Minding the Performance: Sayers’s Literary Criticism

  • Crystal Downing


In her 1918 poem “The Carpenter’ s Son,” Dorothy L. Sayers imagines Jesus contributing to an architectural project. Narrated by a first person “I,” the three-stanza poem implies a parallel between the speaking Jesus and the performing poet, between the “house of dreams” and the poetic construction that contains it. Fifteen years later Sayers was indeed building a house of dreams, the gothic church within The Nine Tailors, filling it with guilded, wide-winged cherubim. In The Zeal of Thy House, angels took on flesh, with the Archangel Michael outlining the threefold work of creation: “an earthly trinity to match the heavenly.”1 In her Canterbury play, Sayers was thus beginning to theorize the creative process itself, an analysis later elaborated through a correspondence with Father Herbert Kelly, who had read a published version of Zeal (Ltrs 2. 42–50). The result was a “curious” work, as Sayers repeatedly describes The Mind of the Maker, in which she presents literary criticism and theology “as two expressions of a single experience” (Ltrs 2. 247): two kinds of writing performances staged in the same theater of representation. Significantly, Sayers quotes “The Carpenter’ s Son” toward the end of The Mind of the Maker in order to illustrate a continuity in her own writing performances. She asserts that, just as The Zeal of Thy House echoes an important theme in Gaudy Night, The Mind of the Maker, as a “hymn to the Master Maker,” echoes her “youthful” poem (Mind 207).


Intelligent Design Literary Theory Aesthetic Object Russian Formalism Detective Story 
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© Crystal Downing 2004

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  • Crystal Downing

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