Sunday, April 26, 2009

The first female detective in literature?

In today's Washington Post, Dennis Drabelle quotes from John Sutherland's Curiosities of Literature, stating that "the first female detective in literature was probably Amelia Butterworth, who made her debut in Anna Katharine Green's That Affair Next Door (1897)."

The assertion is inaccurate. Mrs. G. in The Female Detective (1864) by Andrew J. Forrester Jr. is commonly identified as the first female detective in fiction. Also predating Butterworth are Mrs. Paschal in the anonymous The Experiences of a Lady Detective (1864, following Forrester by six months; attrib. to William Stephens Hayward, but there is controversy about this attribution), Catherine Louisa Pirkis's Loveday Brooke (1893, stories collected in The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective), and Emma Van Deventer's Madeline Payne (Madeline Payne, Detective's Daughter, 1884; and Moina, 1891). One could also argue that Wilkie Collins's Marian Halcombe acts as a detective in The Woman in White (1860), as well as Mary Elizabeth Braddon's Eleanor Vane in Eleanor's Victory (1863).

Update. The Female Detective and The Experiences of a Lady Detective have been reprinted in The First Female Detectives (2010). In addition, The Female Detective and Experiences of a Lady Detective (under its alternate title, Revelations of a Lady Detective) have been reprinted by the British Library (distrib. U of Chicago P).


Dustfinger said...

Hi...I am doing some research on the figure of the female detective in Victorian literature. Would you have any idea where I might locate a copy of The Female Detective? Thanks :D

Elizabeth Foxwell said...

There are a few hard copies or microfilm copies of _The Female Detective_ in a few libraries. Do a search at, take the results to your librarian, and ask he or she to order for you either the microfilm or a hardcopy through interlibrary loan.

One of the tales within _The Female Detective_, "The Unknown Weapon," was reprinted in _Three Victorian Detective Novels_, ed. E. Bleiler, New York: Dover, 1978.