Victorian Popular Fictions 2: 1 4 Gracia

Back to Bodies: Female Detectives and Bodily Tools and Tells in Victorian Detective Fiction

Dominique Gracia


The work of the ratiocinative, masculine mind often appears to be the organising principle of detective fiction. However, the notion of detective work as predominantly about minds is a bluff, and we should not take detective stories’ word for it. Here, I interrogate this cultural heuristic and feminist critiques of the detective fiction genre that have often wrestled with, but largely embraced, a gendered, dualistic interpretation of detective work as the purview of a masculine mind investigating a feminine body. By setting to one side “iconic” figures like Sherlock Holmes, I look to rebaseline our generalisations about detective fiction using the nineteenth-century professional female detective as my exemplar, including characters such as Loveday Brooke, Dorcas Dene, Mrs. Paschal, G, and Miss Cusack, and historical instances of the female detective figure. By analysing the tools and tells of the incarnated body that is the predicate of the perceiving mind, I illustrate how detectives reason about bodies from and with their own and challenge the exclusion of early professional female detectives from the critical picture that we build of The Detective and their methods.

Key Words

detective fiction; female detectives; Loveday Brooke; Dorcas Dene; Mrs Paschal; ratiocination; gender; the body.

Date of Acceptance: 9 July 2020

Date of Publication: 13 July 2020

Double Blind Peer Reviewed

Recommended Citation

Gracia, Dominique. 2020. “Back to Bodies: Female Detectives and Bodily Tools and Tells in Victorian Detective Fiction.” Victorian Popular Fictions, 2.1: 56-68. DOI:

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Creative Commons Licence

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.