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date: 17 November 2017

British Detective Fiction in the 19th and Early 20th Centuries

Summary and Keywords

From ancient Greece on, fictional narratives have entailed deciphering mystery. Sophocles’ Oedipus must solve the mystery of the plague decimating Thebes; the play is a dramatization of how he ultimately “detects” the culprit responsible for the plague, who turns out to be Oedipus himself. In the Poetics, Aristotle defines a successful plot as one that has a conflict (which can include, and often does include, a “mystery”) that rises to a climax, followed by a resolution of the conflict, a plot line that describes not only Oedipus Rex but also every Sherlock Holmes story.

A particular genre of mystery writing is defined by the mystery at the center of the story that is crucially, definitively solved by a particular person known as a detective, either private or police, who by ratiocination (close observation coupled with logical patterns of thought based on material evidence) uncovers and sorts out the relevant facts essential to a determination of who did the crime and how and why. The form of detective fiction throughout most of the 19th century was the short story published in various periodicals of the period. A few longer detective fictions were published as separate books in the 19th century, but book-length detective fiction, such as that by Agatha Christie, was really a product of the 20th century.

Most critics of detective fiction see the beginning of the genre in the three stories of Edgar Allan Poe which feature his amateur detective, Auguste Dupin, and were published in the 1840s. Although Poe’s 1840s stories as well as Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories, which first appeared in the 1880s, are probably the most well known of 19th-century detective fictions, a number of other writers of generically recognizable detective fiction published stories in the almost fifty years between Poe and Conan Doyle, including a number that featured female detectives. Finally, from the 1890s into the early 20th century, a plethora of new detective fictions, still in short-story form for the most part, appeared not only in Britain but also in France and the United States.

Detective fiction has always been popular, but serious critical interest in the genre only developed in the 20th century. In the second half of that century, this critical interest expanded into the academic world. The popularity of the genre has only continued to grow. Both detective fictions (now nearly all novel length) and critical interest in the genre from a variety of perspectives are now an international phenomenon, and detective novels dominate many best-seller lists.

Keywords: mystery, detective, Auguste Dupin, Sherlock Holmes, Metropolitan Police, women detectives

The word detective entered the English language in the mid-1800s, but it is ultimately derived from the Latin detegere, meaning “to uncover.” The label “detective” was not in common usage until there were actual official detectives, which did not happen until the mid-Victorian period, especially after the detective branch of the Metropolitan Police was instituted in 1842 with eight professionals, including two “inspectors.” In 1878, the detective branch was reorganized and renamed the Criminal Investigation Department (CID). By 1888, there were eight hundred officers in the CID.

At almost the same period as the detective branch of the Metropolitan Police was evolving, the genre of detective fiction was also emerging, mainly in the short-story form. In these stories, a mystery or a crime occurs, and an amateur or professional detective is called in to solve it. The detective reveals the solution only at the end of the narrative, when he or she explains how the solution was reached, often through the scientific method—conclusions drawn from material evidence. The settings of detective fictions are usually contemporary with the time written and frequently take place in urban areas.

Most 19th-century detective fictions were in short-story form, many published in the Strand Magazine starting in 1891. The persistence of the short-story format in the 19th century was due in part to the influence of Poe’s Dupin 1840s detective short stories, but also it was easier to sustain suspense in a short story than a book-length narrative. The very popular Trent’s Last Case, by E. C. Bentley (1913), has traditionally been seen as one of the first novel-length detective fictions. Bentley’s method of stretching out the story was to break the narrative into two parts—in the first part the detective solves the crime but points to the wrong perpetrator; the second part takes place years later, when the case is taken up again and the right criminal is finally discovered. This method of expanding the story to book length was clearly not one that could be generally used, so later authors of novel-length detective stories introduced more characters and various red herrings, that is, plot lines that lead to incorrect conclusions.

The interest and pleasure in reading detective fiction, for the most part, come from discovering the way the detective uncovers the criminal and the criminal’s motive, which generally are a surprise to everybody, including the reader. The criminal is usually an individual, not part of a professional crime organization, which can be reassuring to the reader. The usually idiosyncratic personality of the detective as well as his or her inevitable success in solving the crime are other pleasures for the readers, which keep them coming back for more adventures of the specific detective—whether Sherlock Holmes or, later, Miss Marple or Lord Peter Wimsey. Thus another characteristic of most detective fiction is that the detective goes on to solve other crimes in other stories, making the series an important part of the creation of the character of the detective and the popularity of the genre.

A good number of critics of 19th-century British detective fiction, especially those in the early 20th century, included in their discussions and analyses the detectives in two canonized novels that appeared around the time of the establishment of the detective branch of the Metropolitan Police, the well-known novels Bleak House, by Charles Dickens (1853), whose police detective is Inspector Bucket, and The Moonstone, by Wilkie Collins (1868), whose police detective is Sergeant Cuff. However, these classic novels are not centrally constructed around the detective’s work, nor do they culminate in the detective’s revelation of both the criminal who did the crime and how and why he or she did it. Nonetheless, many early critical studies of Victorian detective fiction discuss only Poe’s Dupin, Dickens’s Bucket (partially based on a real detective, Inspector Charles Frederick Field, with whom Dickens was friendly, accompanying him on some of his nighttime rounds of rough lodgings), Collins’s Sergeant Cuff, and, mainly, Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. Coupled with feminist-inspired efforts to recover forgotten works by 19th-century women writers, the critical interest in detective fiction led to the discovery of many forgotten detective fiction writers between the 1840s and World War I. Finally, starting in the second half of the 20th century, critical attention tried to account for the popularity of the genre, using Freudian, Marxist, structuralist, feminist, and postcolonial critiques.

British detective fiction from 1840 to 1914 traces an arc of development from a few precursors to Poe’s Dupin stories and on through a variety of authors and detectives (some women) in the second half of the 19th century to the 1890s and Sherlock Holmes, arguably the best-known fictional detective in the world. Contemporaneous with the Sherlock Holmes stories and frequently influenced by them are an increasing variety of male and female detectives, including, for example, insurance investigators, educated women, doctors, and even a Catholic priest. After World War I, a new arc of development begins with Agatha Christie and the Golden Age of Detective Fiction.

Beginnings: 1773–1863

Some English predecessors to the rise of the genre of detective fiction beginning with Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin in the 1840s include The Newgate Calendar (1773), a collection of highly fictionalized biographies of real criminals mainly in Newgate Prison (no detectives involved), and William Godwin’s novel Things as They Are; or, Caleb Williams (1794), in which the narrator first discovers a murderer and then spends a lifetime both escaping the murderer’s vengeance and proving his guilt. There is a crime and a solution, but the novel is not a detective fiction per se; it is written to raise philosophical issues of criminal justice and governmental tyranny. Next was the Mémoires of Eugène Vidocq, published in English in 1829. Vidocq was originally a thief, but he later became the head of the Paris Sûreté. His memoirs include descriptions of many of his cases. Another precursor was Thomas Gaspey’s Richmond: Scenes in the Life of a Bow Street Runner (1827), in which this fictional character discusses some of his cases.1

It was Edgar Allan Poe’s creation of Le Chevalier Auguste Dupin, who appeared in the three short stories published 1841, 1842, and 1844, respectively, that began the recognized development of the fictional detective (though that word is not used in any of the Poe stories). Brilliant, eccentric, and “scientific,” Dupin is the genesis of the quirky, outsider detective. Dupin is a semi-recluse and detached from emotions; he has an aristocratic, superior attitude to others, especially the police, but also has the scientist’s powers of deductive reasoning and attention to detail, seeing the significance of real objects and sense data. Poe also introduces the trope of the detective’s sidekick who narrates the story; since he is, like the reader, not as brilliant as the detective, this structure enables the author to maintain the mystery and suspense until the detective finally reveals his methods and their results in the final pages of the story.

Poe’s detective stories begin with “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841, in Graham’s Magazine), probably the first locked-room mystery, in which there seems to be no way for anyone to have gotten into or out of the room where the murder took place. The “murderer” turns out to be an escaped orangutan. In the third Dupin story, “The Purloined Letter” (1844, in the Gift), Dupin looks for an important incriminating letter that his client wants back; through clever use of psychology, he tricks the thief into disclosing the letter, which is, in fact, in plain sight. This story was the basis for Arthur Conan Doyle’s first Holmes short story, “A Scandal in Bohemia” (1891), which was itself the basis for a 20th-century detective novel, Goodnight, Mr. Holmes, by Carole Nelson Douglas (1991). Another mystery story, “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” (1842–1843, in Snowden’s Ladies’ Companion in three installments), was based on an actual unsolved murder.

This formula, as it came down to British detective fiction writers in the latter half of the 19th century, involves a brilliant and eccentric, usually private detective who consistently shows up the incompetence of the official police force by his astonishing observational skills and his ability to collect material information others overlook;2 to note all possible solutions, discarding those that are not relevant; and to put together at the end a perfect, unchallengeable sequence of events that points to the criminal and how and why he or she (or in the case of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “it”) committed the crime, whether it was killing a woman and stuffing her up the chimney or hiding an incriminating letter.

This formula for detective fiction explains why Dickens’s Bleak House and Collins’s The Moonstone are not true “detective fictions.” Both police detectives, Inspector Bucket and Sergeant Cuff, fit the eccentric prototype, but Cuff fails to solve the mystery of the stolen diamond, and, though Bucket does solve the only real crime in the novel, namely, the French maid Hortense’s murder of the lawyer Tulkinghorn, that action is of minor interest in the novel. In terms of detecting, Dickens gives most attention to Inspector Bucket’s painstaking but ultimately successful tracking down of Lady Dedlock (though not in time to save her life) with her daughter, Esther, the less capable witness to his amazing tracking skills, by his side.

Between the publication of Bleak House (1853) and The Moonstone (1868) another semifictional policeman published his memoirs, Recollections of a Detective Police-Officer, supposedly by police detective “Thomas Waters” but actually by William Russell. He began publishing the stories in Chambers’s Edinburgh Journal and in some American magazines, including Harper’s in 1849; in 1856 they were collected into a volume in England.

A number of other popular novels in the 1860s involved mysteries and crimes that are solved by amateurs involved with the families affected; one of the best known is The Woman in White, by Wilkie Collins (1859–1860). In this tale the family’s drawing master, Walter Hartwright, in the second part of the novel solves the mystery of the complex family relations, discovering crimes that include kidnapping, identity theft, arson, and an attempt to falsify a legal document. The truly brilliant and eccentric figure in this novel is actually the main criminal, Count Fosco. Another similar “sensation novel”3 is Lady Audley’s Secret, by Mary Elizabeth Braddon (1862), in which a family member, Robert Audley, discovers the bigamy and supposed murder of her first husband by the beautiful Lady Audley (Helen Maldon), whom he ultimately has incarcerated in a Belgium asylum.

Between Auguste Dupin and Sherlock Holmes: 1864–1887

During the several decades between the Dupin stories of the 1840s and the Sherlock Holmes stories of the late 1880s and 1890s, a growing number of detective stories were published. A few established novelists, like Dickens, Collins, Braddon, Sheridan Le Fanu, and Mrs. Henry Wood, wrote stories of mystery and detection, some of which featured a detective but usually an amateur one involved only in a single case. A number of detective stories that fit the generic form were published in the United States and in France as well. In the United States, Anna Katharine Green authored many New York–based detective stories (she wrote forty-odd detective fictions from 1878 to 1923), the first being The Leavenworth Case in 1878, in which she introduced her detective Ebenezer Gryce. In later works a spinster, Amelia Butterworth, helps Gryce in his detecting, and eventually Green created a female detective, the debutant Violet Strange, who maintains a secret life as a detective. In France, Émile Gaboriau, the best-known French 19th-century detective fiction author, introduced his amateur detective, M. Lecoq, based on the French thief/thief catcher, Eugène Vidocq. The Lecoq novels were translated into English and published in Britain in 1881.

In the years between Poe’s Dupin and Conan Doyle’s Holmes, arguably the most interesting development in British detective fiction was the introduction of the woman detective, long before any women were, in fact, part of the detective branch of the Metropolitan Police.4 She was first seen in works by two authors, Andrew Forrester (a pen name for James Redding Ware) and William Stephens Hayward. The first, called simply “G.” (sometimes she calls herself Miss Gladden), was Forrester’s invention in The Female Detective (1864). She works independently but undercover for the police. She is not developed much as a character, but she shares with the generic detective excellent observation skills and uses the deductive method in the seven cases included in the volume. Within six months of “G.”’s making her appearance, a fully developed eccentric female detective, Mrs. Paschal (Fig. 1), was introduced in William Stephens Hayward’s Revelations of a Lady Detective (1864). She is an almost penniless widow who works privately for Colonel Warner, head of the Detective Department of the Metropolitan Police. She has the requisite observation skills and inductive reasoning of the generic detective, but, scandalously, she also smokes and carries a Colt revolver and, unusual in detective fiction, tells her own adventures in ten stories in the volume.

British Detective Fiction in the 19th and Early 20th CenturiesClick to view larger

Figure 1. Cover of Revelations of a Lady Detective (Mrs. Paschal), by William Stephens Hayward (1864). Creative Commons.

Another early detective fiction was The Notting Hill Mystery (1862–1863), by Charles Felix (pen name of Charles Warren Adams, a lawyer). First published in eight parts in the magazine Once a Week in 1862–1863, the mystery features a detective who is actually an insurance investigator; he suspects a baron of murdering his wife, on whom he had taken out five insurance policies. In following through the investigation, the investigator uncovers three murders, but the real interest in the novel is in how the murders were committed and then in how to catch the baron, who appears to have committed a perfect crime.

The best sellers of detective fiction in the period before the Sherlock Holmes stories appeared were novel-length stories. The first was by Fergus Hume, whose The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886) sold almost one hundred thousand copies in its first two print runs in Australia and three hundred thousand in Britain in the first six months after publication in 1887 (Fig. 2). The second was Israel Zangwill’s The Big Bow Mystery (1891), which appeared shortly after Conan Doyle’s first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet (1887).

British Detective Fiction in the 19th and Early 20th CenturiesClick to view larger

Figure 2. Cover of the English edition of Fergus Hume’s Mystery of the Hansom Cab (1887). Courtesy of L. Tom Perry Special Collections, Harold B. Lee Library, Brigham Young University, Provo, Utah. Wikimedia Commons.

Fergus Hume was British but spent most of his early life in New Zealand and then worked as a barrister’s clerk in Melbourne, Australia, which is where his detective novel is set. He moved to Britain in 1888, a year after the huge success of his novel, which he was inspired to write by reading the detective stories of Gaboriau. Hume’s police detective, Detective Gorby, gets it wrong, and an innocent man is arrested. The solution of the crime is actually the result of investigations and logic by a lawyer, Calton, and a slightly seedy private detective, Kilslip. The novel is notable for its representation of class divides in the city, in particular between the wealthy and influential Frettlby family and the denizens of the slums around Little Bourke Street, the uncovering of whose dark secrets leads to the solution.

The Big Bow Mystery also has an urban setting, this time in working-class East London, and it shares with Hume’s novel an interest in class and social issues. Its author, Israel Zangwill, was a prolific writer, contributing articles and fiction to many periodicals as well as writing many books of different sorts from the early 1890s into the 20th century. This novel is another locked-room mystery, but the emphasis on the locked room is more central in this work. A landlady tries to wake a lodger, but the door is locked and he does not answer. She gets a next-door neighbor, the retired police detective Mr. George Grodman, to help her break down the door, locked from the inside (as are all the windows). Inside they find the lodger dead, his throat cut. Both the means and the motive of the crime seem totally mysterious. Grodman and his rival detective, Wimp, race to solve the crime; an innocent man is condemned, and only at the very end is the startling real solution revealed by Grodman.

Sherlock Holmes: 1887–1926

The history of detective fiction in 19th-century Britain finally arrives at 221B Baker Street, where Sherlock Holmes lives with his sidekick, Dr. John Watson, the narrator of the Holmes stories. Holmes is the creation of fifty-six stories and four short novels by an unsuccessful doctor, Arthur Conan Doyle, who only at the very end of his life (he died in 1930) grudgingly accepted that his character Holmes and his stories had any value. Famously, he tried to kill Holmes off after twenty-three stories but was forced by popular demand to resurrect him in thirty-three more stories and two novellas.

The story of how Arthur Conan Doyle developed the character of Holmes has been told many times. Conan Doyle trained as a doctor at Edinburgh University and received a medical degree in 1881, but he did not have a lot success as a doctor, and he took to writing partly as a pastime but also in the hope of supplementing his income. The first Holmes story was a novella, A Study in Scarlet (Fig. 3), published in Beeton’s Christmas Annual (1887), which was followed in 1890 by another novella, The Sign of the Four, first published in Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine. From the beginning, the character of Sherlock Holmes is a contradictory mixture of a man with amazingly unemotional scientific rationality, who also is a dreamy romantic violinist and drug taker. In this, he differs from his predecessor Auguste Dupin, who is wholly the rational man, which is the image that Holmes also projects to the clients and the police. But to Watson and the reader, he shows his other side as a man susceptible to boredom and at times emotionally reactive to his clients. Holmes is presented as a misogynist, but, in a contradiction, he keeps the photograph of Irene Adler, who bested him in the very first Holmes short story “A Scandal in Bohemia” and, as Watson tells the reader, was always “the Woman” to Holmes. Holmes’s insistence on rationality and denial of emotion makes him at times seem cold, but in fact his enthusiasm (“the game is afoot”), his love of disguises, his single-mindedness, and his amusing patches of ignorance do charm the reader.

British Detective Fiction in the 19th and Early 20th CenturiesClick to view larger

Figure 3. Cover of Beeton’s Christmas Annual with announcement of Conan Doyle’s first Sherlock Holmes work, A Study in Scarlet (1887). Wikimedia Commons.

Though other contributing sources for the character of Sherlock Holmes have been suggested, including, of course, Auguste Dupin, there is general agreement that Holmes is, in large part, based on one of Conan Doyle’s teachers in Edinburgh, Dr. Joseph Bell. Bell was well known at the medical school for diagnosing patients in the waiting room of the infirmary without speaking to them, a practice that Holmes uses frequently with his clients, as in “The Norwood Builder,”: “You mentioned your name, as if I should recognize it, but I assure you that, beyond the obvious facts that you are a bachelor, a solicitor, a Freemason and an asthmatic, I know nothing whatever about you.”5

In the first two novellas, Conan Doyle had not quite mastered the form that would mark his most famous stories. In the first of the Holmes tales, a third of the novella is taken up with a story about the Mormons in the United States in which Holmes does not appear. The second has a very convoluted plot involving the East India Company, the Indian 1857 uprising, stolen treasure, convicts, and corrupt prison guards. The structure of the Sherlock Holmes tales, however, comes into being in the subsequent short stories that were published in the newly established Strand Magazine, starting in 1891 with “A Scandal in Bohemia.” This repeated structure is composed of five parts: A potential client interrupts Holmes and Watson in their bachelor quarters. He or she tells a story involving a mystery that piques Holmes’s interest. That story inspires Holmes’s detective work involving close observation and scientific thinking through which Holmes arrives at the solution. This solution is sometimes tested when Holmes sets up a trap for the perpetrator, and only at that point, at the very end of the piece, does Holmes tell the story of his observations and sometimes the scientific knowledge (he claimed, for example, he could identify up to 140 different kinds of tobacco ash), that led him to uncover the true story of the crime, who did it, and how and why.

The first twelve short stories were published as a volume, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in 1892; the next eleven6 stories were brought together in 1894 in The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes, with the concluding story “The Final Problem” ending the volume. Many critics believe these twenty-three stories are the best of the fifty-six Holmes stories. Holmes wrote a novella set before Holmes’s supposed death, The Hound of the Baskervilles, in 1901–1902, but when the swell of demand forced him to resurrect Holmes from the dead in 1903, he did so with twenty-five new stories collected in two additional books, The Return of Sherlock Holmes (1905) and The Case-Book of Sherlock Holmes (1927). All the stories collected in these last two volumes originally appeared in the Strand Magazine between 1903 and 1927. Two more volumes of Holmes stories were published—the last of the four Holmes novels, The Valley of Fear (1914), and His Last Bow (1917), a collection of mainly previously published stories.

Not all of the cases brought to Holmes involve murder. There are some planned murders that Holmes stops before they happen by uncovering the reasons for mysterious behaviors and inexplicable happenings. The crimes his clients bring to him, though, are often threats, mysterious events, and secrets in middle-class and sometimes aristocratic families. The motive is usually money, sometimes linked with some action or crime in the past and sometimes in various locations of the empire, such as India (“The Speckled Band”) or Australia (“The Boscombe Valley Mystery”), or even in the United States (“Five Orange Pips”).

Occasionally the problem presented to Holmes by the client is not the real crime. In “The Musgrave Ritual” Holmes is called in by an old college friend to discover the reason two servants have disappeared from an upper-middle-class establishment in the countryside. The solution involves an old family ritual, a hidden vault, and a scorned woman. It does contain a murder that Holmes uncovers, but that is only a by-product of the major family secret that Holmes reveals. “The Boscombe Valley Mystery” is another country house case, in which all appearances lead to a conclusion that a son has killed his father. “Circumstantial evidence is a very tricky thing,” Holmes says. “It may seem to point very straight to one thing, but if you shift your point of view a little, you may find it pointing in an equally uncompromising manner to something entirely different.”7 Indeed, the murderer is not the son, but a man from the father’s past in Ballarat, Australia.

Though Conan Doyle’s first two novellas were only moderately successful, the Holmes stories published in the Strand Magazine beginning in 1891 were almost instantaneously popular. The responses, analyses, critiques, continuations, and adaptations of Sherlock Holmes and the stories of his career as a consulting detective number in the thousands. Perhaps the most influential of the early adaptations and continuations was the play Sherlock Holmes, which grew out of a five-act play written by Conan Doyle (but declared unstageable) and significantly rewritten by William Gillette. This play was first produced in New York in 1899 and then in London in 1901. Though the illustrator of the Holmes stories in the Strand, Sidney Paget, has Holmes smoking a straight-stemmed pipe, Gillette’s play established the curved calabash pipe as part of the enduring image of Holmes (Fig. 4). But Paget gave Holmes the iconic deerstalker hat in his illustration for “The Boscombe Valley Mystery.” These items do not appear in the stories, but one possible source for Paget and Gillette’s additions of these items to the image of Holmes could have been the detective Hawkshaw in a popular play produced in 1863, The Ticket-of-Leave Man, by Tom Taylor.8 Hawkshaw always wore a deerstalker hat and carried a magnifying glass. Gillette also made the arch-criminal Moriarty, who had been presumed dead in “The Final Problem,” central to the Holmes myth. Since this early expansion of the Holmes stories at the end of the 19th century, there have been many more plays, motion pictures, television series, and novels featuring Holmes and Dr. Watson.

British Detective Fiction in the 19th and Early 20th CenturiesClick to view larger

Figure 4. Sidney Paget’s illustration of Sherlock Holmes with a straight pipe from “The Man with the Twisted Lip” (1891). Wikimedia Commons.

Many explanations of the long-lasting popularity of the Sherlock Holmes figure and the detective stories that define him have been offered. One is that the stories recreate the entire 19th-century world before modern technology changed it, a world lost and suffused with nostalgia: the London fog (though that is not often referred to in the stories), the gaslights, the hansom cabs, the interplay between the urban setting and the suburban and country estates where many of the crimes take place; the class differences and their markers so neatly observed by Holmes, who draws the exactly right conclusion about them.

Another theory was expressed by John Cawelti, one of the earliest critics to take detective fiction seriously, who says that the classical detectives like Holmes reassure us that crime is an individual affair and the detective will always discover the culprit. Further, the story “enable[s] us to entertain some very powerful latent feelings generated by the repressiveness of the family circle by treating in fantasy a domestic murder but in such a way as to negate any feelings of implication or guilt on the part of the reader.”9 Some think that the popularity of detective fiction in general is due to the fact that the seemingly superhuman intelligence and skill of the classic detective and the inevitability that the crime will be solved by him or her, the criminal caught, and the social order restored, reassure us that our anxieties about social disorder, evil, violence, and crime will be mitigated. The detective always solves the crime, though Holmes admits to Watson he has failed in some cases, but these failures are never written up by Watson.

These explanations are applicable to almost all detective fiction. For the continuing appeal of the Sherlock Holmes stories specifically, the character of Holmes himself, as created by Conan Doyle, must be part of the explanation for their endurance. His quirks, his eagerness, his tricks and devices, his energies, his philosophy, his turn to the violin and cocaine injection charm us all. We want to be in his presence over and over again, and since the actual stories are limited in number, we turn to sequels, prequels, movies, television, graphic novels, and adaptations of all sorts. Ultimately, Sherlock Holmes in any of these later manifestations still seldom disappoints, and if the specific adaptation is, in fact, disappointing, we can take comfort in the knowledge that there will be another one—which may even be better—in the very near future.

British Detective Fiction after Sherlock Holmes: 1893–1914

The supposed death of Sherlock Holmes in 1893 coincides with another expansion of British detective fiction. New fictional detectives appeared regularly in the magazines from 1893 to 1914; there was, understandably, less publication of the genre during World War I, though there was some. (The war also brought about the development of the spy novel, which is a separate genre of mystery fiction.) Many of the new post-Holmes detective stories followed and, in some cases, developed variations on the structure of Conan Doyle, and many of the new detectives, both male and female, had elements of Sherlock Holmes in them. (Of course, Conan Doyle kept writing the Holmes stories until 1927.) After World War I the detective story moved in a somewhat different direction from its 19th-century predecessors, into the period that has been called the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. This “golden age” began with Agatha Christie’s first detective novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in 1920 and includes, besides Christie, the detective novels of Margery Allingham, Dorothy Sayers, and Ngaio Marsh, as well as Michael Innes, Edmund Crispin, and others in Britain. In France there was George Simenon (one of the first to write in the subgenre of the “police procedural”10) and, in the United States, John Dickson Carr, Ellery Queen, and S. S. Van Dine. Also at this point in the United States, a new type of detective fiction, known as the “hard-boiled school” of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler, moved away from the British model. The period between 1893 and 1914 is a kind of interregnum in the development of detective fiction in Britain. Thus this period is a convenient marker of the end of the development of 19th-century detective fiction in Britain.

Among the detectives who appeared in the wake of Sherlock Holmes’s death and reappearance, there was one who had been an insurance investigator; another was a ghost exposer, and at least five were women, one even being a so-called New Woman.11 The first husband-and-wife team of detectives also made their appearance during this period, as did the first armchair detective; another was a doctor, and one was a Roman Catholic priest. Detective fiction also expanded in the United States and in France during these years. In 1913 the first book-length study of the detective fiction genre appeared, The Technique of the Mystery Story, by Carolyn Wells, a prolific American writer who wrote many detective novels. Her guide to detective fiction gave a picture of the field just before the golden age began and included references to many still relatively unknown writers and detectives.

When Conan Doyle decided to kill Sherlock Holmes and end the series, the editors of the Strand scrambled to find a substitute for the popular series. They found Arthur Morrison, who is known now mainly for novels of London poverty. His detective was Martin Hewitt, whose first case, “The Lenton Croft Robberies,” a locked-room mystery, appeared in the Strand in March 1894, three months after Holmes’s supposed demise in “The Final Problem” in December 1893. Twenty-four of Morrison’s Martin Hewitt stories followed (not all in the Strand), ultimately nineteen of which were collected into three volumes Martin Hewitt, Investigator (1894), The Chronicles of Martin Hewitt (1896), and The Adventures of Martin Hewitt (1896), the next six in The Red Triangle, Being Some Further Chronicles of Martin Hewitt (1903), which also featured Morrison’s answer to Holmes’s Moriarty, Mayes the master criminal.

Morrison’s detective Hewitt, in his ordinariness if not in his detecting abilities, is almost the exact opposite of Holmes. He started as an insurance investigator but turns to hiring himself out as a private detective. He is placid, even plodding, though he uses the same techniques of close observation, logical reasoning, and forensic data as Holmes does. Unlike Holmes, however, Hewitt is genial and accommodating and on good terms with the police. Rather than the cozy bachelor quarters of Holmes and Watson, Hewitt’s office is described in his first case as located in a dingy office building.

Martin Hewitt lives alone, but as in the Holmes stories, the narrator, a journalist friend named Brett, recounts the cases; unlike Watson, Brett is not always “on the case,” nor is his relationship with the detective as close as that of Holmes and Watson. Some of the cases Brett reports he constructs from Hewitt’s own detailing of the facts to him. Like those of Holmes, most of Hewitt’s cases involve crimes against the middle and professional classes (no street crimes): theft, fraud, inheritance issues, wrongful charges, and so forth. In a few cases, as an independent operator, Hewitt does not report the solution of the crime to the authorities, preferring justice to the law.

Following the Hewitt series in 1898, a collaboration between two authors, L. T. Meade and Robert Eustace, both well known and very productive of short stories and novels in their own rights, together created John Bell, a “ghost exposer” who uses Holmesian techniques to unmask fake ghosts; these stories were collected in A Master of Mysteries in 1898. The two authors, both together and separately, created a number of other detectives, a few of them women, like Detective Florence Cusack (Meade) in “Mr. Bovey’s Unexpected Will” in Harmsworth Magazine in 1899, and Detective Norman Head in the 1899 volume The Brotherhood of the Seven Kings (Meade and Eustace). They both often used the locked-room mystery format; for example, in The Brotherhood of the Seven Kings, the detective Norman Head solves “The Mystery of the Strong Room” when a diamond is stolen from a locked room by one of what was a new development, a villainous woman, Madame Koluchy, the head of an Italian criminal gang.

Just as Conan Doyle was trying to get rid of Holmes, the first woman author to create a woman detective broke into print: Loveday Brooke, by Catherine Louisa Pirkis, in 1893–1894. Over the next sixteen years, four more women detectives followed, though only one more was the work of a woman author. Dorcas Dene was the creation of George R. Sims in 1897. Two years later Grant Allen created Lois Cayley, a “New Woman” detective (1899).12 Dora Myrl, created by Matthias McDonnell Bodkin, was next in 1900, and then Lady Molly of Scotland Yard, conceived by Baroness Emma Orczy in 1910. Most of these women detectives turn to detective work because they need money to support themselves or their families, or they want to prove the innocence of someone close to them.

Not much is known about Catherine Louisa Pirkis other than her prodigious output of dozens of stories and fourteen novels. Her seven detective stories were originally published in the Ludgate Monthly and collected in the volume The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective in 1894. Loveday Brooke, probably in her thirties, comes from the upper classes, but she has been left penniless and makes a living working for a detective agency headed by Ebenezer Dyer. She is very proper and nearly always wears a simple black dress. She has a sharp mind and uses the traditional methods of rationality and close observation to solve mysteries, which include theft, a mysterious murder for which the police inevitably suspect the wrong person, missing persons, and so forth. Unlike the male detectives, as a woman, she is able to enter the middle- and upper-class houses where the crimes are committed without raising suspicion (frequently by disguising herself as a housemaid or a governess) and thus is able to uncover mysteries and crimes the male policemen cannot.

The same advantage is given to George R. Sims’s Dorcas Dene in the eleven stories that were published in volume form in Dorcas Dene, Detective: Her Life and Adventures (1897) and the nine in a second volume in 1898. She begins as an actress but ultimately works as a private investigator, encouraged by a retired superintendent of police, in order to support herself, her mother, and her husband (an artist who loses his sight). She is much like Sherlock Holmes, good at disguises, ratiocination, and following physical clues, and she has her own Watson, a dramatist named Saxon.

Lois Cayley was the creation of Grant Allen, a well-known author during the 1890s and perhaps best known now as the author of the New Woman novel The Woman Who Did (1895), that is, the woman who chooses to live with man and have a child by him without being married. Herminia, the protagonist of that novel, ends badly, but her characteristics of intelligence, insistent independence, and adventurousness are transferred into Allen’s woman detective Lois Cayley, who does not end badly. Rather, as a detective, she ends triumphantly. Lois Cayley appears in the Strand for first time in 1898, in “The Adventure of the Cantankerous Old Lady,” in which she hires herself out as a lady’s maid to the old lady of the title and saves her from being conned out of her diamonds by a fake French count. There followed eleven more stories, collected in Miss Cayley’s Adventures (1899).

Lois Cayley is young (twenty-one), very smart, with high spirits, in search of “adventures,” and she rides a bicycle with which she tracks down a criminal. Quite appropriately, she tells her own story. She is a graduate of Girton College (Cambridge’s first residential college for women) but, like most of the early fictional women detectives, is suddenly left penniless when both her father and stepfather die. In the final episode, she rescues her beloved Harold Tillington from a plot against him.

Another woman detective introduced at the turn of the 20th century was also created by a man, Matthias McDonnell Bodkin, a barrister, journalist, and member of Parliament who wrote two detective series, one featuring Paul Beck, whose first story appeared in 1897 in Pearson’s Weekly, and another with Dora Myrl as detective. A collection of twelve of Paul Beck’s cases appeared in Paul Beck, the Rule of Thumb Detective (1898). Beck makes no claims to be like Holmes; rather he says he solves his cases by “rule of thumb,” meaning, as the Oxford English Dictionary has it, “a broadly accurate guide or principle, based on experience or practice rather than theory.” Bodkin’s female detective, Dora Myrl, appeared in 1900 in Dora Myrl: The Lady Detective. Like Lois Cayley, she is educated (a graduate of Cambridge with a medical degree), beautiful, and adventurous. She becomes a detective when she saves her companion, an older woman, from a blackmailer. In 1909, Bodkin published The Capture of Paul Beck, in which his two detectives appear as rivals in a case, but at the end they marry, thus becoming the first husband-and-wife detective team. Later, their son also becomes a detective in Young Beck, a Chip Off the Old Block (1911).

The last of the women detectives during this interregnum between Sherlock Holmes and the golden age is Lady Molly of Scotland Yard.13 Lady Molly is the creation of Baroness Emma Orczy, who was born in Hungary and came to England as a child. She married an Englishman and began writing to help support her family. She is best known as the author of the Scarlet Pimpernel historical novels, but she also wrote two detective series, The Old Man in the Corner (1901–1909) and Lady Molly of Scotland Yard (1901–1910). Most of the stories that make up these two series were first published in the Royal Magazine starting in 1901 and then collected into volumes. Lady Molly of Scotland Yard contains twelve stories, narrated by Lady Molly’s assistant Mary Granard. Lady Molly joins the “female department” at Scotland Yard (women whom the police hired to help with women prisoners) in order to save her fiancé from a false accusation. She is so effective in solving her first case, “The Ninescore Mystery”—which involves two sisters and two brothers, an illegitimate child, blackmail, theft, and a murder—that she becomes a regular detective for the remaining eleven stories. Her advantage in solving that first case when the male detectives could not is that she is able to recognize clues in common domestic activities. In the end, she proves her fiancé innocent, marries him, and leaves the police force.

Orczy’s first detective, the Old Man in the Corner (Bill Owen), is quite different from Lady Molly, harking back to Dupin and Holmes and looking forward to Nero Wolfe (Fig. 5). One of the first of the armchair detectives, he solves all his cases while sitting in the A.B.C. tea shop. A young woman journalist, Polly Burton, tells him details from cases that the police cannot make sense of and also narrates his cases for the reader, though when the early cases are collected into a volume, they are all narrated in the third person. The Old Man’s stories involve the usual—theft, blackmail, even murder. He solves them all without leaving his corner table and, perhaps due to his contempt for the police, does not bring the perpetrators to justice. The first six stories, published in the Royal Magazine in 1901, were followed by seven more in 1902 and a few more in 1904. The third group was the first to appear as a volume, The Case of Miss Elliott, named after the first story, in 1905. The first two series were finally published in volume form as The Old Man in the Corner in 1909. Many years later (1925) Orczy published another volume of Old Man stories (Unravelled Knots).

British Detective Fiction in the 19th and Early 20th CenturiesClick to view larger

Figure 5. H. B. Brock’s illustration of Baroness Orczy’s Old Man in the Corner with Polly Burton (1902). Wikimedia Commons.

While one of Robert Eustace’s detectives was a doctor, the first series featuring a doctor detective was published by R. Austin Freeman in 1909 and this was followed four more volumes of collected stories. Freeman himself was a doctor who served in Africa and World War I. His detective, Dr. John Evelyn Thorndyke, first appears in eight stories in which he uses his medical skills and diagnostic technology—like the microscope and chemical analysis—aided by his laboratory assistant, Nathaniel Polton, and his friend Christopher Jervis, the narrator of the stories, to solve crimes. Freeman is generally considered the first to use the “inverted” detective story, where the crime and usually the perpetrator are known from the beginning and the suspense in the rest of the tale is discovering how the detective solved the case. The Dr. Thorndyke stories are collected in John Thorndyke’s Cases in 1909 and The Singing Bone in 1912 Freeman wrote more detective stories after World War I and in 1923 published a third volume of Dr. Thorndyke stories. (There were two more collections in 1925 and 1927).

G. K. Chesterton’s Father Brown detective stories are an apt place to end this survey of the development of 19th-century British detective fiction, for though the first Father Brown story appeared in 1910 in The Story-Teller (“The Blue Cross”), Father Brown, unlike most of the detectives in this interregnum between Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie, survived and even thrived into the third decade of the 20th century and, through television, into the 21st century. He thus serves as a bridge between the 19th-century beginnings and 20th-century developments.

As a Roman Catholic priest, Father Brown is one of the first detectives identified by something other than his detective skills. He is an outsider of sorts in both the history of detective fiction and in the rural countryside village in Essex where he lives. With his identifying umbrella, he looks harmless enough--somewhat eccentric, dumpy in appearance, and seemingly scatter-brained. These superficial traits serve him well as a detective, for on first sight no one thinks him capable of solving crimes. But he has razor-sharp Holmesian powers of observation and logical thinking. As a priest, he brings a moral and ethical sense to his scientific reasoning, which makes a sharp contrast to Sherlock Holmes, however similar their stories’ structures may be. Father Brown’s prime characteristic is his compassion and empathy; he solves many crimes by identifying with the criminal.

In the first Father Brown story, “The Blue Cross,” a French detective, Aristide Valentin, is in England on the trail of master criminal Flambeau (recurrent characters in the Father Brown stories), who turns out to be disguised as a clergyman. Father Brown, who is carrying a valuable silver cross set with sapphires, tricks Flambeau, whom he decides is a criminal by observing a bulge in his coat, into trying to steal the cross (which Father Brown manages to send to a friend), and leaves a trail (salt in the sugar bowl, cup thrown at a restaurant wall, and so forth) for Valentin and the police to use to follow him and Flambeau, who is then captured.

Eleven stories followed this one and were collected into the volume The Innocence of Father Brown in 1911. Four more volumes followed: twelve stories in The Wisdom of Father Brown in 1914 and then, after World War I, eight in The Incredulity of Father Brown in 1926, ten in The Secret of Father Brown in 1927, and eight in The Scandal of Father Brown in 1935.

Discussion of the Literature

During the 19th century, some detective stories may have been mentioned or even discussed in the periodical press, especially to take account of the popularity of the genre.14 But for the most part serious critical attention to detective fiction in general and 19th-century detective stories in particular was a 20th-century phenomenon. Some authors of detective fiction and a few literary critics began to write about the genre as a genre in the early decades of the 20th century. The authors of these articles and books generally drew their examples from all of detective fiction—19th century, 20th century, British, American, and French. Starting after World War II, literary critics and some sociologists turned their attention to the genre with a number of important studies. In the second half of the 20th century and under the pressures of feminism and the academic interest in the role of popular literature in culture, an expansion of writing about and publishing of 19th-century British detective fiction resulted. In particular, there was a “recovery” of a number of lesser known or even unknown texts that featured 19th-century detectives, especially women detectives. Beginning in the 1960s, in universities as part of the “theoretical turn,” as it is called in literary studies, there emerged a number of theoretically governed analyses of detective fiction, including structuralist, Foucauldian, Freudian, Marxist, and feminist readings. Some later analyses considered the role of Britain’s late-century empire building in detective fiction, which was coming to its full flowering in the 1890s at the same time as the empire became central to the nation. All these approaches to detective fiction proliferated in the 21st century, particularly the postcolonial lens.

The early critical studies of detective fiction were often written by authors of detective fiction. The very first, as already mentioned, was in 1913, The Technique of the Mystery Story, by Carolyn Wells. After the hiatus of the war and the flourishing of the golden age in the 1920s, another book-length study was Masters of Mystery: A Study of the Detective Story, by H. Douglas Thomson (1931). A more comprehensive survey was a collection of essays by different writers and critics edited by Howard Haycraft in 1941, Murder for Pleasure: The Life and Times of the Detective Story. In 1946, Haycraft brought out The Art of the Mystery Story: A Collection of Critical Essays with contributions by fifty-three critics and detective story writers. This collection contains most of the serious work on the genre prior to World War II.

In the 1970s and 1980s, the critical attention increased again, this time in universities. Julian Symons, himself a crime fiction writer, produced Bloody Murder: From the Detective Story to the Crime Novel in 1972 (revised and updated in 1985 and 1992 and published in the United States as Mortal Consequences), which is regarded by some as the best introductory material to study of the genre. In 1980 a collection of critical essays edited by Robin Winks, Detective Fiction: A Collection of Critical Essays, brought together some of the more well-known commentaries on the genre.

The 19th-century texts discussed in these surveys are those of Poe and Conan Doyle, as well as Dickens and Collins. In fact, most often 19th-century British detective fiction was only one part of the mid-20th-century detective studies, and the focus is almost always on Poe and Conan Doyle. For example, the important 1976 study of the structures, themes, and consequences of popular culture, Adventure, Mystery, and Romance, by John G. Cawelti, has two of nine chapters on the classical detective story, but the only 19th-century texts used in the analyses are those of Poe and Conan Doyle. Another important work, Form and Ideology in Crime Fiction, by Stephen Knight (1980), also limited the examples from the 19th century to Poe and Holmes.

This situation began to change in the 1970s as the work of recovering so-called forgotten 19th-century detectives began with Hugh Greene’s edited collection The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (1970), followed by a Dover edition of Martin Hewitt stories (1976) and A. K. Russell’s collection, Rivals of Sherlock Holmes (1978). Much later (2003), a volume of 19th-century detective stories with women detectives and by women authors appeared: Joseph Kestner, Sherlock’s Sisters: The British Female Detective, 1864–1913. This was followed in 2011 with The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime, edited by Michael Sims. A seminal feminist essay critiquing the shadowy presence of women in the Sherlock Holmes stories by Catherine Belsey, “Deconstructing the Text: Sherlock Holmes,” appeared in 1980.15

Perhaps the most influential theoretical book on detective fiction published in the 1980s was The Poetics of Murder: Detective Fiction and Literary Theory, edited by Glenn Most and William S. Stowe (1983), which contained studies by most of the important post–World War II literary theorists, a number of whom used the Sherlock Holmes stories as the exemplars of their theoretical approaches. In 1988 another book, The Sign of Three: Dupin, Holmes, Peirce, edited by Umberto Eco and Thomas A. Sebeok, was published. Using the Poe and Holmes stories, the authors develop a concept of “abduction,” that is, a method of coming to conclusions that is neither “deduction” (starting with an accepted premise and looking for evidence to support it) nor “induction” (deriving a conclusion from observed information). Abduction, which they argue is the mental process Holmes actually uses, is a process of arriving at the most likely but not necessarily the absolute conclusion that can be drawn from an observation. As Holmes himself says, “When you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth”16 but it may not be.

Other theoretical studies in the 1980s include the Marxist analysis by Ernest Mandel, Delightful Murder: A Social History (1984), and the seminal Foucauldian study by D. A. Miller, The Novel and the Police (1988); there are also narratologists’ use of detective fiction to exemplify how all narrative works.17 The foundational text for the structuralist model, Tzvetan Todorov’s “The Typology of Detective Fiction,” in The Poetics of Prose (1971), was translated by Richard Howard.

The role of science in 19th-century detective fiction, frequently referred to but never really analyzed thoroughly, was the subject of an important book in 1999, Ronald Thomas’s Detective Fiction and the Rise of Forensic Science. With the rise of the study of the role of the British empire in the culture in the late decades of the 19th century into the 20th century at least three important studies on the connection of detective fiction and empire were published: Caroline Reitz, Detecting the Nation: Fictions of Detection and the Imperial Venture (2004), Lauren Raheja’s “Anxieties of Empire in Doyle’s Tales of Sherlock Holmes” (2006)18and Yumna Siddiqi’s Anxieties of Empire and the Fiction of Intrigue (2008).

By the end of the 20th century, the place of detective fiction in the literary canon was well established, the role of women in its development revealed, its usefulness for theoretical investigation secured. Many bibliographies, companions, reference works, and anthologies (as well as various critical studies) have continued to be published. The importance of detective fiction in general and 19th-century detective fiction in particular, is, as Sherlock Holmes may have said, “elementary.”

Digital Resources

There are a great many websites that are devoted to detective fiction, detective fiction authors, and characters. Also many of the individual detective stories can be read online. One needs only to search for a name, a title, or a term for most of these online resources to come up. Below are a few specific online sites that are quite good as introductions to the subject of British detective fiction from 1840 to 1914.

Flanders, Judith, “The Creation of the Police and the Rise of Detective Fiction,” Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians, British Library.Find this resource:

Humpherys, Anne. “Detective Fiction.” Oxford Bibliographies in Victorian Literature, March 2011.Find this resource:

Pittard, Christopher. “Victorian Detective Fiction: An Introduction.” CrimeCulture website, 2003.Find this resource:

Radford, Andrew. “Victorian Detective Fiction.” Literature Compass 5 (2008):1179–1196.Find this resource:

Sutherland, John. Sherlock Holmes, the World’s Most Famous Literary Detective, Discovering Literature: Romantics and Victorians, British LibraryFind this resource:

Further Reading

A number of the important introductions to and studies of detective fiction in general have been mentioned in “Discussion of the Literature.” Additional works that deal specifically with 19th-century British detective fictions are cited here.

Allan, Janice M., ed. “Victorian Detective Fiction.” Clues: A Journal of Detection 25.1 (2006): 1–90, and 26.1 (2007): 1–75.Find this resource:

Benstock, Bernard, and Thomas F. Stalley, eds. British Mystery Writers 1860–1919. Dictionary of Literary Biography 70. Detroit: Gale Research, 1988.Find this resource:

Clarke, Clare. Late Victorian Crime Fiction: In the Shadow of Sherlock. Basingstoke, U.K.: Palgrave/Macmillan, 2014.Find this resource:

Cranfield, Jonathan. Twentieth-Century Victorian: A.C. Doyle and the Strand Magazine. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2016.Find this resource:

Flanders, Judith. The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Reveled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2011.Find this resource:

Hutter, A. D. “Dreams, Transformations, and Literature: The Implications of Detective Fiction.” Victorian Studies 19.2 (1975): 181–209.Find this resource:

Kayman Martin. From Bow Street to Baker Street: Mystery, Detection and Narrative. New York: St. Martin’s, 1992.Find this resource:

Knight, Stephen. Crime Fiction since 1800: Detectives, Death, Diversity. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.Find this resource:

Miller, Elizabeth Carolyn. Framed: The New Woman Criminal in British Culture at the Fin de Siècle. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008.Find this resource:

Moretti, Franco. “Clues,” in Signs Taken for Wonders: Essays in the Sociology of Literary Forms. New York: Verso, 1983.Find this resource:

Pittard, Christopher. Purity and Contamination in Late Victorian Detective Fiction. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2011.Find this resource:

Priestman, Martin, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Crime Fiction. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 2003.Find this resource:

Rzepka, Charles. Detective Fiction. Cambridge, U.K.: Polity Press, 2005.Find this resource:

Sussex, Lucy. Women Writers and Detectives in Nineteenth-Century Crime Fiction: The Mothers of the Mystery Genre. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2010.Find this resource:

Thompson, Jon. Fiction, Crime, and Empire: Clues to Modernism and Postmodernism. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1993.Find this resource:

Notes:

(1.) The Bow Street Runners were predecessors of the Metropolitan Police. They were private contractors who were sent out from the police headquarters in Bow Street in London to catch various criminals the police had identified. They did no “detecting.” These Bow Street Runners appear in Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist (1838); they are sent to pick up Oliver, who has been abandoned by Bill Sykes after an unsuccessful attempt to rob the house of the Maylies.

(2.) The incompetence of the police is common in detective fiction when the detective works privately, from Poe’s Dupin and Doyle’s Holmes on into the 20th century; for example, Agatha Christie’s detectives Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot constantly show up the incompetence of the police detectives. Judith Flanders, in The Invention of Murder: How the Victorians Reveled in Death and Detection and Created Modern Crime, argues that until the end of the century the police force, including the detective branch, saw their job as prevention, not detection; rather than collecting evidence, they simply rounded up the usual suspects until one “confessed” (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 2011), 144.

(3.) “Sensation fiction” is a category of popular fiction written in the second half of the 19th century that featured sensational crimes like bigamy, murder, and blackmail, which are made doubly “sensational” by being committed in domestic settings and sometimes by women.

(4.) There are several collections of stories about 19th-century women detectives. See, for example, Michael Sims, ed., The Penguin Book of Victorian Women in Crime: Forgotten Cops and Private Eyes from the Time of Sherlock Holmes (New York: Penguin, 2011).

(5.) Sherlock Holmes: The Complete Novels and Stories. Vol. 1 (New York: Bantam Books, 1986). p. 683.

(6.) After the first twelve Holmes stories were published in volume form, twelve more were published in the Strand. Eleven of these were subsequently gathered into the second volume of stories; one, “The Cardboard Box,” was not included. It finally appeared in volume form in His Last Bow (1917).

(7.) Sherlock Homes: The Complete Novels and Stories. Vol. 1. (New York: Bantam Books, 1986), p. 270.

(8.) A Ticket-of-Leave Man was a prisoner let out of jail before his sentence was completed. He carried with him a ticket-of-leave that indicated he was legally out of jail. This was an early version of the probation process in modern times.

(9.) John G. Cawelti, Adventure, Mystery, and Romance: Formula Stories as Art and Popular Culture (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1976), 105.

(10.) The police procedural was not a common genre in 19th-century Britain. In these stories police detectives solve the crimes using official methods and structures, though some break the rules, and they are theoretically limited by the law.

(11.) The term New Woman was coined by the writer and public speaker Sarah Grand in 1894. It was used in newspapers and books to describe an intelligent, educated woman who was independent, adventurous, sometimes working to support herself, and sometimes anti-marriage.

(12.) Allen followed his Lois Cayley detective fictions with a novel about another amateur woman detective, Hilda Wade, a nurse who works in a hospital and is suspicious of the leading doctor there. Allen died before finishing the novel, which was published in 1900.

(13.) There are some others, many single cases, not included here.

(14.) The bibliography of critical material on detective fiction is extensive. Those discussed in what follows are selected as representative of various kinds of approaches to the analysis of detective fiction. For a fuller annotated bibliography of detective fiction see the Oxford University Press Online Bibliography of Victorian Detective Fiction. Available online.

(15.) First published in Catherine Belsey, Critical Practice (New York: Methuen, 1980). Reprinted as “Deconstructing the Text: Sherlock Holmes,” in Popular Fiction: Technology, Ideology, Production, Reading, ed. Tony Bennettt (London: Routledge, 1990), 227–285.

(16.) The Sign of the Four (1890) chapter 6. Sherlock Holmes:The Complete Novels and Stories. Vol. 1. (New York: Bantom Books, 1986), 139.

(17.) See, for example, Peter Hühn “The Detective as Reader: Narrativity and Reading Concepts in Detective Fiction,” Modern Fiction Studies 33.3 (1987): 451–466.

(18.) In Nature, Society, and Thought 19.4 (2006): 417–426.