This travail de candidature investigates female detectives – both amateur and professional - in the works of (mainly) mid-Victorian authors. The overall goal of the study is not only to generate critical and popular interest in these works and the genre of crime fiction, but also to portray these female sleuths as unique and intriguing characters. These first female investigators went against the grain of the ‘Angel of the House’ – the standard ideology of the model mid-Victorian woman.
This study is unique as it spans several genres (Gothic, sensation and detective writing) to trace the history of the first female investigators in literature. Most studies deal either with the history of the detective genre as a whole - in so doing neglect other still significant works; or investigate female detectives in a feminist light – thereby starting their investigations with the rise of the ‘New Woman’ at the fin-de-siècle; or concentrate on female Victorian writers and their detectives - thus ignoring male authors and a multitude of fictional detectives. However, this study brings all these different strands together to advance expertise in a variety of fields such as class, nationality, setting and the professionality of these early ladylike detectives, allowing for a new perspective. This dissertation gains new insights into areas otherwise overlooked or disregarded by scholars who adopt a pure feminist or historical approach.
Using a close-reading methodology and illustrating fictional aspects within the cultural, political or ideological context of the time, the dissertation recovers, on the one hand, forgotten works by various authors (male and female) and, on the other hand, examines well-known works from a new perspective (by exploring the female investigator in a variety of works). As such, this study furthers advance in the canon of academic work in the mid-Victorian period as it depicts how these works were influenced by earlier writings and in turn fashioned later works. More precisely, the focus period of this thesis are the interim years between two better-known periods.
The first part of the dissertation quickly sketches the origins of the detective genre via the Newgate Calendar, Newgate Novels, Casebook Novels and Edgar Allen Poe. Secondly, the study analyses examples of female amateur investigators in Gothic and sensation fiction. Furthermore, the paper looks at the first oeuvres, Andrew Forrester’s The Female Detective (1864) and William Stephens Hayward’s Revelations of a Lady Detective (1864), portraying professional female detectives. The conclusion summarises the main points of this study, compares the detectives (male/female, professional/amateur) stating their similarities and differences, and places them within the mid-Victorian socio-political and cultural landscape. Finally, the study demonstrates the legacy of these works.