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Name Dunnett, Dorothy
Born / Died 1923–2001

The Dorothy Dunnett collection consists of manuscripts, printed material, research material, correspondence, notebooks, photographs, artwork, legal material, and memorabilia.

Of Dunnett=s published works, the collection holds  numerous typescript drafts, draft fragments and revisions for the Lymond Saga (The Game of Kings, The Disorderly Knights, Pawn in Frankincense); the House of Niccolo series (Niccolo Rising,
The Spring of the Ram, Scales of Gold, The Unicorn Hunt, To Lie with Lions, Caprice and Rondo, Gemini)
; and the Johnson and Johnson series (Dolly and the Singing Bird, Dolly and the Cookie Bird, Dolly and the Doctor Bird, Dolly and the Starry Bird, Dolly and the Nanny Bird, Dolly and the Bird of Paradise).  Other manuscripts by Dunnett include speeches, essays, articles, book reviews, and other works.

These extensive manuscripts are complimented by page and galley proofs, research files for much of her published work (1953-2001), articles, and book reviews by Dunnett, as well as editions of both in-print and audio books.

 The collection also includes personal materials ranging from correspondence, 1966-1998, notebooks and journals, photographs (1973-1976), etchings, maps, sketches, over 100 contracts and agreements, her marriage announcement to Alistair Dunnett, and other items.


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Although she was an established portrait painter, Dorothy Dunnett (1923 – 2001) enjoyed her most notable success as a writer of historical novels, including the popular multi-part The Lymond Chronicles and The House of Niccolò .

Born Dorothy Halliday in Dunfermline, Scotland on August 25, 1923, she was the daughter of engineer Alexander Halliday and his wife, the former Dorothy E. Millard. Raised in Edinburgh, she attended James Gillespie’s School for Girls, where her classmates included Muriel Spark. She went on to study at both the Edinburgh College of Art. In 1940, she accepted a position as a press officer in the Ministry of Information, where she met Alastair Dunnett. Although he was her boss, they eventually became romantically involved; the couple married in 1946 and moved to Glasgow.

Dunnett worked for close to a decade at the Board of Trade while continuing to study art and singing. In 1950, she began a successful career as a portrait painter. According to Dunnett, it was her husband who suggested she try her hand at writing fiction and he even offered the advice to “make it a series. They’re popular at the moment.” Dutifully, she embarked on a literary career and penned The Game of Kings . Although she submitted the manuscript to several British publishers, it was rejected. Once again, Dunnett’s husband intervened, telling her to submit the book to American publishing houses. Putnam eventually accepted the manuscript with the provision that she cut it. The Game of Kings became the first of six volumes of the The Lymond Chronicles, which centered on power struggles in 16th-century Scotland as embodied by the mysterious mercenary Francis Crawford of Lymond. Over the course of six novels, including Queen’s Play (1964), Pawn in Frankincense (1969) and Checkmate (1975), Dunnett crafted a compelling and enjoyable saga that was warmly received by critics and readers.

She spent close to five years researching her next historical novel, King Hereafter (Knopf, 1982), which reinterprets the story of Macbeth and which many critics felt was her best work. Dunnett continued on in the same vein with another multi-volume series grouped together as “ The House of Niccolò .” Set in the 15th Century with scenes unfolding in Europe, the Middle East and Russia, the story focuses on a lowly apprentice who is given a new name and marries a wealthy widow. Again, Dunnett framed the tale as a mystery revolving around the issue of parentage. Knopf published all eight volumes over a course of fifteen years, stretching from the initial volume Niccolò Rising (1986) through Race of Scorpions (1989) to The Unicorn Hunt (1993), and concluding with Gemini (2000).

In addition to these works, Dunnett, using her maiden name of Dorothy Halliday, published a series of suspense thrillers whose hero is a bespectacled portrait painter named Johnson Johnson, the owner of a yacht named “ the Dolly .” Each of the books is narrated by a female and each book uses both the name of the boat and a bird that is symbolic of the books narrator. Titles in the series include Dolly and the Singing Bird (Cassell, 1968), Dolly and the Doctor Bird (Cassell, 1971) and Dolly and the Bird of Paradise (1983). Because American audiences may have missed the humor in the titles (“bird” is British slang for a young woman), Houghton Mifflin issued the novels in the United States under more prosaic names like The Photographic Soprano (1968) and Match for a Murderer (1971).

Dunnett also collaborated with her husband, who predeceased her in 1998, and photographer David Paterson on the nonfiction The Scottish Highlands (Mainstream, 1988).

Awarded the Order of the British Empire in 1992, Dunnett succumbed to pancreatic cancer on November 9, 2001 in Edinburgh, Scotland at the age of 78.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

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