I gave this paper at Captivating Criminality 2017 at Bath Spa University:
Mrs Paschal, Miss Gladden and Miss Brooke: Ordinary women, extraordinary Detectives.
As Stephen Knight writes in “Crime Fiction Since 1800: Detection, Death, Diversity,”
‘…the creators of the early women detectives were trying, against the tide of the male magazines as much as against social attitudes, to offer different and inherently subversive positions and values for detecting crime. The idea that they all pursued… was that crime can both threaten and be explained by a woman as much as a man.’ 1
A bold statement, written without too much evidence to support it as at the time there weren’t too many women at work as Lady Detectives, either in fiction or the real world.
But of the few, who were these women? I will be looking at three Lady Detectives. Loveday Brooke who first appears in 1893 and two earlier incarnations of female sleuths, Miss Gladden and Mrs Paschal of 1864.
In “The Female Detective” by Andrew Forrester, we meet Miss Gladden or “G” who features in eight stories. They vary, from a “Tenant for Life” and the uncovering of an old mystery. She takes a coach trip, quite by chance and is told an old story. Why would somebody need to buy a baby in a hurry wonders Miss Gladden and on her own initiative sets out to find the answer. Another is “The Judgement of Conscience” which finds Miss Gladden pursuing a good man she believes to be a murderer.
There are ten stories in “Revelations of a Lady Detective” by William Stephens Hayward, featuring Mrs Paschal. In “The Mysterious Countess,” Mrs. Paschal acts as lady’s maid, to a woman who is spending more money than should be possible. Mrs. P. trails the Countess through a series of dark tunnels to discover she is robbing gold from a bank vault. In contrast, “The Nun, the Will, and the Abbess,” has Mrs P. taking on a private client to release the client’s love from a convent before she takes her vows and turns her fortune over to a scheming abbess. She manages to free the girl, unite her with her true love, and bribe the abbess into acquiescence.
Catherine Louisa Pirkis writes “The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective.” Loveday Brookes solves seven riddles: The first of her cases, “The Black Bag Left on a Door-Step”, revolves around the stolen jewellery of Lady Cathrow. Brooke is tasked with recovering the stolen jewels. Another of her tales, “Drawn Daggers”, centres on an odd domestic mystery involving threatening letters. Perhaps her most noted tale, “The Redhill Sisterhood.” Has Loveday investigating Sister Monica who has rented a house in in Redhill. The Sisters take children begging around local villages each day and burglaries seem to follow in their wake. It’s so obvious who the guilty parties are, or is it?
Three women. Three Detectives. Three women alone in the world. Three versions of the private eye. All have one characteristic, they are invisible:
“Loveday’s nondescript appearance allows her to carry out her detective work without being unduly noticeable but, more than this, it also sets her up as a species of “everywoman,” with whom the female reader can identify by inserting her own physical and mental features onto the blank textual canvas Pirkis has offered.” 2
According to Therie Hendrey-Seabrook, that is her appeal. But as Pirkis herself states: She was not tall, she was not short, she was not dark, she was not fair, she was neither handsome or ugly. Her features were altogether nondescript…” 3 And then we read about Mrs Paschal “I was well born and well educated, so that, like an accomplished actress, I could play my part in any drama in which I was instructed to take a part. My dramas, however, were dramas of real life… For the parts I had to play, it was necessary to have nerve and strength, cunning and conﬁdence, resources unlimited,
conﬁdence and numerous other qualities of which actors are totally ignorant.” 4
Her looks are not mentioned, only her attributes. She is certainly not self-effacing. She knows what is wanted in the society she has chosen to join. Appearance is nothing.
Miss Gladden or ’G’ is the same:
“Who am I? It can little matter who I am. It may be that I took to the trade … because I had no other means of making a living; or it may be that for the work of detection I had a longing which I could not overcome.” 5
Miss Gladden quickly gets across the rather superfluous information about herself. Her stories are less about character and more plot driven. Her own attributes are not important to the story at hand. She just wants to give us information and not reveal too much about herself. It is amusing that compared to the non-descriptions of our three female detectives that the great Sherlock Holmes is presented thus by Dr Watson in “Study in Scarlet:”
In height, he was rather over six feet, and so excessively lean that, he seemed to be considerably taller. His eyes were sharp and piercing… and his thin, hawk-like nose, gave his whole expression an air of alertness and decision. 6
So, we have three non-descript women who can fit in anywhere without disguise and are able, because of their sex, to enter any circumstance and then we have the “great detective” with his outstandingly noticeable profile who has to stoop to disguise whenever he tries to entrap a felon. A woman as a Detective? Heaven forfend. What kind of a job is that for a woman? We read Joan Warthling Roberts and see her view:
“The traditional occupations open to a woman who had to support herself, were determined by her class…Some of these occupations could be respectable. Like the prostitute however, the female investigator by her association with criminals and the lower orders was cut off sharply from her former associates and her position in society. Loveday Brooke working as a female detective was consigned to the artists’ model and prostitute – lower class contemptibles.” 7
A bit extreme to compare their profession to that of a prostitute, but of its time that was a common view. Especially as the Lady Detective would find herself dealing with those characters as she pursued her work. Men as ever would disavow the prostitute and the lady detective, but make use of each of their talents none the less. Man’s hypocrisy rising to the forefront yet again. Always the Man as gaudy peacock, Woman as the dowdy peahen. A woman working amongst the underclass is so distasteful to the Victorian male, but the stories in their yellow back format were very popular in their day. Indeed, it is because they were printed in this rather ‘takeaway’ format that it was found difficult to find copies of the stories for serious critical debate. A fact that led to the Hayward and Forrester heroes to be forgotten for such a long time.
So, according to Joan Warthling Roberts the female detective is:
“…a model of submission, outdoes and out thinks her male colleagues without causing a snarl or murmur. She is deferential to every male, offers her own ideas, but does not press them, dresses and speaks unobtrusively. 8
Is this so? Does she submit? I don’t think so. Each of these three women are assertive, bright, and brave. They go where men go. They go where a man cannot go at times, so how can they be submissive? They are not ordered to investigate. They choose to do so. For money or interest or just on a whim. They do the job because they want to. They may have had straightened means, but the work does not worry them, they see themselves as equals. They do outwit the male detective in many stories. Mrs P tends to gloat over this, whilst Mrs gladden and Brooke are a bit more self-effacing, but not submissive. They are not deferential, far from it. They face up to their superiors and also to the criminal. Mrs P finds herself in life threatening situations and at times wishes she had her gun with her, but even unarmed she is able to overcome each threat.
As I said earlier, Mrs Gladden appeared in in seven stories in 1864 many published in the weekly magazine “Grave and Gay” 9 and Mrs Paschal followed shortly afterwards in ten tales. It would take over twenty years for the next female detective to appear and then even later still before we were introduced to Loveday Brooke in seven short stories, six of which had been published between February and July 1893 in the Ludgate Monthly magazine. I think we have the key to the success of the woman detective in Miss Gladden’s eye when she states:
“The woman detective has far greater opportunities than a man of intimate watching and of keeping her eyes upon matters near which a man cannot conveniently play the eavesdropper.” 10
And there, once again, is the rub. The invisible woman, the chameleon, who can go about her business unobserved, uninterrupted. She can see what the male detective cannot and can infiltrate the places that he is barred from. What a surprise it took so long to allow women detectives, unless of course, we take into account who ran the police force in those times. Like her male counterpart, the Lady Detective functions as the keeper of social order; but ironically, she also undercuts the rigid Victorian hierarchy with her subversive, behaviour. We can see that:”Moreover, due to her position in a male dominated field, Loveday is able to use her gender to her advantage when solving cases; she transforms herself in various roles and goes undetected without raising suspicion or doubt.” 11
So, the Lady Detectives can subvert the system. They are transgressive in that they take on a role previously exclusive to man, albeit in the literary world rather than the real world and they do it damn well!
I return to the earlier scene; the female detective can go about her business because she is unseen. She has other virtues; in “Revelations of a Lady Detective”, we see that:
“Mrs.Paschal’s other credentials also establish her professionalism and a level of respectability that no stage actress could attain. As an impecunious widow “verging on forty,” she cannot be assigned the role of ingénue or seductress… She is “well born and well educated” and has, by her own admission, a “vigorous and subtle” brain and a commitment to work hard.” 12
Writes Arlene Young. Indeed, she portrays Mrs Paschal in a rather unsavoury light, someone who is prepared to trick and lie to get her quarry and we know that she is forceful, cynical, and unforgiving. She is most unladylike, almost acting as a man would do. This would be shocking to the contemporary reader. Would a man have been shown in an unsavoury way? Does she not perform the same role as the heroes Holmes and
In “The Secret Band”, we see a callous side to her. Her quarry has lost his wife and Mrs Paschal says:
“I derived a morbid satisfaction from seeing this strong man in an agony of grief…” 13
Many of her stories show these so-called unfeminine traits. She gets the job done and at any cost, but there is also a bit of ‘lived happily ever after’ and self-satisfaction about her. She notes in “The Lost Diamonds”:
“I did not like my laurels shared by anyone else. Such as they were I approved of wearing them myself without any partnership with the wreath.” 14
As Colonel Warner says in “The Secret Band”: “I think a woman is more likely to be successful in a thing of this sort, because men are thrown off their guard when they see a petticoat.” 15
If only it was a simple as all that!
Loveday Brooke solves her crimes through intuition it seems. There are very rarely any clues and she surmises what and how events unfold and unmasks the villain. She would follow said villain, propose a theory, and solve the crime. Her explanation at the end of each story is clear and concise, but we are often asking ourselves ‘how did she know that?’ Still her stories work on most levels. We can invest in her as lead character and there is always one other character we can sympathise with.
Miss Gladden is a bit of a mystery in that there is very little about her personal life and appearance, Kathleen Klein tells us that it is all about Miss Gladden as detective. Which is of course, crucial to her role, both as detective and as a woman. Miss Gladden does not differentiate between the two. She knows her place in both spheres and being a woman has no effect on her skills as a detective. This is important and the Victorian
reader hopefully would have acknowledged it.
“…the woman detective has far greater opportunities than a man of intimate watching and of keeping her eyes upon matters near which a man cannot conveniently play the eavesdropper” 16
This is key in the role of woman as detective and is obviously highlighted throughout the texts. We take for granted women’s position in society today as opposed to the less enlightened Victorian Era. That Miss Gladden didn’t tell her friends about her job and said she was a dressmaker is understandable if we take the low regard that the profession was seemed to be held in. She does not want to invite unnecessary comment, so avoids it. In her stories, Miss Gladden has a proactive energetic approach. She looks at evidence, has theories and opinions. She is a forerunner of Sherlock Holmes, much more so than the other two women detectives.
Mrs Paschal is full of her own importance. She takes on male detectives in cases where there is monetary reward and is often scathing of their abilities. She owns a pistol and will use it and is happy to send men to the gallows. She can use disguise as can Miss Gladden, but is more intuitive than her when investigating crime.
She is also adept at using what advantages she can, though in “The Nun, the Will and the Abbess” I was surprised that she seemed to kowtow to the Abbess too easily in search of a remedy. Effectively allowing the villain money to go unpunished after her torture of a young nun and conspiracy to steal and to allow, in her eyes, a happy ending.
Maybe this was the problem, the author wanted the reader to revel in the underclass and endure their miseries, but also wanted a happy outcome. Crime solved, punishment meted out contingent on the character of the villain. Status quo preserved. If they were attractive, let them go scot-free. If not, the gallows or hard labour. It is too easy for Mrs Paschal to inveigle her way into this society, she is indeed invisible, but is it
true to life? The reader seems to be only too happy to accept that it was. Indeed, was Sherlock Holmes influenced by these women? We see similar thought processes between Holmes and the Lady Detectives. A small thing was the use of the Baker Street Irregulars which was a mirror of the help that Mrs Paschal received when she employed Jack in ‘The Lost Diamonds’ 17
The female detective was so attractive to the Victorian audience because she was female. It was a unique role, not seen to any extent in real life till many years later so it took on an almost fantasy element. We saw for the first time a woman in a role that had only known men. The Lady Detective was different. She was subversive and transgressive. She was also difficult to explain to the public who had previously seen no
role for her in the police force. Indeed officially, women didn’t start officially as police officers until 1914 and detectives not till 1930.
The stories today, will be read through the eyes of a twenty first century reader and that makes the study so much more difficult. But I don’t think we should attribute twentieth and twenty first century qualities on the books. They are not meant to be read like that I’m sure. I read in my research of a nineteenth century cleaning cream that was so good it erased all finger prints, but the writer also thought that it erased the value of
the maid shining the floor, making her invisible. Just as women were seen or not seen in those days. Did the nineteenth century creator of this advert think like that? Was that their aim, to exclude any trace of women? Why then have a maid scrubbing the floor in the advertisement. It makes no sense. Anyone can derive a theory and make it fit. That is why my thesis, the ordinary turning into the extra ordinary is easy to defend. It is what they are. Nothing Jungian or Freudian about it. As Alexander McCall Smith says in his introduction to The Female Detective:
“The world of the narrator… is far removed from our own, but just as we recognise hers then she would probably recognise ours.” 18
This is precisely what I mean. This is a series of detective stories with females as the protagonists, but that is the fact. That they were of a time when women were seen but not heard, so be it. I cannot presume to be able to think like a Victorian and give an opinion of the tales, but if one looks at period reactions then…
“In the 1830s, increasing literacy and improving technology saw a boom in cheap fiction for the working classes. ‘Penny bloods’ was the original … and told stories of adventure, initially of pirates and highwaymen, later concentrating on crime and detection.” 19
The stories were published, because there was a need. But in the first two Lady Detectives case that ended after their short run, and again with Loveday Brooke a decade or so later. I will not go into this, but it is an interesting thing that our heroes had such a short life span and allowed the field to be dominated by men and male detectives for many years to come. Perhaps it was ever thus. There is a paper to be written right
But men do figure in the stories, they are, more often than not, the criminals, but we do see more enlightened men. In a sense, the creators of Colonel Warner and Ebenezer Dyer are ahead of their time, especially ahead of Scotland Yard. In much of my reading I have seen views that the women were in thrall to their male bosses, that they were dependent upon them. In an interesting conference paper, Samuel Sanders states that:
“…the texts themselves suggest significantly and strongly that these women were actually being exploited by the patriarchal, male-dominated organisation of policing, instead of portraying them as pioneers for women’s rights and professional equality in an area where women were historically not allowed to participate… female characters are used and in some cases actually victimised by their patriarchal ‘bosses’ in policing.” 20
But Warner does not order Mrs P to take on cases. He does use money to influence her, but this is the work she has taken on, it is how she earns money to live and she expects to be paid. Miss Gladden sees the role as her work and does not feel exploited. Loveday Brooke is at the very least, the intellectual equal of Ebenezer Dyer and does not have to take on board the commissions he gives her. Miss Gladden appears to find work on her own initiative or creates a case where one might seem obvious. They are all strong minded, able women. The fact that two of our Lady Detectives are the creation of male writers also shows that at least two Victorian men had an enlightened view of women in 1864 and saw that they could be equal to men in their work. To me they don’t seem to be suppressing them or dominating them.
Is Samuel Saunders correct to call Miss Gladden:
“…an oppressed disguised female… hiding a woman in a man’s world…” 21
I think not, she may be disguised, but she is by no means oppressed by anyone, male or female. They have options and can take them if they wish. Indeed, Loveday gives up a holiday because the case interests her and her alone. She is not forced. The rewards they receive, monetary and otherwise are their rewards. That they can also cock a snook at male detectives is another bonus for them. Mrs Paschal, in particular!
As Dyer says to Loveday in ‘Missing’:
“If this doesn’t inspire you I don’t know what will…” 22
It’s the challenge, not the attempt to make her submissive. I dislike the trend of people telling me what authors meant when writing their own books. It doesn’t go as far as the students who told Ray Bradbury what ‘Fahrenheit 451’ was about, but surely the author is the sole arbiter of what they are writing about. A twenty first century interpretation is fine, but that’s all it is, it cannot be definitive. The author is definitive. I found this out to my cost when I developed a theory about Helene Turstens Detective Irene Huss for a paper I was to give in Iceland. I put my theory to the author herself and she couldn’t understand where I had got it from. Was it ever thus?
So, what exactly makes these ordinary women extraordinary? How can they both stand out in a crowd and melt into one? Is it just common sense or do they have something extra that can only be part of being a woman? Do they just personify all the traits we stereotypically associate with the female sex? It will be an observation of the women of their time, not as participants in our world. They are extraordinary of their time.
Today they would be the norm. They fight prejudice and misogyny, key factors in Victorian England. They do not try to be better than men, they do however compete with men. They set their own challenges, to beat men at their own game and can use their wiles and advantages to do this. They do merge into the background, they can go where men have no entry, they do see and listen for what men have no eye nor ear nor
opportunity to do so in the inner sanctum of their prey. It is because they are a woman that they can do this, they go where no man can. This is why the stories were so popular of their time, they were transgressive, they went against the norm. they were hence exciting and a little risqué. Mrs P running in her undergarments, the covers of the two earlier collections showing Miss Gladden bursting in on a woman and male corpse,
alone in a bedroom and Mrs Paschal with shapely ankle on view. There is the promise of ‘something’ for the reader and they are not disappointed. I think Kathleen Klein in her book “The Woman Detective” says it all when writing about Miss Gladden, but could be writing about all three:
“In refusing to clarify her identity as a woman, the author redirects attention to her position as detective.” 23
And there, in a nutshell, we have it. The three ordinary women are three extraordinary detectives. Being a woman is only part of it; their strength is in their detecting skills and those are what should be applauded, not the fact that they have transgressed or gone against the norm. They are worthy precursors to the so called great detective of 1887.
1 Stephen Knight “Crime Fiction Since 1800: Detection, Death, Diversity p79
2 Therie Hendrey-Seabrook. Clues 26:1, Reclassifying the Female Detective of the fin de siècle: Loveday Brooke, Vocation and Vocality.
3 Catherine L. Pirkis’ The Experiences of Loveday Brooke: Lady Detective. p8
4 William Hayward, Revelations of a Lady Detective p19
5 Andrew Forrester, The Female Detective, p1
6 Arthur Conan Doyle, Study in Scarlet p8
7 Amelia Butterworth, The Spinster Detective Joan Warthling Roberts in Feminism in Women’s Detective Fiction Editor Glenwood Irons p3 University of Toronto Press 1995
8 Amelia Butterworth, The Spinster Detective, Joan Warthling Roberts, “Feminism in Women’s Detective Fiction.” Editor Glenwood Irons, p3
9 Andrew Forrester, The Female Detective, pxi
10 Andrew Forrester, The Female Detective, p4
11 Katherine Skaris. “The Victorian”, Affective Labouring in Catherine L. Pirkis’ The Experiences of Loveday Brooke: Lady Detective. June, 2014.
12 Arlene Young, “Petticoated police”: Propriety and the Lady Detective in Victorian Fiction Clues 26:3 p21
13 William Hayward, Revelations of a Lady Detective. p61
14 William Hayward, Revelations of a Lady Detective. p98
15 William Hayward, Revelations of a Lady Detective. p63
16 Andrew Forrester, The Female Detective, p4
17 William Hayward, Revelations of a Lady Detective. p102
18 Andrew Forrester, The Female Detective, pvi 19 Judith Flanders, Penny Dreadfuls. www.bl.uk/romantics-and-victorians/articles/penny-dreadfuls.
20 Samuel Saunders, LJMU Postgraduate Research Conference 2015, Used Women in The Female Detective, and Revelations of a Lady Detective.
21 Samuel Saunders, LJMU Postgraduate Research Conference 2015, Used Women in The Female Detective, and Revelations of a Lady Detective.
22 Catherine L. Pirkis, The Experiences of Loveday Brooke: Lady Detective. p119
23 Kathleen Klein, The Woman Detective. p18