In nineteenth-century London, middle-class women did not engage in what were seen as “unladylike activities.” There were many jobs that a woman simply could not be expected to do because they were viewed as unsuitable for finer female sensibilities. The idea of a woman being involved in the murkiness of criminal detection must have seemed a radical and adventurous one in Victorian times: women simply did not do that sort of thing. And yet, in 1864, to the delight of men and women alike, two male authors published novels starring a female detective. William Stephens Hayward published Revelations of a Lady Detective just six months after Andrew Forrester’s The Female Detective (republished by the British Library in 2012), making Hayward’s the second novel ever published to feature a female detective. Hayward’s heroine, Mrs. Paschal, is a very different character from her predecessor, Forrester’s G. For a start, Mrs. Paschal is shown smoking on the front cover—an activity considered very modern and daring for women, even in the late nineteenth century. She is a widow, left close to financial ruin by the death of her husband, and supports herself through her detective work. This much racier female detective is however equally inventive, intuitive, and insightful, and with a Colt revolver in hand she works her way through a variety of cases involving theft, murder, and kidnapping. This very rare novel will be welcomed by all fans of Victorian crime fiction.
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William Stephens Hayward (1835–70) was a prolific author of Victorian “sensation” novels, historical novels, and stories for boys’ papers. His own life was not without scandal, and he spent several years in a debtors’ prison.Review:
“Striking. . . . Intriguing reading for anyone interested in the history of crime fiction. . . . [This] is a book that blows gender conventions out of the water.” (Sara Lodge, University of St Andrews Weekly Standard)
“Thoroughly entertaining.” (Classic Mysteries blog)
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