Monday, 18 July 2011

Shall We Join The Ladies?

   Fictional female detectives in the nineteenth and early twentieth century had to have a very pressing reason for entering what was mainly a male preserve. Loveday Brooke, for example, was desperately poor. And as late as 1898 Dorcas Deane ("A real sob-sister was Dorcas") worked to support an artist husband who had gone blind. Even so, some women still  didn't escape becoming social outcasts, which is probably why the gloriously named Miss van Snoop made only one appearance. Florence Cusack, however, was an exception. Young, beautiful and wealthy, she travelled from country to country  trying  to clear her dead husband's name in a series of stories and (most unusually) "ended up in the arms of her narrator."
   Madelyn Mack, "the delightful, golden-haired and beautiful college girl" invented by the American writer  Hugh C. Weir, had to earn her own living and decided to copy Sherlock Holmes, referring to her "dissecting-room experiences" and using expressions which do credit to him as a model. She was also fond of staging dramatic denouments. But her admiration for the man wasn't exactly unqualified. In fact, she became somewhat dismissive of him. There were, said Miss Mack, only two rules in detection: hard work and common sense. "Not uncommon sense, like our friend Sherlock Holmes." However, like Sherlock, Miss Mack had "a grip of steel" and was not averse to drug-taking. Only she went in for coca berries as a stimulant rather than cocaine. She also had her 'Watson'. Miss Noraker ('Nora') was on hand to ask questions, and to say things like "I'm afraid I don't quite follow you. There is nothing at all out of the ordinary that I can catch." And, like John H. Watson, she doesn't  always know where Madelyn is  or what she's  up to. Nevertheless, Nora  too is prepared to go anywhere with little or no notice and at any time of the day or night. Her reference to "the tyrant of our city editor's desk" implies that she also wrote up Madelyn's investigations in the best Watsonian manner. Unlike the little helper of "Lady Molly of Scotland Yard." Mary appears to be a servant of some sort and has the very irritating habit of  referring to her employer as "my dear lady" at the end of every sentence. She sounds even more admiring than the Watson. But the road was being well-paved for today's feisty forensic females.

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