Victorian Popular Fictions 5.1 5 Steere


“The mystery of the Myrtle Room”:

Reading Wilkie Collins’ The Dead Secret as an Early Female Detective Novel

Elizabeth Steere

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While Wilkie Collins’ novels The Moonstone (1868) and The Woman in White (1859-60) have long been accepted as part of the early mystery canon, Collins’ earlier novel The Dead Secret (1857) is rarely included. The Dead Secret is here reconsidered as one of the earliest English female detective novels, revealing its heretofore unrecognised significance to the genre of detective fiction and the evolution of the literary female detective. The Dead Secret’s protagonist, Rosamond, is almost Holmesian in her methodical collection of evidence and tactical lines of questioning to arrive at the solution of the mystery, but she also employs techniques more often attributed to female detectives, demonstrating the importance of emotion, intuition, surveillance, and proximity. In solving the mystery, Rosamond also disrupts the status quo, as is more typical of sleuthing heroines of sensation fiction. The Dead Secret demonstrates Collins’ innovations to the emerging genre of detective fiction, before its tropes become typified by Sherlock Holmes, and reveals the overlap of tropes that originate with sensation novels.


Wilkie Collins; The Dead Secret; sensation fiction; detective fiction; female detective; mystery fiction

Date of Acceptance: 27 June 2023

Date of Publication: 5 July 2023

Double Blind Peer Reviewed

Recommended Citation:

Steere, Elizabeth. 2023. “‘The mystery of the Myrtle Room’: Reading Wilkie Collins’ The Dead Secret as an Early Female Detective Novel”, Victorian Popular Fictions, 5.1: 58-72. ISSN: 2632-4253 (online) DOI:

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