The Medical Woman as Amateur Detective
in Anna Kingsford’s
“A Cast for a Fortune: The Holiday Adventures of a Lady Doctor”
Anna Kingsford’s “A Cast for a Fortune: The Holiday Adventures of a Lady Doctor” (1877) depicts a medical woman who becomes entangled in a murder plot whilst on vacation. Assuming the mantle of amateur detective, Dr Mary Thornton intervenes to prevent Dr George Pomeroy poisoning his sister-in-law, a wealthy widow. This little-known short story appeared at a critical time in the medical-woman movement in Britain. In contemporary medical writing and popular culture, the woman doctor was often represented as unfeminine and even as morbid or morally degenerate. Conversely, Kingsford portrays a healthy woman doctor who upholds professional ethics and criminal justice, while the story’s medical man is an unscrupulous villain. By exposing and denouncing Dr Pomeroy, Dr Thornton restores medicine’s reputation. Drawing on interdisciplinary research across literary studies and the history of medicine, this article positions Kingsford’s story at the advent and nexus of three emerging sub-genres: female detective fiction, the medical mystery, and medical woman fiction. I argue that, through the depiction of its heroine, “A Cast for a Fortune” constructs the amateur female sleuth and early woman doctor not as an outsider, but as the guardian of medico-morality.
detective fiction; history of medicine; short story; medical mystery; woman doctor; female detective.
Date of Acceptance: 5 July 2021
Date of Publication: 8 July 2021
Double Blind Peer Reviewed
Moulds, Alison. 2021. “The Medical Woman as Amateur Detective in Anna Kingsford’s ‘A Cast for a Fortune: The Holiday Adventures of a Lady Doctor.’ ” Victorian Popular Fictions, 3.1 (Spring 2021): 83-97.