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Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 50s

31 July 2015

From Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 50s:

The story of crime fiction in America has been largely understood as a male one. Starting with the terrifying tales of Edgar Allan Poe, moving to early “Great Detective” imitations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, on to the hardboiled tradition created and perfected by Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, expanded to a mass audience by pulp paperback novels, and further refined and honed by the likes of David Goodis, Ross Macdonald, and Elmore Leonard.

That story, of course, is far from the truth. In fact, women were publishing crime fiction from close to its inception, with Metta Fuller Victor (The Dead Letter) and Anna Katherine Green (The Leavenworth Case) beating Conan Doyle to the detective punch in 1866 and 1878, respectively, and Carolyn Wells publishing her Fleming Stone series soon after. That women were always part of the tradition somehow got sanded over, whether by accident or willful design, even though they were always there, paving their own distinct pathways through the rules and tropes of the genre. They took as much from deductive ratiocination as they did from the Gothic tradition made famous by the Bronte sisters.

. . . .

American women crime writers drew from other traditions: the spy story pioneered by Erskine Childers and G. K. Chesterton and made contemporary by Eric Ambler and Graham Greene; the “Queens of Suspense” across the Atlantic like Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, and Margery Allingham; and the “Had I But Known” school invented by Mary Roberts Rinehart in 1907 and further popularized by Mignon Eberhart and Mabel Seeley in the 1920s and 1930s; the unrelenting dread of Marie Belloc Lowndes’s The Lodger, seasoned with a Gothic flavor, a quarter-century later, in Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca; and psychoanalysis, Freud and Jung. In these works, the heroines were notably passive: events happened to them, and if they were active arbiters of their fate, it was only at the very last moment.

Link to the rest at Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 50s

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2 Comments to “Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 50s”

  1. Bartholomew Thockmorton

    Let’s play Word Scramble:

    It’s a Crime: Women Writers in their 40s and 50s

    (Slow day at the office, heh.)

  2. No reference to Craig Rice? Not particularly cerebral but hardboiled Chicago fun. And I have several of her books in yellowing, crumbling paperback.

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