Thursday, 30 May 2013

"Once More the Cool and Crafty Female Detective" - Mrs Paschal

Revelations of a Lady Detective (1864) is attributed to William Stephens Hayward (1834-1870). His name did not appear on the original title page. Most cheap pot-boilers were published anonymously or 'by the authors of' earlier well-selling stories. Little is known of Hayward, but what is known indicates that he was a bit of a rogue (see Steve Holland's blog Together with Samuel Bracebridge Hemyng, Hayward was associated with the popular "Anonyma" series of sexy and sensational stories. They all feature fearless heroines tackling compromising and dangerous situations.

 Revelations of a Lady Detective has ten cases told in a first-person narrative by Mrs Paschal, a female detective employed by the police. The title, promising revelations, is suggestive of naughty secrets and the cover image of the book (assuming that the 2013 reprint by the British Library retains the cover of the 1864 original) shows quite a saucy, pretty woman with a knowing expression, lifting the hem of her dress to show her petticoat and shapely ankles, with a lit cigarette in her other hand.


 Mrs Paschal's adventures are exciting, melodramatic and entertaining. The narratives flow well and there is plenty of action and violence. There are a few logical errors: in "Fifty Pounds Reward," Mrs Louisa Eskell is once called Laura, and later in the story one policeman mysteriously becomes "policemen." In "The Lost Diamonds" Karl Fulchöck's father is dead, but a couple of pages later he dutifully keeps sending him part of his salary. Each story wrings pretty much every last drop of suspense and emotion out of the scenes, sometimes to a ludicrous but amusing degree. It is not clear why the mysterious countess has to dress up as a man and wear "a hideous black mask" when she enters the basement in her own house.  It is also not clear why Mrs Paschal walks into the show at the gipsy fair only to see her suspect Lambrook perform with three rats. Hayward comes up with some terrific chapter titles, and often the action in the chapter is twisted suitably to provide substance to the title: "Eating Rats," "A Very Bad Woman," "Torture," and "Chained to the Wall" are my favourites.

There are many excellent scenes of melodrama; Mrs Paschal is several times spectacularly in danger of her life. In "The Mysterious Countess" she is lost in underground tunnels hiding from the countess: "What could I do? To attack her ladyship would, I thought, be the forerunner of instant death. It would be like running upon a sword, or firing a pistol in one's own mouth." In "The Secret Band," an evil mastermind Zini, the leader of an Italian secret society, amidst flashes of lightning and thunder, attempts to throw Mrs Paschal into the teeth of a gigantic water-mill: "If any one were by chance to fall within its compass, life would soon be extinct, and a mangled corpse would before long be floating down the river." And if her own life is not in danger, Mrs Paschal is witness to some sensational scenes. In "The Nun, the Will and the Abbess" she sees as young novice tortured by the evil abbess. In "Found Drowned" she chases a culprit trough a moonlit graveyard. In "Which is the Heir?" she watches a man kill a rat with his teeth and pretend to eat it: "the crunching of the bones was plainly audible." In "Mistaken Identity," she pretends "to be by no means shy" and plays the role of a wife of a French criminal turned detective in the company of a criminal gang in an ale house. And in "Stolen Letters" she takes a job as a letter-sorter at the General Post-Office ("For the sake of appearances two other women had been introduced at the same time." The men scowl at them "as if we intended to take the bread out of their mouths."), and she witnesses the culprit escape by means of "the tubes of the Pneumatic Company." In short, Mrs Pashcal is no shrinking violet and keeps getting herself into and out of tricky situations.

At the opening of the first story, Mrs Paschal arrives to see Colonel Warner "head of the Detective Department of the Metropolitan Police," he, according to Mrs Paschal, was the first police chief to employ female detectives following the example of "Fouchė, the great Frenchman" (Joseph Fouchė [1759-1820] was Minister of Police in France 1799-1810 and again in 1815).  Although most of her assignments are handed to her by the Colonel, Mrs Paschal is in the detective game to earn her living, and wherever she goes she keeps her ears open for potentially profitable cases. In "The Lost Diamonds" she is posting a letter at the General Post Office when she overhears two people mention that Duke of Rustenburgh has lost his diamonds: "I immediately began to think how I could turn the information to account." In "Found Drowned" she reads about the death of Laura Harwell in a newspaper: "I made up my mind to compete for the reward." Her eye is usually on the reward and almost all the stories mention where it will come from. Only some of the cases are official criminal cases, many of them are problems individuals bring to the Colonel, who then passes them to Mrs Paschal as matters of a private investigation. Many cases, like ""The Lost Diamonds" are "hushed up" and a deal negotiated ("The Nun, the Will and the Abbess", "Fifty Pound Reward") or the culprit is allowed to emigrate ("Who is the Heir?" and "Mistaken Identity"). Mrs Paschal is also aware that she that she is competing against other detectives. To recover Duke Rustenburgh's diamonds, "I was aware that in engaging in this matter I was undertaking a contest with the keenest wits and most fertile brains in the force." ("The Lost Diamonds"). She often takes a different course from her colleagues and solves the cases beating them in the detective game.

Mrs Paschal does not tell us much about herself. She is "verging on forty." She has worked as a barmaid ("Incognita"). Of her past, she says: "It is hardly necessary to refer to the circumstances which led me to embark on a career at once strange, exciting, and mysterious, but  I may say that my husband died suddenly, leaving me badly off." ("The Mysterious Countess") She enters households in the guise of a domestic servant, she "appeared of a mature age" ("The Nun, The Will, and the Abbess"), she talks of "old people like myself," and a young adventuress suggests she could be mistaken for her mother ("Incognita"). Mrs Paschal describes herself as "always happier in harness" ("Stolen Letters"), as "the cool and crafty female detective" ("Incognita") and says that "owing to frequent acquaintance with peril, I had become unusually hardened for a woman." ("The Secret Band"). She is smart, efficient, capable and unshaken by a corpse with a crushed head ("He could not bend down and kiss his wife's brow, for in its entire state it did not exist."), by an old woman falling down the stairs to her death or by seeing a man reduced by lightning to "a scathed mass of charred humanity" (all events in "The Secret Band"). Mrs Paschal is happy to bribe a housekeeper ("The Mysterious Countess"), steal paperwork from an abbess ("The Nun, The Will and the Abbess"), to enter the Pig and Whistle in the Seven Dials ("Mistaken Identity"), examine a drowned body ("Found Drowned")  and even abandon her "obnoxious" crinoline when chasing a criminal ("The Mysterious Countess"). There is nothing to stop this woman from pursuing her investigations.

Mrs Paschal is great fun, and a heroine of this calibre deserves equally formidable female adversaries. There is Lady Vervane, the eponymous "mysterous countess," who was once "on stage" and married "the notorious and imbecile nobleman" who soon died. Lady Vervane is beautiful, rich and resourceful, and "looked upon [Mrs Paschal] very much as a lady in the Southern States of America looks upon a slave." ("The Mysterious Countess"). There is also the evil and greedy abbess in "The Nun, the Will and the Abbess" and the pretty, avaricious Fanny Williams aka 'Incognita' who has Mrs Wareham's son in her clutches. Finally, we have the formidable Mrs Wilkinson, wife of the "keeper of a pork and butter shop" in "Fifty Pounds Reward." She corrupts poor, "muddled" Mrs Louisa Eskell into fraudulently spending her husband's money. This is an interesting story because it deals with a wayward and independent woman who speaks her mind. Mrs Wilkinson is large and loud, we get a long description of her gigantic body in most unflattering terms. It is worth quoting in full:

"She was enormously stout, and to such a size did her corpulence extend, that at the first glance the beholder imagined he was regarding a phenomenon who by some accident had escaped from the caravan in which she was carted from fair to fair, to be shown to the curious as a monstrous mass of humanity, whose adipose tissue had grown to a size altogether beyond reasonable or decent limits. In a house in which beetles abounded she would have been invaluable, for few of the poor insects could have effected their escape from the crushing tread of those huge feet, which more resembled the hoofs of an elephant or a gouty rhinoceros than the lower extremities of a woman. The bloated and swollen lumps of flesh which in her composition represented hands, were like patches of dough formed into half-quartern [sic] loaves before they were subjected to the heat of the oven. Her face might have been made by the amalgamation of two turnips and a pumpkin, with two pig's eyes deeply sunk in the fatty mass. Nature was to blame for having created such a montrosity, or if creation was unavoidable, for permitting it to cumber the earth, who surface groaned beneath the imposition." ("Fifty Pound Reward")

The narrative goes on to describe her voice and mannerisms with equal relish.                    
Mrs Wilkinson has been corrupted by her husband, who "was accustomed with gross indelicacy to speak before his wife as he would have done before his sporting friends, and the consequence was that her mind became vitiated, and her manners contaminated." Louisa Eskell falls under the spell of Mrs Wilkinson. John Eskell tries to control her: "I am the proper person to regulate such things, and to tell you who you shall know and who you shall not." When Louisa stamps her foot at her husband and protests: "a woman who submits to a man is little better than a fool," John Eskell threatens her: "If this sort of behaviour on your part continues, I shall send you home to your mother." And all this takes place under the chapter heading "A Very Bad Woman."

It is very difficult to know how to read "Fifty Pounds Reward." It is funny, quaint and just what we expect of the presumably horrendously prim and proper, misogynistic Victorians. When Mrs Paschal arrives to sort out the mess of the forged signature on Mr Eskell's cheque, she demonstrates her no-nonsense approach and marches to the Wilkinsons' shop and arrests Mrs Wilkinson in front of gaping customers as "an accomplice with one Louisa Eskell" for forgery. She is giving no consideration to poor Louisa's reputation informing the neighbourhood of her crime, even when she knows that Mr Eskell is quite happy to forgive his wife. Mrs Wilkinson "howled out her penitent prayers for forgiveness with a submission that was as servile as it was disgusting." The matter is resolved privately at the Eskells' house. Mrs Wilkinson pays John Eskell twenty pounds in compensation for making Louisa go on a shopping spree. Presumably Louisa also gets to keep her purchases. The Wilkinsons lose their reputation, have to sell their shop and end up "in a state of abject poverty." 

Mrs Paschal is a strong female character, but it would be misguided to read her adventures as in any way proto-feminist. They are, however, melodramatic in the best tradition of penny-dreadfuls. They are full of gruesome violence and Gothic scenes of mystery and terror. Their year of publication (1864) and the similar casebook format invite a comparison between Hayward's Mrs Paschal and Forrester's Miss Gladden. Mrs Paschal and her adventures are drawn with much stronger colours than Miss Gladden's. Miss Gladden's endeavours at detection are puny and pale when set alongside the thickly slapped-on melodrama and sensationalism of Mrs Paschal's investigative triumphs

Friday, 17 May 2013

"I Know Well That My Trade is Despised" - Miss Gladden, The Female Detective

Andrew Forrester's The Female Detective (1864) is a collection of seven separate cases with an introduction. All are told by a first person narrator (even if in the introduction she states that she will "tell the tales in what I believe is called the third person"). This case-book format follows a tradition of similar publications by male detectives both fictional and real. The Recollections of a Policeman by "Waters" appeared in 1852; Recollections of a Detective Police-Officer by William Russell (not a policeman) in 1856. The earliest of them all, Richmond, or, Scenes in the Life of a Bow Street Officer was published in 1827. By the time Andrew Forrester hit on this formula in 1863/4 it was an old hat. He produced The Revelations of a Private Detective in 1863 and Secret Service, or, Recollections of a City Detective in 1864, both before The Female Detective, as well as The Private Detective in 1868.

Andrew Forrester was a pseudonym of James Redding Ware (1832-1909) [In Mike Ashley's introduction to The Female Detective this discovery is attributed to Kate Summerscale.). Ware wrote stories and possibly edited the weekly magazine Grave and Gay, where most of them appeared. It is evident that some the stories featured in The Female Detective were published before Miss Gladden was created, including "A Child Found Dead: Murder or No Murder," which appeared in 1862 under the name J. Ware (hence the connection between the man and his pseudonym) as a pamphlet and with no mention of Miss Gladden.

This story "A Child Found Dead" is little more than a re-telling of the known facts relating to the famous Road House murder case of June 1860. Similarly, "The Unraveled Mystery" outlines a hypothetical solution to the 1857 Waterloo Carpet-Bag Mystery, which was never solved by the police. There is no room in these stories for Miss Gladden and on both occasions the narrative is handed to her by 'Doctor Y-,' a medical man who remains anonymous (detectives do not reveal their sources).

At first glance, the stories in The Female Detective are rubbish. They are predictable and read like pot-boilers, spewed out carelessly without much forethought or effort. Only three of the stories follow the course of criminal investigations by Miss Gladden or 'G' as she is known among her detective colleagues. The remaining four are shorter, anecdotal tales of clever crimes, the two based on true crimes suggesting only their hypothetical solutions.

These tales are not entirely without merit and interest, however. There are a couple of pleasingly melodramatic scenes and mildly sensational turns of events. Perversely, the best scenes for getting the reader to grip the edge of the seat are wasted and their potential thrown away unused. In "The Unknown Weapon," just as they have discovered a crucial, incriminating piece of evidence, Miss Gladden and a female detective colleague find themselves locked up in a burning house. There is plenty of scope for heroic action as they fight to save their lives. The narrative resolves this tense situation: "This tale is the story of the 'Unknown Weapon,' and therefore I cannot logically here go into any full explanation of our escape."

"Tenant for Life" introduces a marvelously melodramatic villain in Sir Nathaniel Shirley. He is a selfish, profligate, sensualist. When, armed with his own police officers, Sir Nathaniel comes to take everything away from the pure-hearted, beautiful Miss Shedleigh, we are on the brink of a sensational scene. Unfortunately, at this moment Miss Gladden decides to leave the room: "Then I left the room. What was said I never learnt." She only returns to the room after Sir Nathaniel has dropped dead.

The Lady Detective is clearly not interested in offering traditional melodramatic scenes of horror, suffering or romance. The narrative sets them up before our eyes and then shuts us out. There is always the possibility that Forrester just is not a very good writer. There is also the possibility that he is making a conscious choice. Instead of sensational thrills and shivers based on spine-tingling scenes of danger and villainy á la The Woman in White (1860) or Lady Audley's Secret (1862), Forrester is grasping for a specific kind of a cerebral and moral thrill: the science of detection and the ethical dilemmas it brings.

In her Introduction, Miss Gladden asks three important questions. It is part of her 'logical' style to ask questions and follow them with answers. She also likes to present numbered lists of items. First she asks "Who am I?" And she answers that it matters little, as long as we accept "that whatever may be the results of the practice of my profession in others, in me that profession has not led me towards hardheartedness." We have detective with a heart - capable of compassion and sound moral judgment. Then she asks, "For what reason do I write this book?" She writes in order to show that the profession of a detective "is so useful it should not be despised." Throughout the book Miss Gladden is painfully aware of the general dislike and distrust for the detective police: "I am quite aware that society looks upon the companionship of a spy as repulsive; but, nevertheless, we detectives are necessary, as scavengers are called for, and I therefore write this book to help show, by my experience, that the detective has some demand upon the gratitude of society." The same argument is repeated in "Tenant for Life" and "The Unknown Weapon." The Female Detective presents itself as an apologia for the detective police. Finally, Miss Gladden asks what will be the value of the record of her experiences. She hopes that it will show how successful detective work can be in exposing evil-doing and, what is much more interesting and important, "that there is much good to be found, even amongst criminals, and that it does not follow because a man breaks the law that he is therefore heartless."

Detectives are sensational. They spend their time dealing with low-life criminals, homicidal maniacs, fraudsters and thieves. What is worse, entering the homes of respectable people they bring an unwelcome whiff of this societal pestilence with them. They are experts in pulling skeletons out of the family closet. Detectives are "family-spies." Miss Gladden observes that "It had appeared as though the English detectives were in the habit of prying into private life, and as though no citizen were free from a system of spydom."

Women detectives are doubly sensational. Miss Gladden's friends think she is a dressmaker, her enemies think she is a prostitute. She hides her true profession. Detection, for so many reasons, is not lady-like. Forrester seeks to present the female detective as a sexy, sensational figure who is a consummate professional in her highly questionable field of expertise. There is a tension between the admiration for the detective's skills and a discomfort with these same skills of spying, deception and ferreting out secrets.

"I am aware that the female detective may be regarded with even more aversion that her brother in profession. But still it cannot be disproved that if there is a demand for men detectives there must also be one for female detective police spies. Criminals are both masculine and feminine - indeed my experience tells me that when a woman becomes a criminal she is far worse than the average of her male companions, and therefore it follows that the necessary detectives should be of both sexes."

At best, this argument by Miss Gladden sounds like a strike for gender equality and feminism. At least, it sounds like a plausible justification for the existence of The Female Detective. There are things, according to Miss Gladden, that female detectives can do better than male detectives. They "are enabled to educate our five senses to a higher pitch than are our male competitors." They have an element of surprise, with people unable to believe a woman can be a detective. In "The Unknown Weapon" the mind of a slow-witted local policeman, "could not grasp the idea of a police officer in petticoats." They can assume an occupation of a dressmaker or a milliner which gains them access into a house for a suitable period of time. There are fewer such male occupations. Miss Gladden observes that "it is the peculiar advantage of women detectives, and one which in many cases gives them an immeasurable value beyond that of their male friends, that they can get into house outside which the ordinary men-detective could barely stand without being suspected."

In The Female Detective Miss Gladden uses the latest forensic technology ('fluff' is sent to a "microscopic chemist" for analysis) and lectures us on the importance of boot prints for identifying culprits. She finds out when the rain started on the night of the murder to estimate the time of the crime. She uses official registers for births and marriages to track down people. She showcases all these professional tricks of the trade of detection. She also lies, pretends and misleads. This is all in a day of detective work: "as evil-doing is a kind of lie levelled at society, if it is to be conquered it must be met on the side of society, through its employees, by similar false action." She condones theft: "we police officers have sometimes to turn thieves - for the good of society of course."

The professionalism, the scientific approach to the detection of crime and the slight bending of the social, even legal, rules to achieve ultimate justice are all features we today recognize as belonging to detective heroes. The most controversial characteristic of the female detective, however, is her sense of justice. The job of the detective police, as Miss Gladden repeats several times, is to uphold the law and bring criminals to justice. But justice according to law is not always in accord with our sense of fairness and just desserts. This is the point Miss Gladden makes at the end of her introduction.

The Female Detective aims to be sensational and thrilling by using a woman detective with specialized knowledge and expertise in the technicalities of crime detection. It can also be argued that a female protagonist and narrator gives the author more scope to explore the moral dilemmas detective work creates. Compassion is one more thing female detectives do better than their male colleagues. In this way, a woman detective opens up new ground for the author to explore and a powerful way to engage his readers. Miss Gladden is placed in situations where the law pulls one way, her moral compass points the other way. "Tenant for Life" labours this point almost to death. It is the main theme in "The Judgment of Conscience," and it resurfaces in different forms elsewhere in the stories.

It is possible, even likely, that Forrester is a lousy writer churning out cheap tales of detection to earn a quick buck. Nevertheless, he has created an intriguing and engaging character: a woman detective who is independent, professional, even mercenary in the pursuit of her trade and at the same time struggling to reconcile the gap between the law she is paid to uphold and her natural sense of justice. Miss Gladden is a sensational heroine, even if the plots of her adventures are not.