"After I convinced them that I was a harmless novelist, I actually got them to give me a tour of the harem - which is usually off limits for tourists." -- Dorothy Dunnett
Dorothy Dunnett OBE (née Halliday, 25 August 1923, Dunfermline, Fife – 9 November 2001) was a Scottish historical novelist. She is best known for her six-part series about Francis Crawford of Lymond, The Lymond Chronicles, which she followed with the eight-part prequel The House of Niccolò. She also wrote a novel about the real Macbeth called King Hereafter (1982), and a series of mystery novels centred around Johnson Johnson, a portrait painter/spy.
"But it's also because of something personal. My mother and father met while playing chess, so I've always had a fondness for the game. If it weren't for chess, I might not be here.""You all know that each title in the Chronicles has a chess theme; that's partly because of the overall design of the Chronicles themselves - the game of chess as an analogue of the game of life."
Dunnett was educated at James Gillespie's High School for Girls in Edinburgh. She started her career as a press officer in the civil service, where she met her husband.
She was a leading light in the Scottish arts world and a renaissance woman. She was a professional portrait painter and exhibited at the Royal Scottish Academy on many occasions. She had portraits commissioned by a number of prominent public figures in Scotland. She had a keen interest in opera, was a trustee of the National Library of Scotland, a board member of the Edinburgh International Book Festival, a trustee of the Scottish National War Memorial, and a non-executive director of Scottish Television. In 1992 she was awarded an OBE for her services to literature. Writing in The Times Literary Supplement, Alexander Fiske-Harrison reviewed her final novel in 2000, Gemini, and through that her entire oeuvre of historical fiction: "Although Dunnett’s writing style is not the neutral prose of genre fiction and it can be opaque and hard to read, especially in the early works, at times, this works with the almost melodramatic content to produce a powerful, operatic mixture... It is neither as a literary novelist nor as a historian, but as a writer of historical fiction that Dorothy Dunnett deserves recognition... The publication of Gemini completes an ambitious literary circle."
In 2001 she founded the Dorothy Dunnett Readers' Association to promote interest in the historical periods about which she wrote and communication between her readers. Dorothy Dunnett's archive was left to the National Library of Scotland and articles from it appear in Whispering Gallery, the magazine of the Dorothy Dunnett Readers' Association. In
Dorothy Dunnett was married in 1946 to Sir Alastair Dunnett, editor of The Scotsman newspaper, and appears in his autobiography, Among Friends, 1984. By virtue of his knighthood in 1995, she became Lady Dunnett. She died in Edinburgh, and was survived by her sons Ninian and Mungo Dunnett.
The manuscript for the first book in the Lymond Chronicles, The Game of Kings, was rejected by five British publishers before being published by US publisher Putnam in 1961. It was written in response to her husband's suggestion that she write something herself, when she complained of having run out of reading material.
The Lymond Chronicles is a series of six novels, set in mid-sixteenth century Europe and the Mediterranean, which follows the life and career of a Scottish nobleman, Francis Crawford of Lymond, from 1547 through 1558. The series is a suspenseful tale of adventure and romance, filled with action, intense drama, poetry, culture and high comedy. Meticulously researched, the series takes place in a wide variety of locations, including France, the Ottoman Empire, Malta, England, Scotland and Russia. In addition to a compelling cast of original characters, the novels feature many historical figures, often in important roles.
The volumes are as follows:
The Game of Kings (1961)
Queen's Play (1964)
The Disorderly Knights (1966)
Pawn in Frankincense (1969)
The Ringed Castle (1971)
The six volumes of the Lymond Chronicles, set in the 16th century, are part of what Dunnett viewed as a larger fourteen-volume work, which includes the eight novels of The House of Niccolò series, set in the 15th century. The House of Niccolò, which was written after the Lymond Chronicles, tells the tale of Lymond's ancestors in the previous century and includes allusions to events in the Lymond Chronicles. Dunnett recommended that readers begin with the Lymond Chronicles and then read The House of Niccolò.
The House of Niccolò
The House of Niccolò is a series of eight historical novels set in the late-fifteenth century European Renaissance. The protagonist of the series is Nicholas de Fleury (Niccolò, Nicholas van der Poele, or Claes), a talented boy of uncertain birth who rises to the heights of European merchant banking and international political intrigue. The series shares most of the locations in Dunnett's earlier series, the Lymond Chronicles, but it extends much further geographically to take in the important urban centres of Bruges, Venice, Florence, Geneva, and the Hanseatic League; Burgundy, Flanders, and Poland; Iceland; the Iberian Peninsula and Madeira; the Black Sea cities of Trebizond and Caffa; Persia; the Mediterranean islands of Cyprus and Rhodes; Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula; and West Africa and the city of Timbuktu.
The volumes are as follows:
Niccolò Rising (1986)
Spring of the Ram (1987)
Race of Scorpions (1989)
Scales of Gold (1991)
The Unicorn Hunt (1993)
To Lie with Lions (1995)
Caprice and Rondo (1997)
As with the Lymond Chronicles, the series features a number of historical persons, many as important characters. Both the historical and fictional characters are, however, taken from a wider variety of occupations and social classes than in the Lymond Chronicles. There are significant differences in narrative approach and writing style between the series, reflecting in part the very different personal journey taken by the central character in each.
King Hereafter (1982), her long novel set in Orkney and Scotland in the years just before the invasion of England by William the Conqueror, was in Dorothy Dunnett's eyes her masterpiece. It is about an Earl of Orkney uniting the people of Alba (Scotland) and becoming its King, and is based on the author's premise that the central character Thorfinn, Earl of Orkney and the historical Macbeth, Scottish King, were one and the same person.
The Dorothy Dunnett Companions
Dunnett helped in the compiling of the The Dorothy Dunnett Companion (1994) and The Dorothy Dunnett Companion II (2002), which were written by Elspeth Morrison. These books provide background information to historical characters and events featured in the Lymond Chronicles and The House of Niccolò, as well as explanations of classical allusions and literary and other quotations used in the two series, notes to sources of these citations, and many maps. The second volume, which was written after the Niccolò series was completed, also contains a bibliography of many of the hundreds of primary and secondary sources Dunnett used in her historical research. Dunnett contributed much more to the second volume than the first, directly authoring many of the entries.
This series of mystery novels was written over a long period, starting when she was writing the Lymond Chronicles, with the final book published prior to the first House of Niccolò book. In the Johnson Johnson series, the date of publication is not the same as the order in the series. Each book is set in the time it is written, and some series plotlines were not resolved. Dunnett left a very brief outline sketch of an 8th Johnson novel with her papers.
The Dolly of the titles refers to Johnson Johnson's yacht.
Dolly & the Bird of Paradise (later retitled Tropical Issue) (1983)
Dolly & the Singing Bird (later retitled Rum Affair) (aka The Photogenic Soprano) (1968)
Dolly & the Cookie Bird (later retitled Ibiza Surprise) (aka Murder in the Round) (1970)
Dolly & the Doctor Bird (later retitled Operation Nassau) (aka Match for a Murderer) (1971)
Dolly & the Starry Bird (later retitled Roman Nights) (aka Murder in Focus) (1973)
Dolly & the Nanny Bird (later retitled Split Code) (1976)
Moroccan Traffic (published in the US as Send a Fax to the Kasbah) (1991)
A contemporary short story, The Proving Climb, set on the Scottish Isle of St. Kilda, was published in the 1973 anthology Scottish Short Stories (Scottish Arts Council, published by Collins, ISBN 0002218518). It was republished by the DDRA and distributed to DDRA members in 2008 with issue 100 of the DDRA's Magazine, Whispering Gallery.
The Lymond Poetry
She also produced a manuscript The Lymond Poetry, containing her versions and translations of some of the poems that appeared in The Lymond Chronicles. This was finalised after her death by Elspeth Morrison and edited by Richenda Todd (ISBN 978-0141012445 published in 2003 by Penguin).
The Scottish Highlands
Together with her husband, Alastair Dunnett, she wrote the text for the photography book The Scottish Highlands (Photographs: David Patterson), published in 1988.
Dorothy Dunnett founded the Dorothy Dunnett Readers' Association (DDRA). This registered charity is open to all Dunnett readers, and aims to promote interest in the periods of history about which Dunnett wrote, and also to encourage discussion and meetings between readers.
On 22 April 2006, a memorial stone to Lady Dunnett was laid by her grandchildren, Hal and Bella Dunnett, alongside those for Robert Louis Stevenson, Robert Burns and Sir Walter Scott in the Makars' Court in Lady Stair's Close on the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. The Lord Provost of Edinburgh was in attendance, and gave a speech, as did the Edinburgh Makar (Valerie Gillies), and the Ross Herald (Charles Burnett). The initiative to lay the stone, and the main funding for it, came from the members of the Dorothy Dunnett Readers' Association. The Stone contains Dorothy Dunnett's name, her coat of arms, and a brief quote from one of her books "Where are the links of the chain ... joining us to the past".
Dorothy Dunnett readers are devoted and active, and have held in Edinburgh in 1990, 1994, and 2000, with over 300 people in attendance. Similar events were held in Boston, and in Philadelphia in 2000. Since her death smaller international gatherings of between 50 and 100 people have been held in Dublin (Nov 2001) and New Orleans (Nov 2003) and Malta (Oct 2005), Saddell in South West Scotland in April 2007, and Orkney in September 2007. The next such meeting is planned for Paris in 2009 or 2010, with one in Istanbul two years later.
There are several meetings of fans in the UK each year, in locations such as Oxford, Bath, London, York and Warwick. Also the formal Annual General Meeting (AGM) of the DDRA is held each spring in Edinburgh.
Occasional meetings are held in Australia and Canada, as well, with one SworDDplay held in Vancouver in April 2006 and another in Alexandria, Virginia in the USA in March 2008. Smaller meetings occur locally in several other countries, such as Germany (notably the annual meeting in Darmstadt and Italy.
Readers also get together more informally to go on holiday to Dunnett locations. In 2007 some readers visited Timbuktu and others Venice.
Several internet e-mail discussion groups exist, the largest of which is the Marzipan group on Yahoo!Groups. You can also follow the DDRA on twitter at DunnettCentral.