazov
  53. Volume 53: William James
    • The Principles of Psychology
    James, William. The Principles of Psychology. Great Books of the Western World, 53. Ed. Robert Maynard Hutchins. Chicago: William Benton, Publisher / Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952.
  54. Volume 54: Sigmund Freud
    • The Origin and Development of Psycho-Analysis
    • Selected Papers on Hysteria
    • The Sexual Enlightenment of Children
    • The Future Prospects of Psycho-Analytic Therapy
    • Observations on "Wild" Psycho-Analysis
    • The Interpretation of Dreams
    • On Narcissism
    • Instincts and Their Vicissitudes
    • Repression
    • The Unconscious
    • A General Introduction to Psycho-Analysis
    • Beyond the Pleasure Principle
    • Group Psychology and the Analysis of the Ego
    • The Ego and the Id
    • Inhibitions, Symptoms, and Anxiety
    • Thoughts for the Times on War and Death
    • Civilization and Its Discontents
    • New Introductory Lectures on Psycho-Analysis
    Freud, Sigmund. The Major Works. Great Books of the Western World, 54. Ed. Robert Maynard Hutchins. Chicago: William Benton, Publisher / Encyclopaedia Britannica, Inc., 1952.

Again it seems, in retrospect, 70 years on, quite an odd list. It's very anglocentric, for a start: Boswell's Life of Johnson, a whole slew of novels and other literary works easily available elsewhere ... but it does represent a certain advance on Lubbock, insofar (at least) that it admits upfront its 'Western' orientation - if you'll forgive the pun.

The editors were well aware of this, however, so when they revised it in 1990, they added six new volumes of more contemporary material: one on Philosophy, one on Science, one on Economics, one on Anthropology, and two on Modernist Literature (you can see further details here).

Like all such grand intellectual enterprises, however, it looks now more like an index of the blind-spots in the late twentieth-century mind than a truly satisfactory summary of the best of Western thought.

Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862)

So what's my conclusion? "Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes," as Henry Thoreau put it so succinctly (or, as in this case, new book-bindings). But he went on to say: "and not rather a new wearer of clothes" - which is perhaps the nub of the matter.

No set list of readings will produce an original, free-thinking intellect, whether it be Sir John Lubbocks's 100 books, the Britannica Great Books, the Harvard Classics, or The Sacred Books of the East. That's not to say that such collections of books have no abiding usefulness, however - it's probably better to take them as a series of local guides than as a grand, overarching index to the nature of the universe, however.

And, in the meantime, it can be useful - and salutary - to skim through such lists and remind yourself of just how far you've fallen short of the minimum knowledge expected of either a nineteenth-century or a more contemporary 'common reader'!

David Morrell & Hank Wagner: Thrillers: 100 Must-Reads (2010)

Tuesday, August 23, 2022


The Sandman (Netflix, 2022- )

It's actually quite hard for me to remember a time before I knew Sandman. The graphic novel, that is, not the TV series. That's pretty new to all of us, I suppose.

Neil Gaiman: World's End (1994)

And yet, I do dimly recall getting out a single volume of The Sandman Library out from the Auckland Central Library. Sometime in the late 1990s, it must have been. The book in question was No. 8: World’s End, which was, in retrospect, not a bad introduction to strange and intricate world of Neil Gaiman's comic.

Neil Gaiman: World's End (1994)

After that I read odd volumes as they came to hand - mostly completely out of sequence, unfortunately - until I had more or less grasped the whole thing. At which point I realised that I really had to own it all myself, and started buying the ones available in Borders, then online, until I had a complete set and could read the whole work from start to finish.

According to Wikipedia, The original series ran for 75 separate issues, each with a cover by Dave McKean, from January 1989 to March 1996. When collected subsequently for book publication, it was divided into the following volumes:
  1. Preludes and Nocturnes, illustrated by Sam Kieth, Mike Dringenberg & Malcolm Jones III, coloured by Robbie Busch, and lettered by Todd Klein, collects The Sandman #1–8 (1988–1989)
  2. The Doll's House, illustrated by Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Chris Bachalo, Michael Zulli & Steve Parkhouse, coloured by Robbie Busch, and lettered by Todd Klein, collects The Sandman #9–16 (1989–1990)
  3. Dream Country, illustrated by Kelley Jones, Charles Vess, Colleen Doran & Malcolm Jones III, coloured by Robbie Busch & Steve Oliff, and lettered by Todd Klein, collects The Sandman #17–20 (1990)
  4. Season of Mists, illustrated by Kelley Jones, Mike Dringenberg, Malcolm Jones III, Matt Wagner, Dick Giordano, George Pratt & P. Craig Russell, coloured by Steve Oliff & Daniel Vozzo, and lettered by Todd Klein, collects The Sandman #21–28 (1990–1991)
  5. A Game of You, illustrated by Shawn McManus, Colleen Doran, Bryan Talbot, George Pratt, Stan Woch & Dick Giordano, coloured by Daniel Vozzo, and lettered by Todd Klein collects The Sandman #32–37, 1991–1992)
  6. Fables and Reflections, illustrated by Bryan Talbot, Stan Woch, P. Craig Russell, Shawn McManus, John Watkiss, Jill Thompson, Duncan Eagleson, Kent Williams, Mark Buckingham, Vince Locke & Dick Giordano, coloured by Daniel Vozzo & Lovern Kindzierski/Digital Chameleon, and lettered by Todd Klein, collects The Sandman #29–31, 38–40, 50; The Sandman Special #1; and Vertigo Preview No. 1 (1991–1993)
  7. Brief Lives, illustrated by Vince Locke, Dick Giordano & Jill Thompson, coloured by Daniel Vozzo, and lettered by Todd Klein, collects The Sandman #41–49 (1992–1993)
  8. Worlds' End, illustrated by Michael Allred, Gary Amaro, Mark Buckingham, Dick Giordano, Tony Harris, Steve Leialoha, Vince Locke, Shea Anton Pensa, Alec Stevens, Bryan Talbot, John Watkiss & Michael Zulli, coloured by Danny Vozzo, and lettered by Todd Klein, collects The Sandman #51–56 (1993)
  9. The Kindly Ones, illustrated by Marc Hempel, Richard Case, D'Israeli, Teddy Kristiansen, Glyn Dillon, Charles Vess, Dean Ormston & Kevin Nowlan, coloured by Daniel Vozzo, and lettered by Todd Klein, collects The Sandman #57–69 and Vertigo Jam No. 1 (1993–1995)
  10. The Wake, illustrated by Michael Zulli, Jon J. Muth & Charles Vess, coloured by Daniel Vozzo & Jon J. Muth, and lettered by Todd Klein, collects The Sandman #70–75 (1995–1996)
If you're suprised to see quite so much detail here about who illustrated, coloured, and lettered each issue, it's important to emphasise that the creation of American mass-market comics depends on taking a team approach. There's no other way to guarantee enough product on the newstands every month.

Simply put, the writer supplies a blow-by-blow account of what they have in mind (there are sample scripts in some of the Sandman reprints, if you're curious to see what these look like). The penciller does a rough sketch of each panel and page. The inker then draws in a final version of these images (with revisions, if necessary). The colours are then added by a further artist, after which the dialogue and captions are lettered into each speech balloon and inset panel.

This sounds like - and, I gather, is - quite a laborious process. Individual comics auteurs tend to take care of most or all of these levels of production all by themselves. But that's one reason why lone wolf comics take such an inordinate amount of time to create.

The work involved is staggering, and when one adds the information - supplied by Gaiman himself - that each page of his comics requires about four pages of description, the true scale of such enterprises as The Sandman begins to come into focus: 3,000-odd pages of comic = roughly 12,000 pages of writing.

What, then, of the TV series, revealed to us finally after 30 years in development limbo? Well, fans will immediately note some changes and elisions: John Constantine has been replaced by his ancestor Lady Johanna Constantine, and a number of characters (including Death) have changed their ethnicity. All in all, though, such shifts are less notable than the number of things which have remained intact.

And one can already detect, at the end of the first series (roughly covering the first two volumes of the comic) the plotlines lining up for more momentous developments in Morpheus's journey. Overall, I'd say I liked it a lot. It's rather schmaltzy at times, but then so is the comic. It's also gruesome - which I liked less - but then that's true to the spirit of the original, too.

One thing I particularly appreciated was how slow-moving most of the episodes were. There was none of that break-neck, frenetic pace which such shows as Dr Who have increasingly adopted as their trademark technique for engaging with 'youth'. Morpheus, by contrast, speaks slowly and deliberately and has long, detailed conversations with his collaborators (and victims) before making each of his moves on the celestial chessboard.

It was, in other words, written for people with a brain - whether they happened to be young or old - rather than the guppy attention-spanned audiences generally courted by streaming providers. The special effects are rich and (for the most part) well realised, and the episodes nicely balanced between atmosphere and action.

If the overall intention was to hook us on yet another epic fantasy serial like Game of Thrones, with its year-long waits between series, I'm afraid that they've been only too successful. I, for one, will be waiting impatiently to see where they go next with it. Bronwyn is so anxious to know what happens next that she may have to resort to reading the comics!

Neil Gaiman et al. The Sandman: Overture (2013)

There's a large number of spin-offs, sequels and part-sequels to The Sandman, some written by Gaiman himself and some by other people. Few of them could be said to be really essential reading, but there are some exceptions.

The most extended example, Mike Carey's Lucifer - which I suspect will survive its dreadful TV adaptation (even worse than the one of Gaiman's novel American Gods, which is saying something) - is, imho, a bona fide masterpiece which challenges comparison even with its original:

Mike Carey: Lucifer (1999-2007)

  • Lucifer 1: Devil in the Gateway. The Sandman Presents – Lucifer 1-3: 1999 & Lucifer 1-4: 2000. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2001.
  • Lucifer 2: Children and Monsters. Lucifer 5-13: 2000. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2001.
  • Lucifer 3: A Dalliance with the Damned. Lucifer 14-20: 2001. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2002.
  • Lucifer 4: The Divine Comedy. Lucifer 21-28: 2002. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2003.
  • Lucifer 5: Inferno. Lucifer 29-35: 2003. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2004.
  • Lucifer 6: Mansions of the Silence. Lucifer 36-41: 2003. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2004.
  • Lucifer 7: Exodus. Lucifer 42-44, 46-49: 2004. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2005.
  • Lucifer 8: The Wolf beneath the Tree. Lucifer 45, 50-54: 2004. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2005.
  • Lucifer 9: Crux. Lucifer 55-61: 2005. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2006.
  • Lucifer 10: Morningstar. Lucifer 62-69: 2006. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2006.
  • Lucifer 11: Evensong. Lucifer – Nirvana: 2002 & Lucifer 70-75: 2006. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2007.

Some of the others, such as the 2013 "Overture" to The Sandman are also worth a look. I've provided a partial list below, but for more information, you could do worse than look here.

There's even, now, an annotated edition compiled by the indefatigable Leslie S. Klinger.

Leslie S. Klinger: The Annotated Sandman (2012-15)

Neil Gaiman (2013)

Neil Richard MacKinnon Gaiman
(1960- )


  1. [with Dave McKean] Violent Cases (1987)
  2. [with Dave McKean] Black Orchid (1988–1989 / 1991)
  3. Sandman (1989-1996)
    • The Sandman Library I: Preludes & Nocturnes. 1991. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 1995.
    • The Sandman Library II: The Doll’s House. 1990. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 1995.
    • The Sandman Library III: Dream Country. 1991. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 1995.
    • The Sandman Library IV: Season of Mists. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 1992.
    • The Sandman Library V: A Game of You. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 1993.
    • The Sandman Library VI: Fables & Reflections. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 1993.
    • The Sandman Library VII: Brief Lives. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 1994.
    • The Sandman Library VIII: World’s End. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 1994.
    • The Sandman Library IX: The Kindly Ones. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 1996.
    • The Sandman Library X: The Wake. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 1997.
    • [with Yoshitaka Amano] The Sandman: The Dream Hunters. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 1999.
    • The Sandman: Endless Nights. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2003.
    • The Sandman: Overture. 2013-15. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2016.
  4. The Books of Magic (1990-1991)
    • The Books of Magic. 1990-91; 1993. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 2001.
  5. Death (1993-1996)
    • Death: The High Cost of Living. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 1994.
    • Death: The Time of Your Life. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 1997.
  6. The Last Temptation (1994-1995)
    • [with Alice Cooper] The Last Temptation. Illustrated by Michael Zulli. 1994-95. Oregon: Dark Horse Comics, 2000.
  7. [with Dave McKean] The Tragical Comedy or Comical Tragedy of Mr. Punch (1994-1995)
  8. Neil Gaiman's Midnight Days (1999)
    • Midnight Days. 1989-95. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 1999.
  9. Marvel 1602 (2003-2004)
    • Marvel 1602. Illustrated by Andy Kubert. 2003-4. New York: Marvel Worldwide Inc., 2013.
  10. A Study in Emerald (2018)
    • A Study in Emerald. Illustrated by Rafael Albuquerque. Milwaukie, Oregon: Dark Horse Books, 2018.

  11. Novels:

  12. [with Terry Pratchett] Good Omens (1990)
    • Good Omens: The Nice and Accurate Prophecies of Agnes Nutter, Witch. A Novel. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1990.
  13. Neverwhere (1996)
    • Neverwhere. 1996. New York: HarperTorch, 2001.
    • Neverwhere: Author's Preferred Text, with How the Marquis Got His Coat Back. 1996 & 2014. William Morrow. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2016.
  14. Stardust (1999)
    • Stardust. London: Headline Book Publishing, 1999.
  15. American Gods (2001)
    • American Gods. London: Headline Book Publishing, 2001.
    • American Gods: The Author's Preferred Text. 2001 & 2004. Review. London: Headline Book Publishing, 2005.
  16. Anansi Boys (2005)
    • Anansi Boys. London: Headline Book Publishing, 2005.
  17. [with Michael Reaves] InterWorld. InterWorld Series 1 (2007)
  18. The Graveyard Book (2008)
    • The Graveyard Book. Illustrated by Chris Riddell. 2008. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2009.
  19. [with Michael Reaves & Mallory Reaves] The Silver Dream. InterWorld Series 2 (2013)
  20. The Ocean at the End of the Lane (2013)
    • The Ocean at the End of the Lane. London: Headline Publishing Group, 2013.
  21. [with Michael Reaves & Mallory Reaves] Eternity's Wheel. InterWorld Series 2 (2015)

  22. Picture Books:

  23. The Day I Swapped My Dad for Two Goldfish. Illustrated by Dave McKean (1997)
  24. [with Gene Wolfe] A Walking Tour of the Shambles. Illustrated by Randy Broecker (2002)
  25. Coraline. Illustrated by Dave McKean (2002)
    • Coraline. Illustrations by Dave McKean. 2002. New York: Harper Trophy, 2003.
  26. The Wolves in the Walls. Illustrated by Dave McKean (2003)
  27. Melinda. Illustrated by Dagmara Matuszak (2005)
  28. MirrorMask. Illustrated by Dave McKean (2005)
    • Mirrormask. Illustrated by Dave McKean. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2005.
  29. Odd and the Frost Giants. Illustrated by Brett Helquist (2008)
  30. The Dangerous Alphabet. Illustrated by Gris Grimly (2008)
  31. Blueberry Girl. Illustrated by Charles Vess (2009)
  32. Crazy Hair. Illustrated by Dave McKean (2009)
  33. Instructions. Illustrated by Charles Vess (2010)
  34. Chu's Day. Illustrated by Adam Rex (2013)
  35. Fortunately, the Milk. Illustrated by Skottie Young, US / Chris Riddell, UK / Boulet, France (2013)
  36. Chu's First Day of School. Illustrated by Adam Rex (2014)
  37. Hansel and Gretel. Illustrated by Lorenzo Mattotti (2014)
  38. The Sleeper and the Spindle. Illustrated by Chris Riddell (2014)
  39. Chu's Day at the Beach. Illustrated by Adam Rex (2016)
  40. Cinnamon. Illustrated by Divya Srinivasan (2017)
  41. Pirate Stew. Illustrated by Chris Riddell (2020)

  42. Short Fiction:

  43. Angels and Visitations (1993)
  44. Smoke and Mirrors (1998)
    • Smoke and Mirrors: Short Fiction and Illusions. 1999. Headline Feature. London: Headline Book Publishing, 2000.
  45. Fragile Things (2006)
    • Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders. 2006. London: Headline Publishing Group, 2013.
  46. M is for Magic (2007)
  47. Who Killed Amanda Palmer (2009)
  48. A Little Gold Book of Ghastly Stuff (2011)
  49. Trigger Warning (2015)
    • Trigger Warning: Short Fictions and Disturbances. London: Headline Publishing Group, 2015.
  50. The Neil Gaiman Reader (2020)
    • The Neil Gaiman Reader: Selected Fiction. Foreword by Marlon James. London: Headline Publishing Group, 2020.

  51. Non-fiction:

  52. Duran Duran: The First Four Years of the Fab Five (1984)
  53. [with Kim Newman] Ghastly Beyond Belief (1985)
    • Ghastly Beyond Belief. Ed. Neil Gaiman & Kim Newman. Introduction by Harry Harrison. London: Arrow Books, 1985.
  54. Don't Panic: A Biography of Douglas Adams (1988)
  55. Adventures in the Dream Trade (2002)
  56. Make Good Art: A Commencement Speech Given at the UArts on 17 May 2012 (2013)
  57. The View from the Cheap Seats (2016)
    • The View from the Cheap Seats: Selected Non-fiction. London: Headline Publishing Group, 2016.
  58. Norse Mythology (2017)
    • Norse Mythology. London: Bloomsbury Publishing Plc, 2017.

  59. Screenplays:

  60. [with storyboards by Dave McKean] MirrorMask: The Illustrated Film Script (2005)
  61. [with Roger Avary] Beowulf: The Script Book (2007)

  62. Secondary:

  63. Bender, Hy. The Sandman Companion. New York: Vertigo/DC Comics, 1999.

Hy Bender: The Sandman Companion (1999)

Sunday, August 14, 2022

Devonport Library Poetry Reading - Tuesday 23/8/22

The Devonport Library Associates present Jack Ross with Johanna Emeney, Elizabeth Morton, Lisa Samuels and Bryan Walpert, all eminent poets reading from their own works.

Jack is a recent editor of
Poetry New Zealand.

This event is part of Auckland Libraries’ We Read Auckland | Ka Pānui Tātau I Tāmaki Makaurau.

The idea of this reading, which coincides with the beginning of the Auckland Writers Festival, is to celebrate the reopening of the Devonport Library's event series - after a couple of years of pandemic-prompted closures - with a showcase of local, North Shore-based poets.

Each writer will have the chance to read a representative sample from their work. Their latest books will also be on sale, thanks to our friends at Paradox Books.

The real heroes of the occasion are, however, the Devonport Library Associates: chair Jan Mason, events organiser Paul Beachman, and publicity courtesy of Linda Hopkins.

Johanna Emeney lives with her husband David and a family of cats, goats, sheep and ponies. Jo’s latest book, co-written with Sarah Laing, launches on September 7th, 6pm at Takapuna Library. Sylvia and the Birds is part-biography of Bird Lady Sylvia Durrant and part call-to-arms for young environmental activists.

Johanna Emeney: Felt (2021)

Elizabeth Morton is an Auckland writer, with three collections of poetry, the latest being Naming the Beasts (Otago University Press). She holds an MLitt from the University of Glasgow, and is completing an MSc at Kings College London. Her writing has appeared in publications from New Zealand, the UK, the USA, Canada, Ireland, Australia and online.

Elizabeth Morton: Naming the Beasts (2022)

Jack Ross is the author of six poetry collections, most recently The Oceanic Feeling (2021), as well as numerous works of fiction, including The Annotated Tree Worship, highly commended in the 2018 NZSA Heritage Book Awards. He was managing editor of Poetry New Zealand from 2014-2020, and has edited many other books, anthologies, and literary journals. He lives in Mairangi Bay and blogs at The Imaginary Museum.

Jack Ross: The Oceanic Feeling (2021)

Lisa Samuels is Professor of English at the University of Auckland and the author of eighteen books, mostly poetry, and of many influential essays on theories of interpretation and body ethics. Lisa also works with sound, visual art, film, and editing, including co-editing the anthology A Transpacific Poetics (Litmus Press 2017). Her most recent poetry book is Breach (Boiler House Press 2021), and a Serbian translation of her novel Tender Girl has just been published by Partizanska Press.

Lisa Samuels: Breach (2021)

Bryan Walpert is the author of four books of poems, most recently Brass Band to Follow (Otago UP), named among the top 10 poetry collections of 2021 by the NZ Listener. He is also the author of three books of fiction, including the novel Entanglement, short-listed for the Jann Medlicott Acorn Prize for Fiction at the 2022 Ockham New Zealand Book Awards. A Devonport resident, he is a Professor of Creative Writing at Massey University-Albany.

Bryan Walpert: Brass Band to Follow (2021)

Bronwyn Lloyd: Jack as MC (23rd August, 2022)

Monday, August 01, 2022

The Many Faces of Dorothy L. Sayers

Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957)

When my mother left her hometown of Sydney, Australia in 1953 to take up her very first job as a house surgeon in a little country hospital in Waimate, New Zealand, among the very few things she brought with her was her collection of books by Dorothy Sayers.

I suppose that might be where I got it from: this persistent taste for the occult and the macabre - not so much the detection bit, but certainly the mystery and horror.

I've read all the Lord Peter Wimsey detective stories many times, but - more to the point - have found perhaps even more to admire in the acumen with which Sayers mapped the whole field of the mysterious in three soup-to-nuts anthologies, issued over a period of seven years, from 1928 to 1934.

Originally published in three large volumes, these collections were subsequently subdivided into six separate sections: three confined to detective stories, and another three devoted to ghost and horror stories.

This has made things far easier for fans of both genres, as the rationalists don't have to be bothered with all the supernatural stuff, and occultists such as myself don't have to pretend interest in the creaky mechanics of whodunnits.

It was there that I first encountered Le Fanu's 'Green Tea' and 'Carmilla', Bram Stoker's 'The Judge's House', and a host of more recent luminaries of the macabre. And it was there that I first read one of my very favourite short stories of all time, Martin Armstrong's 'Sombrero' (which you can read about it in more detail in Bronwyn Lloyd's brilliant essay here).

But who exactly was Dorothy Sayers, and why do her various sets of fans still maintain such devotion to her memory? Why, in particular, do those fans seem content to remain in such mutually exclusive groups?

The Many Faces of Dorothy Sayers, then, would have to include:
  • her dazzling contribution to the Golden Age of Detective Fiction, as a contemporary (and rival) of Agatha Christie, Ngaio Marsh, and Josephine Tey, amongst others.
  • her work as a translator - and commentator - on Dante, which resulted in one of the most widely read versions of the Divine Comedy published in modern times.
  • her status as a visiting member of the Inklings, with C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, due mainly to her extensive contributions to the field of Christian apologetics.
  • and, last but not least, her work as a critic and anthologist of mystery and ghost stories, which rivals even that of such industrious successors as Edmund Crispin and Peter Haining.

Let's take them one by one:

    The Dorothy L. Sayers Crime Collection (Folio Society: 1998)

  1. Detective Story Writer

  2. Lord Peter Wimsey novels:

    1. Whose Body? (1923)
    2. Clouds of Witness (1926)
    3. Unnatural Death (1927)
    4. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1928)
    5. Strong Poison (1930) [with Harriet Vane]
    6. The Five Red Herrings (1931)
    7. Have His Carcase (1932) [with Harriet Vane]
    8. Murder Must Advertise (1933)
    9. The Nine Tailors (1934)
    10. Gaudy Night (1935) [with Harriet Vane]
    11. Busman's Honeymoon (1937) [with Harriet Vane]

    Jill Paton Walsh & Dorothy L. Sayers: A Presumption of Death (2002)

    I recently came across an interesting paperback in a local vintage shop. It purports to be a collaboration between children's-book and detective-story writer Jill Paton Walsh and the long defunct Dorothy Sayers.

    Dorothy L. Sayers & Jill Paton Walsh: Thrones, Dominations (1998)

    Further research revealed the existence of an earlier volume which actually was based on some unpublished chapters of an unfinished Lord Peter Wimsey novel started by Sayers sometime in 1936, after the completion of Busman's Honeymoon, the last published Wimsey mystery.

    Busman's Honeymoon was written as a stage play before being repackaged as a novel, an interesting change of gear which might lead one to argue that the last bona fide Sayers crime novel was in fact Gaudy Night (1935), which ends with her (at least partial) alter ego, crime novelist Harriet Vane, falling at last into the faithful arms of aristocratic sleuth Lord Peter Wimsey.

    I enjoyed both of these Walsh / Sayers novels, though perhaps not sufficiently to hunt out the further instalments in the series. Jill Paton Walsh died in 2020, so there are unlikely to be any more beyond the four already completed by her - unless, that is, some enterprising fan-fiction writer discovers unpublished chapters or plot outlines for further such books, and so ad infinitum ...

    Walsh certainly manages a pretty seamless join between her chapters and Sayers' chapters in the 1936-37 abdication era saga of Thrones, Dominations. She is also pretty good on the atmosphere of wartime Britain in A Presumption of Death. What one misses in both books, though, is the relentlessly circumstantial detail of the canonical Wimsey stories.

    What was it like to work in an advertising agency in the 1930s? Sayers had done so, and she paints a vivid picture of the minutiae of the trade in Murder Must Advertise (1933). In fact, so absorbing is her account that one's interest - never strong - in solving the murder mystery the novel is purportedly about begins to shrink into nothingness.

    The same could be said in even stronger terms about the apprenticeship in Campanology (or bell-ringing) offered by The Nine Tailors (1934). Painting in oils is exhaustively canvassed in The Five Red Herrings (1931), and any questions one may have had about the functioning of Oxford women's colleges before the war are very fully answered by Gaudy Night (1935).

    This tendency on Sayers' part to go off into a disquisition on the collecting of incunabula (books printed before 1500 - one of wealthy Lord Peter's principal passions), or some other esoteric topic, instead of sticking to the grimier details of blood-stains and alibis did not go unremarked at the time. Detective story purists decried this lack of focus on the usual content of such stories.

    It is, however, one of the main reasons why they remain so readable almost a century after the Wimsey series began in 1923. She wrote them, at least initially, for money. As time went by, and her sources of income diversified, she continued them as a vehicle for her other passions: old books, and scholarship, and medieval pageantry.

    I mentioned in an earlier post certain problems some readers have had with Whose Body? (1923), the first of the Wimsey novels. The fact that the victim is Jewish and his murderer overtly anti-semitic does not, in my view, add up to evidence that Sayers herself shared these views - on the contrary, in fact. There are admittedly certain parts of the book which read oddly today, but no more so than any other thriller of the time, I would argue.

    This may be one reason why her subsequent books stick to subjects of more Academic interest. I can see how this might irritate fans of (say) Agatha Christie or the American hard-boiled tradition, but the long, languorous descriptions of Lord Peter's bookshelves with which Sayers occasionally indulges herself have probably drawn in more readers than they've driven away. Bookish folk are a clannish tribe, and the great thing about Sayers - like her near-contemporary M. R. James - is that she does know what she's talking about.

    It's easy enough to plaster together a few Latin tags and booktitles from the likes of Wikipedia if you want to feign close knowledge of some esoteric field. Sayers never does that. It's not just that she fleshes out her account of such things from her own wide reading and classical education. It's also clear that she's speaking from the heart. Feigned enthusiasm can generally be distinguished from the real thing.

    Jill Paton Walsh (1937-2020)

    Jill Paton Walsh was a very well-informed and experienced writer. When, however, she attempts to emulate Sayers' expositions of esoteric areas of learning (the short account of the lost rivers of London in Thrones, Dominations, for instance - or the details of code-breaking and spycraft generally in A Presumption of Death), the results fall too far short of the original to satisfy.

    I see no harm in what she's done - and wish her publishers well in continuing to market these four novels - but the Sayers canon will remain eleven novels and a number of short stories. Unsurprisingly, Walsh channels Harriet Vane far more convincingly than she does Lord Peter. The latter is a pallid shade of his jazz-era self. Harriet, by contrast, seems almost as self-involved and incompetent a detective as she was in the original books.

    The fact that the process of fleshing out Lord Peter's genealogy and post-war career began during Sayers' own lifetime, and that she even collaborated with some of these attempts, can presumably be attributed to her passion for the so-called 'higher criticism' (a term coined by Monsignor Ronald Knox) of Sherlock Holmes.

    There are many Holmes ephemera and sequels also. As long as they don't draw away too much attention from the parent tree, they're as pleasant a way of wasting one's time as any, I'd say.

    Jill Paton Walsh: The Late Scholar (2013)

    Dorothy L. Sayers, trans. The Comedy of Dante Alighieri (Penguin Classics: 1949-62)

  3. Verse Translator

  4. I've already had a bit to say on this subject, too, in a post on Dante's Divine Comedy where I compare a number of translations - including Dorothy Sayers' - of the opening lines of the poem.

    There's no need to repeat all that here, but I should perhaps mention Sayers' own comments on what she'd been trying to do in her own version of this much-English'd poem, which she seems almost alone in regarding as a 'comedy' in the modern sense:
    the pervading favour of Dante's humour is ... dry and delicate and satirical; in particular his portrait of himself is tinged throughout with a charming self-mockery which has no parallel that I know of outside the pages of Jane Austen. ... The easiest way to show what I have done is to lay a few passages side by side with other translations; for example:

    Inf. xi. 76:
    "What error has seduced thy reason, pray?"
    Said he; "thou art not wont to be so dull;
    Or are thy wits woolgathering miles away?"
    Where Cary has:
    He answer thus returned: "Wherefore in dotage wanders thus thy mind,
    Not so accustomed? Or what other thoughts
    Possess it?
    Inf. xvi. 124:
    When truth looks like a lie, a man's to blame
    Not to sit still, if he can, and hold his tongue,
    Or he'll only cover his innocent head with shame.
    Where Wright has:
    That truth which bears the semblance of a lie
    To pass the lips man never should allow:
    Though crime be absent - still disgrace is nigh.
    Inf. xvii. 91:
    So I climbed to those dread shoulders obediently;
    "Only do" (I meant to say, but my voice somehow
    Wouldn't come out right) "please catch hold of me."
    Where Binyon has:
    On those dread shoulders did I then get hold.
    I wished to say, only the voice came not
    As I had meant: "Thy arms about me fold."
    In this last case, it is a question, not only of translating, but of choosing between two possible meanings of the Italian; which one chooses - the unbroken phrase or the broken, gasping one - will depend, precisely, on whether one thinks Dante is laughing at himself or not. I believe that he is, and that his treatment of his own character is suffused throughout with a delicate spirit of comedy, which no reverence should tempt the translator to obscure by dignified phrases.
    - The Comedy of Dante Alighieri the Florentine. Cantica I: Hell [L’Inferno]. Trans. Dorothy L. Sayers. 1949. Penguin Classics (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972): 62-64.
    Whether or not she was right to emphasise this feature of Dante's poem is a matter of opinion. Myself, I have certain doubts. Her more relaxed and informal way of translating one of the great monuments of world poetry certainly hit a nerve at a time, though.

    Like the other volumes in the new Penguin Classics series, it was very much in tune with the zeitgeist, the increased suspicion of the 'culture machine' expressed in its most extreme form by Adorno's famous adage about the impossibility of continuing to write traditional lyric poetry after the fact of Auschwitz.

    If there was still to be poetry, it could - at the very least - not keep on being so smugly self-satisfied about the nature of its mode of expression. Hence E. V. Rieu's colloquial, almost novelistic translation of Homer's Odyssey (1946). Hence, too, Sayers' Hell (1949) - the avoidance of the more conventional "Inferno" for her title makes a statement in itself.

    According to her friend and biographer Barbara Reynolds, who completed the final few cantos of the translation after Sayers' death, that first volume sold 50,000 copies "almost at once" - the set of three went on to sell a million and a quarter copies over the next half century.

    There have been many, many English translations of Dante. Gilbert Cunningham's two-volume The Dvine Comedy in English: A Critical Bibliography (1965-66) lists no fewer than 83 between 1782 and 1966. In my 2012 blogpost on the subject, I added a further ten which had appeared since then. There's been no let-up in the last decade, though - even one by self-appointed antidote to 'cultural amnesia' Clive James. Who's next? Stephen Fry? me?

    There are not so many which could actually be said to matter, though - Cary's pioneering 1814 version, composed in Miltonic blank verse, certainly; Longfellow's 1867 American translation, for its fluent readability; Philip Wicksteed's dual-text Temple Classics crib (1899-1901), as it was the edition read by Eliot and most of the other Modernists; possibly Laurence Binyon's 1933-43 rhyming terza rima translation, praised so highly by Ezra Pound ...

    Among these latter you would have to include Dorothy Sayers', though. It's still not a bad place to start on your Dantean journey. It's readable and easy to follow, and while she certainly struggles to match the pictorial grace of Dante's extended metaphors, who doesn't? I'd certainly argue that it's better to enjoy her exceptional facility as a storyteller than to criticise her for failing to provide us with yet another piece of pretentious bombast.

    Dorothy L. Sayers: The Man Born to be King (BBC: 1942-43)

  5. Christian Apologist

  6. It was, according to Barbara Reynolds' article pictured above, Charles Williams' 1943 book The Figure of Beatrice which got Dorothy Sayers started on Dante in the first place. By then she was already well-known for her popular expositions of Christian doctrine - something of a boom industry during the dark days of the Second World War.

    This brought her into close contact with the group of Christian writers and friends known informally as the Inklings, whose principal members were C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and Williams himself.

    There are a number of snide and rather misogynistic references to her in (especially) Tolkien's letters, but the others accepted her with a better grace. It's worth emphasising just how much greater than any of theirs her sales and influence were at the time. They may have far outdistanced her now, but then they were simply a small group of Oxford Dons whose following was largely due to Lewis's wartime broadcasts - subsequently collected as Mere Christianity (1952).

    A massive amount of her time post-Wimsey was spent on composing such spiritual propaganda (I use the term advisedly): some of the highlights being her dramatised life of Christ, pictured above, her book of essays The Mind of the Maker, and the various studies necessitated by her all-consuming work on Dante.

    Dorothy L. Sayers: The Mind of the Maker (1941)

    Dorothy L. Sayers, ed.: Great Stories of Detection, Mystery and Horror (Second Series: 1931)

  7. Anthologist

  8. I think that I've probably said enough above, in the first part of this post, to give you an idea of the effect that these three, brilliantly curated collections of the macabre have had on me, at least. Sayers also wrote a study of sensation novelist Wilkie Collins, which remained unpublished till long after her death, and there are enough references to occult maestro Sheridan Le Fanu in the Wimsey corpus to make it clear that he, too, was a subject of deep interest to her.

    I guess that the overall point I wanted to make by piecing together these various disparate aspects of Sayers' ongoing influence was to point out how protean and fascinating her work remains. The same must, I suppose, be admitted of her life also, given the number of biographies and collections of letters which continue to appear.

    Dismissing her as a detective writer with pretensions - or, worse, a thwarted scholar diverted into popular writing by poverty and circumstances - fails to explain why her books retain their vigour. Why, in short, do people continue to read them?

    Part of it may be nostalgia for the (so-called) golden age of the detective genre, but Sayers' appeal goes far beyond that. Her characters are alive in a way that (say) Agatha Christie's or Edmund Crispin's - for all their technical ingenuity - are not.

    Dorothy Sayers is, it appears, here to stay - and I, for one, am overjoyed to hear it.

John Doubleday: Dorothy L. Sayers (2015)

Dorothy Leigh Sayers


  1. Whose Body? (1923)
    • Included in: The Second Gollancz Detective Omnibus: Whose Body?, by Dorothy L. Sayers / The Weight of the Evidence, by Michael Innes / Holy Disorders, by Edmund Crispin. 1923, 1943 & 1945. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1952.
    • Whose Body? 1923. NEL Books. London: New English Library Limited, 1977.
  2. Clouds of Witness (1926)
    • Included in: The Lord Peter Omnibus: Clouds of Witness / Unnatural Death / The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club. 1926, 1927, 1928 & 1935. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1964.
  3. Unnatural Death [aka The Dawson Pedigree] (1927)
    • Included in: The Gollancz Detective Omnibus: The Moving Toyshop, by Edmund Crispin / Appleby’s End, by Michael Innes / Unnatural Death, by Dorothy L. Sayers. 1946, 1945 & 1927. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1951.
    • Included in: The Lord Peter Omnibus: Clouds of Witness / Unnatural Death / The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club. 1926, 1927, 1928 & 1935. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1964.
  4. The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (1928)
    • Included in: The Lord Peter Omnibus: Clouds of Witness / Unnatural Death / The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club. 1926, 1927, 1928 & 1935. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1964.
  5. Strong Poison (1930)
    • Included in: Three Great Lord Peter Novels: Strong Poison / Murder Must Advertise / The Nine Tailors. 1930, 1933 & 1934. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1978.
  6. [with Robert Eustace] The Documents in the Case (1930)
    • [with Robert Eustace] The Documents in the Case. 1930. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1949.
  7. The Five Red Herrings [aka Suspicious Characters] (1931)
    • The Five Red Herrings. 1931. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1937.
  8. [with Members of The Detection Club: Canon Victor Whitechurch, George and Margaret Cole, Henry Wade, Agatha Christie, John Rhode, Milward Kennedy, Sayers, Ronald Knox, Freeman Wills Crofts, Edgar Jepson, Clemence Dane, Anthony Berkeley & G. K. Chesterton] The Floating Admiral (1931)
  9. Have His Carcase (1932)
    • Have His Carcase. 1932. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1935.
  10. Murder Must Advertise (1933)
    • Murder Must Advertise: A Detective Story. 1933. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1953.
    • Included in: Three Great Lord Peter Novels: Strong Poison / Murder Must Advertise / The Nine Tailors. 1930, 1933 & 1934. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1978.
  11. [With Members of The Detection Club: Anthony Berkeley, Milward Kennedy, Gladys Mitchell, John Rhode, Sayers & Helen Simpson] Ask a Policeman (1933)
  12. The Nine Tailors (1934)
    • The Nine Tailors: Changes Rung on an Old Theme in Two Short Touches and Two Full Peals. 1934. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1942.
    • Included in: Three Great Lord Peter Novels: Strong Poison / Murder Must Advertise / The Nine Tailors. 1930, 1933 & 1934. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1978.
  13. Gaudy Night (1935)
    • Gaudy Night. 1935. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1935.
  14. [With Members of The Detection Club: Margery Allingham, Anthony Berkeley, Freeman Wills Crofts, Father Ronald Knox, Sayers & Russell Thorndike] Six against the Yard (1936)
  15. Busman's Honeymoon: A Love Story With Detective Interruptions (1937)
    • Busman's Honeymoon: A Love Story with Detective Interruptions. 1937. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1949.
  16. [With Members of The Detection Club] Double Death: a Murder Story (1939)

  17. Short Story Collections:

  18. Lord Peter Views the Body (1928)
    • Lord Peter Views the Body. 1928. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1949.
  19. Hangman's Holiday (1933)
    • Hangman's Holiday. 1933. NEL Books. London: New English Library Limited, 1978.
  20. [As Matthew Wimsey: with others] Papers Relating to the Family of Wimsey (1936)
  21. An Account of Lord Mortimer Wimsey, the Hermit of the Wash (1937)
  22. In the Teeth of the Evidence and Other Mysteries (1939)
    • In the Teeth of the Evidence. 1939. NEL Books. London: New English Library Limited, 1973.
  23. The Wimsey Papers (1939-40)
  24. A Treasury of Sayers Stories (1958)
  25. Talboys [aka Striding Folly] (1972)
    • Striding Folly: Including Three Final Lord Peter Wimsey Stories. Introduction by Janet Hitchman. 1972. NEL Books. London: New English Library Limited, n.d.
  26. Lord Peter: A Collection of All the Lord Peter Wimsey Stories (1972)
  27. The Wimsey Family: A Fragmentary History Compiled from Correspondence With Dorothy L. Sayers. Ed. C. W. Scott-Giles (1977)
    • Scott-Giles, C. W. The Wimsey Family: A Fragmentary History Compiled from Correspondence with Dorothy L. Sayers. 1977. NEL Books. London: New English Library Limited, 1979.
  28. [With Members of The Detection Club] The Scoop and Behind the Screen [Radio playscripts, 1930 & 1931] (1983)
  29. [With Members of The Detection Club] Crime on the Coast and No Flowers by Request [Detective serials, 1953] (1984)
  30. The Complete Stories (2002)

  31. Jill Paton Walsh (1937-2020) - Authorised Sequels:

  32. [with Dorothy L. Sayers] Thrones, Dominations (1998)
    • [with Dorothy L. Sayers] Thrones, Dominations. 1998. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1998.
  33. [with Dorothy L. Sayers] A Presumption of Death (2002)
    • [with Dorothy L. Sayers] A Presumption of Death: The New Lord Peter Wimsey Novel. 2002. A New English Library Paperback. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2003.
  34. The Attenbury Emeralds (2010)
  35. The Late Scholar (2013)

  36. Drama:

  37. [with Basil Mason] The Silent Passenger [Screenplay] (1935)
  38. [with Muriel St. Clare Byrne] Busman's Honeymoon: A Detective Comedy in Three Acts (1936)
  39. The Zeal of Thy House (1938)
    • Included in: Four Sacred Plays: The Devil to Pay / The Just Vengeance / He That Should Come / The Zeal of Thy House. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1948.
  40. He That Should Come: A Nativity Play in One Act [Radio play] (1938)
    • Included in: Four Sacred Plays: The Devil to Pay / The Just Vengeance / He That Should Come / The Zeal of Thy House. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1948.
  41. The Devil to Pay: Being the Famous History of John Faustus, the Conjurer of Wittenberg in Germany: How He Sold His Immortal Soul to the Enemy of Mankind, and Was Served Twenty-four Years by Mephistopheles, and Obtained Helen of Troy to His Paramour, With Many Other Marvels; and How God Dealt With Him at the Last (1939)
    • Included in: Four Sacred Plays: The Devil to Pay / The Just Vengeance / He That Should Come / The Zeal of Thy House. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1948.
  42. Love All (1940)
  43. The Golden Cockerel: Adapted from Alexander Pushkin [Radio play] (1941)
  44. The Man Born to Be King: A Play-Cycle on the Life of Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ [Radio play] (1941-42)
    • The Man Born to be King: A Play-Cycle on the Life of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Presented by the British Broadcasting Corporation, Dec. 1941–Oct. 1942. Producer: Val Gielgud. 1943. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1946.
  45. The Just Vengeance (1946)
    • Included in: Four Sacred Plays: The Devil to Pay / The Just Vengeance / He That Should Come / The Zeal of Thy House. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1948.
  46. [With Members of The Detection Club] Where Do We Go From Here? [Radio play] (1948)
  47. The Emperor Constantine: A Chronicle (1951)

  48. Non-fiction:

  49. The Murder of Julia Wallace. In The Anatomy of Murder, by The Detection Club (1936)
  50. The Greatest Drama Ever Staged: Essays (1938)
  51. Strong Meat: Essays (1939)
  52. Begin Here: A War-Time Essay (1940)
  53. Creed or Chaos? and Other Essays in Popular Theology (1940)
  54. The Mind of the Maker: Essays (1941)
    • The Mind of the Maker. 1941. London: Methuen & Co. Ltd., 1946.
  55. The Mysterious English (1941)
  56. Why Work? An Address Delivered at Eastbourne, April 23rd, 1942 (1942)
  57. The Other Six Deadly Sins: An Address Given to the Public Morality Council at Caxton Hall, Westminster, on October 23rd, 1941 (1943)
  58. Even the Parrot: Exemplary Conversations for Enlightened Children (1944)
  59. Making Sense of the Universe: An Address Given at the Kingsway Hall on Ash Wednesday, March 6th, 1946 (1946)
  60. Unpopular Opinions: Essays (1946)
  61. The Lost Tools of Learning (1948)
  62. The Days of Christ's Coming (1953)
  63. Introductory Papers on Dante (1954)
  64. The Story of Easter (1955)
  65. The Story of Noah's Ark (1956)
  66. Further Papers on Dante (1957)
  67. [with others] The Great Mystery of Life Hereafter (1957)
  68. The Poetry of Search and the Poetry of Statement, and Other Posthumous Essays on Literature, Religion, and Language (1963)
  69. Christian Letters to a Post-Christian World: A Selection of Essays. Ed. Roderick Jellema (1969)
  70. Are Women Human? Essays (1971)
  71. A Matter of Eternity: Selections From the Writings of Dorothy L. Sayers (1973)
  72. Wilkie Collins: A Critical and Biographical Study (1977)
  73. Spiritual Writings (1993)

  74. Poetry:

  75. Op. I (1916)
  76. Catholic Tales and Christian Songs (1918)
  77. Lord, I Thank Thee (1943)
  78. The Story of Adam and Christ (1955)

  79. Translation:

  80. Tristan in Brittany, Being Fragments of the Romance of Tristan, Written in the Twelfth Century by Thomas the Anglo-Norman (1929)
  81. The Heart of Stone, Being the Four Canzoni of the "Pietra" Group by Dante (1946)
  82. The "Comedy" of Dante Alighieri the Florentine. Cantica I: Hell (1949)
    • Alighieri, Dante. The Comedy of Dante Alighieri the Florentine. Cantica I: Hell [L’Inferno]. Trans. Dorothy L. Sayers. 1949. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1972.
  83. The "Comedy" of Dante Alighieri the Florentine. Cantica II: Purgatory (1955)
    • Alighieri, Dante. The Comedy of Dante Alighieri the Florentine. Cantica II: Purgatory [Il Purgatorio]. Trans. Dorothy L. Sayers. 1955. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971.
  84. The Song of Roland (1957)
    • The Song of Roland. 1957. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1959.
  85. [with Barbara Reynolds] The "Comedy" of Dante Alighieri the Florentine. Cantica III: Paradise (1962)
    • Alighieri, Dante. The Comedy of Dante Alighieri the Florentine. Cantica III: Paradise [Il Paradiso]. Trans. Dorothy L. Sayers & Barbara Reynolds. 1962. Penguin Classics. Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1971.

  86. Edited:

  87. [with Wilfred Rowland Childe & T. W. Earp] Oxford Poetry, 1917 (1918)
  88. [with T. W. Earp & E. F. A. Geach] Oxford Poetry, 1918 (1919)
  89. [with T. W. Earp & Siegfried Sassoon] Oxford Poetry, 1919 (1920)
  90. [with the Editorial Committee] The Quorum (1920)
  91. Great Short Stories of Detection, Mystery, and Horror (1928)
    • Great Short Stories of Detection, Mystery and Horror. Part I: Detection and Mystery. 1928. London: Victor Gollancz, 1950.
    • Great Short Stories of Detection, Mystery and Horror. Part II: Mystery and Horror. 1928. London: Victor Gollancz, 1951.
  92. Great Short Stories of Detection, Mystery, and Horror — Second Series (1931)
    • Great Short Stories of Detection, Mystery and Horror. Part III: Detection and Mystery. 1931. London: Victor Gollancz, 1952.
    • Great Short Stories of Detection, Mystery and Horror. Part IV: Mystery and Horror. 1931. London: Victor Gollancz, 1952.
  93. Great Short Stories of Detection, Mystery, and Horror — Third Series (1934)
    • Great Short Stories of Detection, Mystery and Horror. Part V: Detection and Mystery. 1934. London: Victor Gollancz, 1952.
    • Great Short Stories of Detection, Mystery and Horror. Part VI: Mystery and Horror. 1934. London: Victor Gollancz, 1952.
  94. Tales of Detection. Everyman's Library (1936)

  95. Letters:

  96. The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers: 1899–1936: The Making of a Detective Novelist (1995)
    • Reynolds, Barbara, ed. The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers. 1899-1936: The Making of a Detective Novelist. Preface by P. D. James. Foreword by P. D. James. 1995. A Sceptre Paperback. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1996.
  97. The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers: 1937–1943, From Novelist to Playwright (1998)
  98. The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers: 1944–1950, A Noble Daring (1999)
  99. The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers: 1951–1957, In the Midst of Life (2000)
  100. The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers: Child and Woman of Her Time - A Supplement to the Letters (2002)

  101. Secondary:

  102. Hitchman, Janet. ‘Such a Strange Lady’: An Introduction to Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957). 1975. NEL Books. London: New English Library Limited, 1979.
  103. Brabazon, James. Dorothy L. Sayers: A Biography. Preface by Anthony Fleming. Foreword by P. D. James. 1981. A Discus Book. New York: Avon Books, 1982.
  104. Dale, Alzina Stone. Maker and Craftsman: The Story of Dorothy L. Sayers (1993)
  105. Reynolds, Barbara. Dorothy L. Sayers: Her Life and Soul (1993)
  106. Duriez, Colin. Dorothy L Sayers: A Biography - Death, Dante and Lord Peter Wimsey (2021)

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