Little reviews on little (and big!) books

Revelations of a Lady Detective by William Stephens Hayward

on November 18, 2013

Published in 1864, Hayward’s collection of cases involving Mrs. Paschal were a shock and surprise to Victorian critics. Not only was the reader introduced to one of the very first incarnations of the female detective, but they were also treated to a woman who was inspiringly independent, clever, and astute. Another female detective, Mrs. Gladden, appeared in the same year, but she will be discussed in a later review 🙂 Remarkably, this woman exhibited all of the features of being able to solve a case significantly before Mr. Sherlock Holmes arrived in fiction. In fact, there is an instance where Mrs. Paschal utters a phrase which is very similar to a quotation the reader will find in the Holmes stories 20 years later (look out for it in the first case!) Critics have stated that they believe Arthur Conan Doyle took from what came before and adapted it to create his super detective; notably, the female detectives were present before Holmes, so Doyle could potentially have investigated the way the early lady detectives worked and used some of their skills to create his Holmes. Of course, any reader will realise that none of these detectives achieved the same sort of popularity as Holmes, which I believe is a real shame. These women deserved far more credit than they were given as pioneers of their trade. However, the concept of women having a natural vocation as a detective was a troublesome argument to the elements of the patriarchal Victorian society, who deemed women as the lesser and more impressionable sex who should be kept away from such activities. Ironically, female detectives gained access to a wealth of information that men would not be privy to.

Mrs. Paschal as a character is intuitive and courageous. We are told that she takes on her role after her husband dies and leaves her penniless, and is forced to do anything to make ends meet. However, once she becomes a female detective, she realises she has a natural talent for it, an opinion also shared by her boss. The cover illustration caused some concern upon its publication – a woman showing off her underskirt and smoking! *gasp* On the front of the book, we see her staring out at the reader with an unflinching gaze in order to show that she will not, as she puts it, ‘shrink in the hour of peril, when danger encompassed… and lurked in front and rear.’ Her first case, The Mysterious Countess, involves tailing a woman in disguise who enters an underground tunnel leading to a bank vault. Mrs. Paschal realises that in order to follow her, she has to dispose of her conventional feminine dress which would impede her movements. She tears off her crinoline, her ‘obnoxious garment,’ and enters the tunnel, worrying whether she should have brought her Colt revolver with her. This is how we are introduced to Mrs. Paschal: as a woman of strength and resilience in her task.

Another of her most memorable encounters involves a dalliance with the Italian mob in The Secret Band. Mrs. Paschal spies on a group of mobsters talking about how they murdered a man, only to somehow give away her position and be captured by them. Fortunately, as they are about to do away with her, a bolt of lightning incinerates her attacker right before her eyes, then she dramatically faints when her police backup arrives – never a dull moment!

The 10 cases are relatively short so the book can be finished pretty quickly, but the tales are packed with intrigue and investigation to always leave the reader guessing, with The Nun, the Will, and the Abbess being a personal favourite – plenty of detective story kidnap and disguise moments!  As one of the earliest female detectives, she is impressive to say the least. Highly recommended reading 😀


4 responses to “Revelations of a Lady Detective by William Stephens Hayward

  1. Sam says:

    You are a natural book reviewer 🙂 very well written young lady!

  2. Glen says:

    Always thought that I knew Victorian detective fiction until you showed me that ladies can be detectives too! Brilliantly written an insightful, Will be sure to keep visiting:)

  3. emma says:

    Thank you very much 🙂 Glad to pull you away from Sherlock 😛

  4. Wooo go the girls! Never knew this existed! Definitely going to give it a read

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