A free exhibition in the Folio Society Gallery of the British Library on Euston Road (just a hop skip and a jump from Kings Cross/St Pancras) is celebrating the history of crime fiction. Each letter represents a major writer/movement/trend in the crime genre. So you don’t need to be a detective to work out that A is for Agatha and S is for Sherlock. There are a few surprises along the way, however.
U is for…
Unsuitable job for a woman.
This letter was my particular favourite – no surprises there.
Did you know the first professional female sleuth to appear in a novel was Mrs Gladden (at least that’s what she called herself) in The Female Detective by Andrew Forrester (aka James Redding Ware)?
First appearing in 1864, the resourceful woman detective pre-dates Sherlock Holmes by 23 years. Yet her powers of deduction are just as keen. Hot on the heels of The Female Detective, Revelations of a Lady Detective (probably written by William Stephens Hayward) hit the streets. It must have seemed like the start of a trend at the time.
But then nothing. For years.
In 1894 an amateur detective appeared in The Experiences of Loveday Brooke (written by Catherine L. Pirkis). It wasn’t until 1910 that the creator of The Scarlet Pimpernel, Baroness Orczy got in on the act with Lady Molly of Scotland Yard.
The exhibition runs until 12 May and is well worth a visit for crime fiction fans. You might wish there was just a tad more depth to the info, but at least there’s Google to find out more. The main reason to visit is to get a glimpse of actual books from the library’s collection. Although it would be great to be able to leaf through them, even staring at an original Black Mask magazine featuring the serialised version of The Maltese Falcon inside a glass case was a wonderful treat.
For more info on how to get there and opening times etc, visit the British Library website. They’re also hosting talks on the subject of crime fiction in January through March. There are even Whodunit family workshops to keep the kids entertained during the Easter holidays. Visit the website’s What’s On section to find out more.
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