Victorian Female Sleuths @oldrutigliano

Olivia Rutigliano’s essay The Lady Is a Detective invites us to investigate the Victorian world of detective novels in which female, rather than male, sleuths take center stage. She notes that, 

Endemic to the Victorian and Long Edwardian (1901–14) eras were two clashing conceptions of female purpose, ability, and power. One approach insisted that the woman be the keeper of the domestic sphere and cultivator of its related moral and civic pursuits (charitable causes, family concerns, etc.), while the other, increasingly popular sentiment demanded female equity with men on numerous grounds: legal, political, economic, social, and academic. The latter attitude, often associated in modern cultural memory with the suffragists who fought for women’s right to vote, was embodied by the paradigm of the “New Woman,” a real-life female archetype characterized by good education, economic independence (i.e., employment), and physical freedom (including “rational dress” and bicycle riding). Or, as Birgitta Berglund at Lund University has explained, this intense divide can be broken down into basic terms: woman as object versus woman as subject.

Read the full article, published in Lapham’s Quarterly in 2018, here. A number of the novels mentioned by the critics Rutiliano mentioned are now available reprinted, and especially conveniently in ebook editions. Check Amazon among other retailers for availability.

Selected bibliography. 

Frances A. Dellacava and Madeline H. Engel, Sleuths in Skirts: An Analysis and Bibliography of Serialized Female Sleuths (Routledge, 2002).

Therie Hendrey-Seabrook, Reclassifying the Female Detective of the fin de siècle: Loveday Brooke, Vocation, and Vocality, 26 Clues 75 (Fall 2007).

Sandro Jung, Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, the Female Detective, and the “Crime” of Female Selfhood, 32 Bronte Studies 21 (2007).

Joseph A. Kestner, Sherlock’s Sisters: The British Female Detective, 1864-1913 (Routledge, 2017).

Claire Meldrum, Yesterday’s Women: The Female Presence in Neo-Victorian Television Detective Programs, 43 Journal of Popular Film and Television 201 (2015).

Priscilla Walton and Manina Jones, Detective Agency: Women Rewriting the Hard-Boiled Tradition (University of California Press, 1999).

Arlene Young, Petticoated Police”: Propriety and the Lady Detective in Victorian Fiction, 23 Clues 15 (Spring 2008).