Masaryk University Faculty of Arts Department of English and American Studies

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Masaryk University

Faculty of Arts
Department of English
and American Studies

English Language and Literature

Tereza Jelínková


Pro-feminist Tendencies in Some Crime Novels by Sayers, Christie, Rendell and Fyfield

Supervisor: PhDr. Lidia Kyzlinková, CSc., M.Litt.


I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently,

using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography.


Author’s signature

I would like to thank my supervisor PhDr. Lidia Kyzlinková, CSc., M.Litt., her advice and critical suggestions have been worthwhile. I also want to express my thanks for her assistance in recommending and raising some significant books of primary and secondary sources for the purpose of this bachelor thesis.

Table of Contents

1 Introduction 5

2 Feminism and Women Literature 8

2.1 Some Facts on Women Literary History 11

3 Crime Fiction and Women 15

3.1 Crime Fiction and its Historical Background 16

3.2 Women Entering the Genre 21

4 Women Criminals 26

4.1 Christie’s Feminine Slayer 27

4.2 Sayers’ Female Suspect 31

4.3 Rendell’s Woman Victim 34

4.4 Fyfield’s Womanly Sufferer and Criminal 37

5 Women Assistance 41

5.1 Christie’s Heroine 41

5.2 Sayers’ Female Companion 44

5.3 Rendell’s Feminine Fighter 47

5.4 Fyfield’s Superior Woman 50

6 The Bonds of Womanhood 53

6.1 Christie’s Conventional Women 54

6.2 Sayers’ Spinsters 56

6.3 Rendell’s Police Women 58

6.4 Fyfield’s Housewives 60

7 Women Manipulating and Manipulated 63

7.1 Christie’s Women in and out of Control 64

7.2 Sayers’ Female Authority 66

7.3 Rendell’s Intuitive Manipulation 68

7.4 Fyfield’s Independent Women 69

8 Conclusion 72

9 Works Cited 78

9.1 Primary Texts 78

9.2 Secondary Sources 78

9.3 Internet Sources 79


This thesis explores some English women detective novels and looks for different literary images of women in four different authors’ texts to stress the various women approaches and ideas. I try to demonstrate how the female authors of the genre design their literary investigators, whether these need a woman’s assistance to solve a case, and focus on other examples of feminine support, attitudes or relationships. I purposefully select the novels in which women figures play significant roles, and in which they appear, both among the victims and the culprits. Therefore, I aim to place four representative detective story writers, namely Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ruth Rendell, and Frances Fyfield within crime fiction first, and then to elaborate on the female element found in their texts in every possible area. The thesis thus deals with the gradual development of the detective story throughout the twentieth century, focusing in particular on pro-feminist and feminist aspects, and giving examples from the texts written by the famous English Queens of Crime mentioned above. The reason for the popularity of the genre lies predominantly in its structure; the detective story creates an interesting formula which is followed by the reader, who can take part in the investigation and, therefore, becomes one of the protagonists in the novel. The investigative techniques in the writing and the detective methods from the female perspective constitute the main issues that guide the individual chapters of the thesis. The texts examined were carefully selected to demonstrate particular pro-feminist and female subject matters. The thesis addresses different female approaches towards various gender differences, such as female subordinate support, feminine characteristics in the novel, or pioneering women attitudes and behaviors. It illustrates that although women and the detective genre seem to form highly dissimilar units, their combination contributes to successful twentieth-century crime fiction, which has established a number of new fruitful topics alongside the traditional detective approaches.

The plausible characters of the detective story and the ingeniously plausible plot also belong to other arguments connected with women crime fiction, making it very up-to-date and realistic as well as consequently the appealing genre for large readership. The relationship towards women reflects the new change within society. The changes within the community have become an inseparable element of the human world over the previous century and have also been concerned in modern attitudes of people’s lives. The human progress from the female perspective has changed and established the people’s views and concepts of the world they live in. The detective genre has also matured in the female authors’ sphere and women writers have widely begun to participate in it. The four female authors, who I decide to write about and use their detective stories to describe the pro-feminist tendencies, offer excellent examples. The English Queens of Crime of the twentieth century and their texts selected are not accidental; each of them represents a special approach towards the genre and contains some specific elements which characterize the individual’s female writing. I aim to focus on and analyze Agatha Christie’s Murder is Easy (1939), Dorothy L. Sayers’ Strong Poison (1930), Ruth Rendell’s Road Rage (1997), and Frances Fyfield’s A Clear Conscience (1994).

The pro-feminist tendencies in the four novels chosen are discussed in the following chapters after a short introduction of the role of a woman in society, the genre itself and mainly women writers in crime fiction. Hence, the following chapter explores the idea of feminism, deals with the historical background of feminism emphasizing the American feminism and finally defines three essential terms – feminist, female, and feminine. The subsequent subchapter touches the history of female literature and gives examples of some of the most significant women writers in the English literature. Here I mainly draw on Stevenson’s text, and rely on her conclusions and statements. Chapter Three then examines the genre of the detective story and considers the four whodunits by the women writers stated above. This section formulates the definition of detective fiction, the development of the genre, and gives reasons why the four novels should be taken as useful examples within the genre. The chapter also introduces women entering the genre, locates the four women discussed in the two waves and discusses the task of distinct approaches towards the texts, the different versions and interpretations of the detective story in a feminine mode, and the female help to the detectives.

The actual analysis is begun in the forth chapter Four, which focuses on women criminals and victims. All the following chapters, including the fourth, have a similar structure; the four novels studied are introduced in chronological order based on the author’s year of birth, and they present the individual examples of the area discussed. Chapter Five offers a brief overview of a new perspective on the female subsidiary help; it discusses the protagonists of the novels as well as the minor characters that only complete the atmosphere of the story. This is followed by the chapter which underlines the notion of womanhood and female cooperation, examining the women as an institution and its traditional features, the unity of women which makes them more powerful, women in the professional lives, and eventually the solidarity as well as rivalry among women. The last chapter of the analysis debates the female characteristics of manipulation, focusing on women either manipulating themselves, or being manipulated. All the four novels set examples of women in control or on the contrary, out of control, their authority within society and manipulative tendencies that are decisive for the cultural and social aspects. Finally, the chapter disputes the independence of women which gives them the chance of being in control. All these features should signify the individual pro-feminist tendencies in the four novels mentioned and demonstrate the issues, areas, and opinions, expressed and addressed in the authors’ texts. The most crucial aspects are then summarized in the conclusion, the very last chapter of the thesis.

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