Dorothy L. Sayers

As I’ve gone through my research this summer, I realized that no blog on Strong Poison would be complete without a brief post on the novel’s vibrant and talented author.

Bronze statue of Dorothy L. Sayers by John Doubleday. The statue is across the road from her home at 24 Newland Street, Witham, Essex.

Dorothy L. Sayers is considered one of the Queens of Crime of the Golden Age. Though Sayers was well known for her research and her interest in true crime, Strong Poison is an exception in that it seems heavily influenced by true criminal cases. Sayers was fond of mentioning true crime cases in her works that were similar to the plot of the novel, as Sharyn McCrumb points out in her essay, “Where the Bodies are Buried,” when it came to creating her novels, “there is little to indicate that she was influenced by any actual case.” (McCrumb, 87). The only other exception would be a short story, “In the Teeth of Evidence,” which she adapted from a murder on Guy Fawkes Night in 1930 (Edwards, 177).

Sayers, as McCrumb points out, was less inclined to ground her stories in true crime, and indeed, some of the methods of murder in her stories and novels, though well-researched, are not altogether practical. The method of murder in Unnatural Death for example has been denounced by most critics and medical experts (McCrumb, 89). However, there is nod ought that “Dorothy Sayers applied that ‘terrific vitality’ to studying what we now loosely call ‘forensics’. She admired the expertise of Bernard Spilsbury… and prided herself on accurate depiction of scientific homicide investigation.” (Edwards, 177). Sayers showed a great interest in real-life murders, and that is especially evident in Strong Poison. Including Madeleine Smith and Florence Maybrick, there are five true crime cases mentioned in the novel, perhaps more that I missed, most of which included poison as the weapon.

Strong Poison does draw a lot from the cases Madeleine Smith and Florence Maybrick, and the case of Harriet Vane shares many similarities from both. However, these similarities are only surface-level detail. Sayers treats Harriet Vane as a unique and vibrant character in a set of circumstances far different from these other women mentioned in the novel, rather than emulating the usual stereotypical woman poisoner of past fiction.

That in itself, I think, more than anything, makes a statement about the treatment of female criminals of the time, in the press and in fiction. Sayers treats Harriet Vane like a person, rather than a category or a stereotype, and despite the rather extravagant (and perhaps a little unrealistic) plot, there is much more to be said of Harriet Vane than her being a mere love interest or author’s mouthpiece.


“Dorothy L. Sayers.” Obtained from

Edwards, Martin. The Golden Age of Murder. Collins Crime Club, 2016.

McCrumb, Sharyn.“Where the Bodies are Buried: The Real Murder Cases in the Crime Novels of Dorothy L. Sayers.” Dorothy L. Sayers: The Centenary Celebration, edited by Alzina Stone Dale, Walker and Company, 1993, pp. 87-98.

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