ENGL 4205 Women and Detective Fiction
ENGL 4205: Women in Detective Fiction
Dr. Rohan Maitzen
To Sherlock Holmes, she was always the woman.
—Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, “A Scandal in Bohemia”
At least since Irene Adler beat Sherlock Holmes at his own game, women have had a complicated relationship with both detectives and detective fiction. Though often depicted as either victims or femmes fatales in early detective stories, women characters did frequently have central roles, and even before Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple appeared in 1930, they did their share of crime-solving too. Women writers have also been prominent in the field from its early days: Christie, Dorothy Sayers, and Ngaio Marsh were major figures in the ‘Golden Age’ of detective fiction in the 1920s and 1930s, for instance, and P. D. James, Sue Grafton, and Sara Paretsky are only a few of the many women whose crime fiction tops today’s best-seller lists. In this course we will read a sampling of mystery writing by women featuring female investigators, paying particular attention to the different things our readings suggest about women’s relationships to crime, law, justice, morality, knowledge, and power.
Specific plans for the 2020 version of this class are still tentative; update information will be posted to my webpage in the early summer (https://rohanmaitzen.com/teaching/) and a detailed syllabus and schedule will be available for registered students on Brightspace by the end of August.
Tentative Book List
Agatha Christie, Thirteen Problems
Dorothy L. Sayers, Gaudy Night
Carolyn Keene, Nancy Drew: The Secret of the Old Clock
P. D. James, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman
Amanda Cross, Death in a Tenured Position
Sara Paretsky, Indemnity Only
Katherine V. Forrest, Murder at the Nightwood Bar