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Middle Ages without borders: a conversation on medievalism

Tommaso di Carpegna Falconieri
Pierre Savy
Lila Yawn

d) The Middle Ages in contemporary fiction

2) Fantasies of authority: the Dantean desires of Dorothy Sayers

Helen Brookman

Texte intégral

1Having first read Dante in an air-raid shelter in 1944, Dorothy L. Sayers undertook what she considered her greatest work: her Penguin translation of The Divine Comedy. Her Dante, read by millions, was a fellow master of story-telling: ludic, self-deprecating, even Austenesque. Following her training in continental romance and the “romantic theology” of Charles Williams, Sayers imagined an interpersonal relationship with Dante as a living, embodied man. Strikingly, she fantasised about his qualities as a lover (“vigorous and expert”) and playfully assessed his “bedworthiness”; Sayers’ Dante recognizes “that bodily desire is, and should be, mutual.” This paper explores how Sayers—mitigating the audacity of a detective novelist “doing” Dante—models alternative relationships with the medieval author; rather than a patrilineal Freudian genealogy, hers is a coupling of expert equals that allows for amateur authorities and queer temporalities. Authors do not “merely pass on the torch in a relay race, they toss the ball to one another, to and fro, across the centuries.” Considering her correspondence with Williams, her Dante lectures, and her feminist writings, I read Sayers’ translation of Dante’s troubling canzone “Così nel mio parlar voglio esser aspro” (1946), exploring her treatment of form (bodily and poetic) in relation to the poem’s complex sexual politics and mid-century mass culture. Pursuing a feminist enquiry into the functions of gender and power within authorial influence, the paper explores what Dorothy Sayers’ desire for Dante tells us about fantasies of the Middle Ages in the modern scholarly imaginary.


2Sayers, The “Comedy”


King’s College London

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