Masaryk University Faculty of Arts Department of English and American Studies

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5.4Fyfield’s Superior Woman

Helen West, the Crown Prosecutor experiences a burnout in her life since her spiritual condition appears in a phase of emotional and practical disorder, which is caused by her stereotyped job and her little romance with Police Superintendent Geoffrey Bailey. Helen shapes the powerful female protagonist of the novel and “aptly represents the new generation of female sleuths now taking charge in the mystery world” (Miller 1). The female character epitomizes a real-life criminal lawyer who actually surpasses her male companion in the professional sphere making a progress in Cath’s case since she can understand more what abused women suffer from. Helen personifies a talented woman in her profession which creates an ethical base for her followers and she deals with crime suspense in functionless families and relationships with enormous success. Fyfield’s taste changes the genre and the traditional detective story atmosphere shifts from the time of Christie and Sayers. The professional side of women forms the significant part of females’ lives and most of the time they break the line between the male and female kinds of job entering until recently the only male employments. “Whatever the reason, it’s clear that women rule the mystery world today, which is why we’re sure to see more and more stories from new generation mystery writers like Frances Fyfield in the years to come” (Miller 3) and her female protagonist, Helen West, sets an excellent example of the woman progress.

Helen’s routine life makes her uneasy and unhappy. Standing in the kitchen, she watches “the dust settle” (CC 435) and speculates about the life. She comes up with a theory that “carelessness so often led to death” (CC 435) and her life gradually becomes impervious and impassive which drives her insane. Such a woman needs a goal to reach to and, therefore, lacks the driving force that could fix her life. Her household is basically scraggly and unattended and she only waits for fretfulness. Helen becomes lonely in her big house and the only conversation she can have is with the glass of wine. Suddenly, she begins to plan how she could change the domestic environment to make it more comfortable and homely: “If I took down the wall between the dark hall and the living room, the place would be lighter, especially without a blind in the kitchen window. The legal mind which was her curse and her profession turned on complications such as planning permission, building regulations […] before moving on to simpler ideas, such as new colour schemes” (CC 436). Her mind needs rest and she tries to escape from her daily duties by planning what she could change in her living room. She also feels bad since she buys the simplest ingredients and cooks the simplest dishes which sometimes really irritate her. Her profession thoroughly infiltrates into her private life and she entirely fails to complete the casual and everyday tasks at home, which makes her even more frustrated. She sometimes finds herself to talk about work and abruptly starts mixing it with domestic issues, for example what kind of color she should use for the walls. Her desperate situation gets even worse when Bailey suggests to her to hire an odd job man for spring cleaning. Helen perceives the suggestion as criticism concerning her chaotic and untidy house. First, she resists allowing someone else to clean her house since she refuses to admit that the house needs it and also she considers such a kind of job inferior and unconventional, and then she changes her mind and hires a cleaning lady, Cath, who entirely converts her life and helps “make herself [Helen] and her home both elegant and safe” (CC 439).

Helen West embodies a clearly brave and intelligent woman who wants to restore the order in human relations. As a human being, she also experiences fear and even though it is “never told [she’s being] tough and [at the same time] constantly scared” (CC 448). The color she desires to have in her living room suggests her “cowardice” and her intention is “to exorcise the devil” (CC 448) from that place that she brings every day with her from the cases she constantly does for six months – battered women who mostly refuse to show at the court at the given day since there exists a little complicating factor of love between the battered woman and her abrasive partner. Helen West must fight for the equality between men and women and her task is rather complicated since even her boss, Brian Redwood, fails to understand why men beat women: “I thought this was the age of equality. If I hit my wife, it would be the very last thing I’d do” (CC 460). In the struggle for the equality between all men and all women, Helen neglects her household tasks and, therefore, loses the traditional role of a woman. She compares herself with Mrs. Eliot who is a housewife with three children and whose house looks like a comfortable place. Still Emily needs a help which partially satisfies Helen when she must admit that she needs someone to clean her house too. Helen herself lives in an unorganized union with Bailey and Cath feels a pity for her “looking the way she did and being the age she was, ten years or so older than Cath, and not having a man who looked after her” (CC 484). The two women create two opposite sides – a traditional housewife who breaks the boundaries and a modern career woman; Helen strives to understand why Cath behaves in such a way, finally recognizes her action and penetrates into Cath’s life. On the other hand, Cath can never understand why Helen leads that sort of life without a regular relationship with a man.

Helen’s joy originates in the cases that she wins and the female lives that she saves. Her friend, Emily Eliot, superficially states that Helen’s life must be very comfortable and easy, having “a virile man visiting a couple of days a week, no kids, double income” (CC 510). Unfortunately, she rejects to see that Helen must cope with the detailed and present-day reality of abused women, which gets inside her and forms an evil element that is difficult to dispose of. Helen’s life is subjected to scrutiny which depresses her and arouses her headaches. On the one hand, she represents a tough fighter and professional savior outwardly looking stable and trouble free, but on the other hand, Helen’s job floods her whole life and she ends up in a disorganized relationship, experiencing ungrateful clients.

Helen may be seen as the helper to the abused and battered women. At the beginning of the novel she needs a help herself since she leads a very stereotyped life which makes her desperate. Then she examines the case of her young cleaning lady, who is being battered by her husband and, furthermore, her brother Damien has already been brutally murdered. This case changes Helen’s life and she discloses the motive for murdering both her brother and her husband, since her “life was pushing Mary Catherine Boyce to the limit” (CC 631). She is a more competent and independent female sleuth than any other character in the novel because of her female instincts and understanding. Despite her vulnerability and frustration, Helen West creates a superior woman, who solves the case before her boyfriend does.

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