A fair cop


The Victorian era (1837–1901) witnessed the appearance of an overwhelming number of female literary detectives. The rush began in the 1860s with the publication of Revelations of a Female Detective, which featured the debut of Mrs. Paschal, a detective of “vigorous and subtle” brain who works for an all-women branch of the police department. In the following years, readers could follow, in both standalone novels and serializations, the investigative adventures of many other women, mostly based in London. Mollie Delamere (who appeared in a novel in 1899), a young widow employed as an international pearl broker, must outsmart the countless burglars after her wares. Hilda Wade (1900) was a genius nurse solving medical mysteries to get close to the physician who framed her late father for murder and who ends up on a globetrotting adventure to catch him. Dora Myrl, who first appeared the same year, was a youthful woman in ankle-showing skirts with an advanced degree in mathematics from Cambridge. A medical doctor who couldn’t find work as a physician, she begins working as a private eye. There are also Mrs. G–– (1864), Miriam Lea (1888), Loveday Brooke (1893), Rose Courtenay (1895), Lois Cayley (1899), Hagar Stanley (1899), Florence Cusack (1899–1900), Bella Thorn (1903), Lady Molly Robinson-Kirk (1910), and Judith Lee (1911–16). American (mostly New York–based) counterparts included Clarice Dyke (possibly 1883), Laura Keen (1892), Amelia Butterworth (1897), Nora Van Snoop (1898–99), Frances Baird (1906), Madelyn Mack (1914), Violet Strange (1915), and Millicent Newberry (1917).

Olivia Rutigliano in The Lady Is A Detective


Hilda Wade, A Woman With Tenacity of Purpose, is available on Gutenberg https://www.gutenberg.org/files/4903/4903-h/4903-h.htm  There’s a free LibriVox version: https://librivox.org/hilda-wade-a-woman-with-tenacity-of-purpose-by-grant-allen/

If this topic takes your fancy, there’s also an anthology by Michele B Slung called  Crime On Her Mind – 15 Stories of Female Sleuths From The Victorian Era.


5 thoughts on “A fair cop

  1. Have you ever read The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency by Alexander McCall Smith? It was described as “the Miss Marple of Botswana”? I think it was published in 1998. It was an enjoyable read.

  2. It’s good to know that fictional female detectives have such a long and rich tradition. In response to the above comment, I’m a fan of Alexander McCall Smith’s Botswana series, but even better, in my view, is the Isobel Dalhousie series set in Edinburgh.

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