Skip to Main Content
Have library access? Log in through your library
Feminism in Women's Detective Fiction

Feminism in Women's Detective Fiction

Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 216
  • Book Info
    Feminism in Women's Detective Fiction
    Book Description:

    The essays in this collection grapple with a wide range of issues important to the female sleuth - the most important, perhaps, being the oft-heard challenge to her suitability for the job.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-2308-8
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations Export to NoodleTools Export to RefWorks Export to EasyBib Export a RIS file (For EndNote, ProCite, Reference Manager, Zotero, Mendeley...) Export a Text file (For BibTex)
  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction: Gender and Genre: The Woman Detective and the Diffusion of Generic Voices
    (pp. ix-2)
    Glenwood Irons

    In Oliver Stone’s recent movieNatural Born Killers, the lyrics to a Leonard Cohen song reveal a rather grim sentiment about the world in which the protagonists live: ‘I’ve seen the future, brother. It is murder.’ Stone’s movie is a satire on the violence of American society on the edge of the twenty-first century, arid, as a satire, it shows a great deal of violence – the central characters manage to murder fifty-two people in less than ninety minutes. The goriness serves a satiric function, but it also goes along with what seems to be a reality: that the mass...

  5. 1. Amelia Butterworth: The Spinster Detective
    (pp. 3-11)
    Joan Warthling Roberts

    In 1931, H. Douglas Thomson was able to say with assurance in his pioneering study of detective fiction,Masters of Mystery, that ‘there is no future for the detective story. I mean that it is in no process of natural growth; its development has already been perfected’ (274).

    This kind of certainty about life and art may have been easier in the 1930s; it sounds strangely quaint in the 1990s. Few critics today would look at the many forms of detective/mystery fiction and claim that the development of the form has been perfected. ‘Form’ has become ‘forms,’ and we are...

  6. 2. The Detective Heroine and the Death of Her Hero: Dorothy Sayers to P.D. James
    (pp. 12-28)
    SueEllen Campbell

    Despite the traditional strength of women as writers of detective fiction, detective heroines have until recently been remarkably rare. At one time, the only clear category for women in the genre was the ‘little old lady’ best exemplified by Agatha Christie’s Miss Jane Marple. Young or middle-aged heroines - characters for whom questions of sexuality, romance, or marriage might be expected to arise - were very rare. Among major writers, Dorothy Sayers and P.D. James were thus conspicuous as early creators of such characters. In a series of books closely related both by Sayers’ direct influence on James and by...

  7. 3. Gray Areas: P.D. James’s Unsuiting of Cordelia
    (pp. 29-45)
    Nicola Nixon

    In 1982, after a decade of friendly but persistent badgering from her fans, critics, and interviewers, P.D. James publishedThe Skull Beneath the Skin, her second Cordelia Gray novel. Her first Cordelia Gray,An Unsuitable Job for a Woman(1972), had received immediate approval for James’s only female detective – indeed, a resounding approval that prompted the novel’s nomination for an American Edgar Award, and that seemed to grow exponentially throughout the 1970s and into the 1980s, despite the continued absence of a sequel and the publication of two more Adam Dalgliesh novels. Cordelia Gray was, after all, considered an...

  8. 4. Questing Women: The Feminist Mystery after Feminism
    (pp. 46-63)
    Sandra Tomc

    At one point inPrime Suspect, Granada Television’s 1991 feminist mystery serial, Detective Chief Inspector Jane Tennison is sitting in a pub questioning two prostitutes about the brutal rape and murder of their young friend, another prostitute. Tennison’s inquiries are just beginning when one of the men in the pub wanders over, slides his hand on her knee, and whispers something in her ear. Clearly, he has mistaken her for a prostitute. Informed of his error, he beats a fast retreat, leaving Tennison and the real prostitutes to have a good laugh.

    For all its comic lightness, this moment is...

  9. 5. From Spinster to Hipster: The ‘Suitability’ of Miss Marple and Anna Lee
    (pp. 64-73)
    Glenwood Irons and Joan Warthling Roberts

    Amelia Butterworth is the prototypical spinster detective, created by Anna Katharine Green in 1897. Jane Marple, created by Agatha Christie some thirty years later, set the archetype in stone. Through mutation and reinvention, the British spinster detective has come down to us – via Harriet Vane and Cordelia Gray – in the guise of Liza Cody’s modern hipster operative Anna Lee. For while the old spinster has in effect become a young hipster, many of the attitudes that surrounded the spinster remain. Just as the spinster frequently is the object of derision, so the hipster is the object of the...

  10. 6. Nancy Drew: The Once and Future Prom Queen
    (pp. 74-93)
    Bobbie Ann Mason

    On the secret shelf in my study stand all my girlhood books: the green Bobbsey books with Pennsylvania Dutch hexes on their covers; the brown Hardy Boys (I did have a few); the blue-gray Beverly Grays and Vicki Barrs; the red Judy Boltons and Cherry Ameses; and the most impressive looking of them all, the royal blue Nancy Drews.

    It occurs to me now that Nancy’s color is blue, and that this may be an important tip-off to the mystery of the girl in blue. Blue, after all, is our culture’s chromatic emblem of boyhood. Blue is the color of...

  11. 7. Feminist Murder: Amanda Cross Reinvents Womanhood
    (pp. 94-111)
    Jeanne Addison Roberts

    In the works of Carolyn Heilbrun we have a rare and fascinating opportunity to observe both the formulation of feminist theory and the embodiment of theory in fictional creation. The publication of the fictions began before that of the theoretical works, and the reader can trace an evolution of ideas which seem enriched by the interaction of the two. Heilbrun’s mystery stories, published under the pseudonym Amanda Cross, began in 1964. Her early feminist theories are articulated in two pioneering feminist books,Toward a Recognition of Androgyny, 1973 andReinventing Womanhood, 1979.¹ One can speculate that the genesis of the...

  12. 8. Murders Academic: Women Professors and the Crimes of Gender
    (pp. 112-126)
    Susan J. Leonardi

    ‘The whole point about mysteries,’ one of the characters in Amanda Cross’sThe James Joyce Murdersays, ‘is that it is so nice to read about other people’s doing things without having to do that sort of thing oneself’ (96). She refers here to the adventures of the detective, but one might easily extend the ‘thing’ to include the violent acts of the offender. That is, we are all at times tempted to resort to violence. And this perhaps explains partially what so attracts academics to detective fiction. As members of academic institutions, we long to poison, stab, shoot, or...

  13. 9. Talkin’ Trash and Kickin’ Butt: Sue Grafton’s Hard-boiled Feminism
    (pp. 127-147)
    Scott Christianson

    Sue Grafton’s series of hard-boiled mystery novels, featuring the female private investigator Kinsey Millhone, challenges patriarchy and asserts feminine autonomy.¹ As the narrator of Grafton’s stories, Millhone talks tough and cracks wise – and occasionally cracks skulls and other parts of her antagonists’ anatomies in the true tradition of hard-boiled detective fiction. Like her many male counterparts – Sam Spade, Philip Marlowe, Lew Archer, and Spenser – Millhone attempts to order her chaotic and violent experience in a careful narrative which, above all, tries to remain true to her experience even when she cannot make sense of what exactly is...

  14. 10. The Female Dick and the Crisis of Heterosexuality
    (pp. 148-156)
    Ann Wilson

    In recent years, critics have hailed the work of three American writers – Sue Grafton, Marcia Muller, and Sara Paretsky – as revising, perhaps even renewing, the tradition of the hard-boiled detective novel.¹ Each of the writers has created a detective who is a single woman in her midthirties, and who works as a licensed private investigator. Physically and mentally tough, willing to take tremendous personal risks as she negotiates the treacherous underworld of urban America, each of these detectives recalls the tradition of Sam Spade more than that of Miss Marple. For these authors, the problem is one of...

  15. 11. ‘Friends Is a Weak Word for It’: Female Friendship and the Spectre of Lesbianism in Sara Paretsky
    (pp. 157-170)
    Rebecca A. Pope

    The opening chapter of Sara Paretsky’s seventh V.I. Warshawski novel,Guardian Angel, is titled ‘Sex and the Single Girl.’ Here is the first paragraph: ‘Hot kisses covered my face, dragging me from deep sleep to the rim of consciousness. I groaned and slid deeper under the covers, hoping to sink back into the well of dreams. My companion wasn’t in the humor for rest; she burrowed under the blankets and continued to lavish urgent affection on me’ (1). Experienced readers of Paretsky, those who know that the series is narrated by the detective herself, may stumble on the ‘she,’ conjuring...

  16. 12. Habeas Corpus: Feminism and Detective Fiction
    (pp. 171-190)
    Kathleen Gregory Klein

    Having reached for the compact OED to insert a brief definition of the termhabeas corpusat the beginning of this essay, I was amazed to discover that it does not mean what I had thought. Associating the phrase with detective fiction, corpses, and legal procedures, I was no doubt influenced by Dorothy L. Sayers into mentally translating the phrase as ‘have his carcase.’ In the opening chapter ofHave His Carcase, Harriet Vane not only inspects the body of Paul Alexis carefully, detailing his possessions and inspecting his wounds, but also takes a photograph of the body so that...

  17. Contributors
    (pp. 191-192)