Discussion Guide for The Nine Tailors

“Humanism is self-contained—it provides for man no resources outside himself. The Christian dogma of the double nature in man—which asserts that man is disintegrated and necessarily imperfect in himself and all his works, yet closely related by a real unity of substance with an eternal perfection within and beyond him—makes the present parlous state of human society seem both less hopeless and less irrational.”—Creed or Chaos?
Dorothy Sayers

Many consider Dorothy Sayers’s The Nine Tailors her best novel. (Others hold Gaudy Night to be her best, but even these agree that The Nine Tailors is one of her greatest achievements.) It represents a concerted effort on Sayers as a writer of craft and style to raise the quality of the mystery novel to that of literary fiction. She develops Peter Wimsey, her gentlemen-detective, in numerous ways as a character, including having him experience disappointment, self-doubt, and ultimately identification with the people he is trying to help.

Consider as you read the novel, how does Wimsey (as well as the other characters) reveal the “double nature” of human beings?


  1. The theme of death dominates the book, not only as the genre of the murder mystery, but also in the way it impacts the lives of the characters in the parish and in the way it seeks to puzzle out the mystery of death. Discuss some of the occurrences in the novel of this theme.
  2. The bells function throughout the book as both a structural device and as a dominant set of metaphors. Discuss some of the ways that the bells function in the novel. Can they be considered characters in any sense?
  3. The cathedral, the parish rector and his wife, and the flood function as symbols of provision, justice, mercy, expiation, and salvation. Discuss how and why.


  1. Sayers masterfully employs a range of dialects and voices throughout the book. What do these add to the novel?
  2. Sayers also employs other literary devices—charts, diagrams, telegrams, and stream-of-consciousness. How do these assist the novel’s meaning?
  3. The mystery as a genre observes certain reading strategies. (Think back to Chesterton’s discussion of these.) How does the novel employ these in shaping and frustrating readers’ responses?


  1. In her introduction to the 1929 edited volume,The Omnibus of Crime, Sayers surveys the history of detective fiction up until her day. She observes that there are three broad genres” 1) the story of mystery; 2) the story of horror; and 3) the fused story. What type is The Nine Tailors?
  2. Sayers also points out that certain cultural factors had to be present for the modern detective story to arise: a) a sense of criminal procedure; b) a respect for the law; c) an Anglo-Saxon respect or exact details; d) changes in communication; e) general public safety that the crime violates; and f) a substitution in popular conception of the doctor, policemen, and detective for the knight and adventure hero. How many of these cultural factors are present in the novel in either an explicit or implicit way?
  3. Finally, she observes that the modern detective story must observe certain rules: there must be a recognizable Aristotelian beginning-middle-and end; we cannot enter the mind of the murderer; there must be a solution that follows from the evidence offered the reader.  Are these present in The Nine Tailors?

A Theology of Work and Vocation

Sayers was interested throughout her writing career in the nature of work and in seeing an economy based not on waste and consumerism or on exhaustion and drudgery, but on fulfilling work done for the glory of God. Influenced by the thought of Jacques Maritain, she stressed that work should be done for the love of the work itself rather than for monetary gain or even initially for service to others. Work, she held is not a product of the fall, though now impacted by it, and is part of the original created order. Such work would be focused on quality and ability, not on mere employment looking to leisure. She also stressed that when we serve the work itself we avoid constant changeable popular demands and instead focus on lasting standards of craft.

Discussion Question: It has often been observed that Sayers’s detective fiction often centers around the nature and abuse of a particular vocation. Is this true of The Nine Tailors? Why or why not?

The Nine Tailors