Masaryk University Faculty of Arts Department of English and American Studies

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7.3Rendell’s Intuitive Manipulation

Besides Dora Wexford, who is a member of KABAL and strives to improve the human living environment, Debbie Harper, who is also a member of KABAL and SPECIES, Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, or Nicola Weaver, an honorable police officer who belongs to one of the successful police officers, there is also an ordinary woman, Sheila, the daughter of Dora and Reg Wexford. She represents an independent woman that makes her own decisions and nobody influences her verdicts.

She intends to have her baby at home since “home births [are] fashionable and Sheila, her father said with a kind of fond sourness, has always been a dedicated follower of fashion” (RR 17). She always does what she likes. She does not have a husband, only a boyfriend who she rejects to assume as her life partner and stays by herself. Reg Wexford describes the period as the “enlightenment, the equality of women and men, got rid of the old shibboleths. Men are present at the births of their children as a matter of course. Women breast-feed in public. Women talk publicly about all sort of gynaecological things they’d once have died before mentioning” (RR 18). The time has changed and women make decisions without any male help which makes them very self-governing and autonomous. Finally, Sheila gives birth and calls the child Amulet. The meaning is a word that suggests an object which should protect a person from problems. The child also signifies the intuitive manipulation for Sheila. Suddenly, she becomes a mother and must protect her own child. Her mother’s intuition changes her behavior and she devotes her life to her child.

Dora Wexford manipulates his husband life without knowing it when she is taken by the abductors; other female representatives strive to manipulate the world by saving the environment, including Dora; female police officers manipulate the police world and often surpass the male unit at the police force; and eventually Sheila sets my thesis example of a woman manipulating, chosen from the others since she has not been discussed so far. Most of the women from the novel analyzed generally represent the manipulating females and a few of them let themselves to be manipulated which symbolizes the equality between men and women since the author belongs to the Second Wave of the English Queens of Crime. Rendell reflects more pro-feminist tendencies than the two previous authors in terms of manipulating and being manipulated aspect.

7.4Fyfield’s Independent Women

Fyfield presents the most female-oriented author out of the four discussed and her women characters epitomize very independent human beings. She defines female-male relationships in one of her texts, “It’s All about Respect,” she emphasizes the role of marriage and the new trend in marital status: “More couples choose not to marry than ever before, even though they don’t receive the financial ‘securities’ of marriage. It’s a way of saying, mind your own bloody business and we’ll mind ours” (Fyfield 2). It shows the independence of both men and women and the newly loose relations between them. Women in her text are more in control than in the other three authors’ novels and the female characters have their own lives and they automatically reject to be dependent on anybody.

Helen West, indeed, leads the female world of independent women. She finds herself in a very chaotic environment and needs someone to organize her life. She lives in the world of liberated women and hates to hire a cleaning lady since she thinks it is very manipulative and non-ethical. Her partner Bailey suggests to her to get help and Helen responses to his proposal: “From other, unliberated women, you mean?” (CC 438). She dislikes the idea of manipulating and being in control of another woman since she fails by herself to organize her life and household. Bailey continues persuading and says that “there’s nothing wrong with domestic labour” (CC 439) and eventually, Helen agrees to his suggestion. Helen and Bailey have a very open and freed relationship based on a loose connection to each other. Nobody manipulates anybody, Helen strives to shape her relation to Bailey in her own manners, she loves him, but refuses to marry him, or even to have children which keeps the wife at home without having spare time or even career. Bailey, on the other hand, personifies a comprehensive man who wants Helen’s independence “of course, but not so independent that she built a life without reference to him at all” (CC 460). In the text, there appears a simile which defines the metaphorical meaning of a cat. Bailey assimilates the cat to a woman. He observes how the cat always comes and goes or sometimes remains missing for several days, simply “cats are like women, Bailey told himself with the cynicism of a policeman; they stay if they want to” (CC 465). Nobody can certainly tell what the cat thinks and it is also similar to women, especially Helen who keeps her secrets inside and never tells Bailey about her troubles. Finally, Bailey experiences that no matter how cute and adorable they appear they can be unpleasant when annoyed and they can leave. Helen thus shapes one of the independent and influential women in the novel.

Another notable example involves the masculine woman, Mickey Gut, who owns the bar Spoon and Fiddle and employs Cath’s husband, Joe. Her masculinity springs from her previous sport activity, “she had been women’s weightlifting champion, and had dabbled with wrestling until it ruined her make-up” (CC 485), her muscles are still visible and she looks like a well-built fellow. She manages to manipulate either Joe in the job, or Cath when she visits her after her escape from Joe and persuades her to return to him, although her proposal and suggestions conclude with a failure since Cath decides to get rid of her husband forever. Mickey herself is a very ridiculous figure since her appearance is so masculine, but fore example, her manicured nails evoke “a curious affectation for such a masculine female” (CC 487). Mickey’s masculine appearance gives her the advantage of being dominant as well as having other people’s certain degree of respect, which is xamined in Fyfield’s essay on relationship between a man and a woman. Not only Mickey is in control, but also Helen’s friend Emily acquires her domestic power since “everyone in Emily’s house [has] to be subjected to Emily’s control,” the members of the family must accept her rules and anybody who comes to her house, including Cath, must be kind to her children, “who [are] the very stars of her existence” (CC 572). Emily becomes a control freak in her kingdom and nobody can take control of her position. Her commands and orders must be fulfilled otherwise she is furious. Cath experiences Emily’s despotism due to the perfume incident and learns about the boundaries of Mrs. Eliot’s house which can be never crossed without any dire consequences. Emily can thereby be taken as a prime example of a woman manipulating other people’s lives in her surroundings.


The thesis deals with four general topics concerning the pro-feminist tendencies; women criminals, women subordinate help, the bonds of womanhood, and finally women manipulating and manipulated as they appear in Agatha Christie’s Murder is Easy, Dorothy L. Sayers’ Strong Poison, Ruth Rendell’s Road Rage, and Frances Fyfield’ Clear Conscience. The issues are debated in these four crime novels based on other secondary sources covering the same or similar phenomena.

First, two introductory chapters briefly consider feminist issues, some of the famous women writers in the English literature in general, and finally provide the background of crime fiction, referring to women detective story writers, including the four authors analyzed in greater detail. The four female authors present their individual approaches towards the genre and indicate their particular pro-feminist tendencies reflected in the four novels discussed. In Christie’s Murder is Easy, there is no figure of the Great Detective, either Hercule Poirot, or the elderly Miss Marple, which gives the writer a chance to play with the individual characters of the novel, such as Luke Fitzwilliam, Bridget Conway, Miss Waynflete and others. The characters of Bridget and Miss Waynflete, who seems to be helpful in the investigation, are in particular well-developed. In Strong Poison, Sayers also includes in her novel several female characters that form the female community and strive to support the woman protagonist, Harriet Vane who is accused of the murder of Philip Boyes. The great part of the investigation is performed by the female characters, such as Miss Katharine Climpson or Miss Joan Murchison, that stands for Harriet Vane’s innocence and are willing to do anything to get evidence which would prove so. Rendell focuses on Chief Inspector Wexford who is in charge of the murder of a young German girl and later of the case of kidnapping. In her novel, Rendell provides strong and prominent female characters, such as Dora Wexford, police women, and Kitty Struther, one of the culprits responsible for the young girl Roxane’s death. Fyfield’s murder apparently fails to be the center of the story. She introduces more personal problems of the female characters; i.e. Helen West, Mary Secura, Mickey Gut, Cath Boyce in particular, and their relationships, everyday troubles, and the murder primarily creates only a shadow of the story, however, in the end the author reveals the whole truth about one of the female protagonists, Cath, who suffers the entire life by being abused both by her brother and later by her husband, and she frees herself by committing two crimes.

The thesis identifies four basic kinds of approaches that a woman writer can take when dealing with some pro-feminist tendencies. The chapter on ‘Women Criminals’ addresses the female features towards crimes and their particular behavior. All the four authors bring something specific in their female characters’ and protagonists’ attitudes. The characters in general become more human and their behaviors are shaped by the circumstances and experience. In the writers’ novels discussed, a murderer can be anyone from the township, the neighborhood, or even from the family members. In the beginning, women characters seem to be innocent and hardly connected with the slayers since their features are decidedly feminine, which fails to be in agreement with those who would associate with the killer, however, Christie’s Miss Waynflete and Fyfield’s Cath demonstrate quite the contrary. This part targets the overall women characters in the novels, concentrating on the brutal aspects of the particular female protagonists, mentioned above. Most of the female representatives in the novels analyzed belong either to the criminals, or the victims of the crime. The murder is carefully planned in advance and thus the woman in question, Miss Waynflete, takes advantage of the village people’s indifference and ignorance in Christie’s Murder is Easy. Sayers’ Harriet Vane is far from being the guilty party, she represents the strong suspect. Criminal women protagonists and female victims generally embody exceptional people who suffer from some kind of dissatisfaction, either with the existing circumstances and their social rank in the community, or with frustrated love. The pro-feminist tendencies are demonstrated here through the female characters who want to become more powerful and take charge of their own destiny. Such an unhealthy obsession leads Miss Waynflete and Cath to destroy the hateful person and in Cath’s case essentially to commit the crime, on the other hand Harriet Vane, Dora Wexford, and Roxane Masood become only the victims of the criminal activities. The inferior social position, shameful separation, resolute struggle for the improvement, or domestic violence, anger and irritation label the women criminal as well as female victim in Christie’s, Sayers’, Rendell’s, and Fyfield’s texts.

The next chapter covers the subordinate female help in the investigation. All the four novels again set outstanding examples of women contribution to the detection. The female central characters deliver a subsidiary but highly contributory rational element since they view the case in their particular female perspective and spot detailed hints that the actual detective can hardly see. They pronounce distinct proposals that finally end up with the denouncement of the crime. There arises the antagonism between the professional masculine methods and the feminine intuitive gossip. Christie offers several female characters who strive to help in the investigation, such as Miss Pinkerton, especially Bridget Conway, and undoubtedly the criminal Miss Waynflete who purposely tries to show how powerful she is by letting some of the evidence material be revealed. Sayers introduces her spinsters, middle aged and elderly women who work for Miss Climpson and these women also take part in the investigation, namely for example, Miss Murchison, which earns them the position of useful creatures within society. Rendell’s protagonist Reg Wexford is involved in the case in a more personal way because of his wife, who is taken as a hostage. When Dora Wexford is released, she becomes one of the major sources for the investigation and creates an important connection to the abductors. On the contrary, Kitty Struther earns her position within society on the other side of the social conventions being one of the abductors who supposedly want to preserve their beautiful countryside. Finally, Fyfield presents the most prominent example of pro-feminist tendencies out of the other author’s novels analyzed since her ‘Great Detective’ actually epitomizes the female protagonist, Helen West. In the four novels, female subordinate assistance offers a great base for the case and allows the women to participate in the investigation.

The following chapter invites the notion of womanhood into the genre. ‘The Bonds of womanhood’ connect with the idea of feminist movements, since individuals can never achieve what they long for, but only the unity can perforate the solid boundaries between men and women. Women protagonists and also the minor characters from all the four novels analyzed assemble the bonds of womanhood, imaginary unions or associations through which they support each other in different circumstances. The female domestic role becomes less significant mainly in Fyfield’s novel, Emily Eliot further supports her husband and looks after the family, but her longings and wishes are shifted to the background, which makes her feel miserable. Women thus create the bonds of female acquaintances in which they encourage each other. With the technological development female human beings slowly but surely turn out to be less useful in the household and feel the need to be involved in various odd jobs; this is the instant when women start being occupied by so far male-oriented duties; Helen West sets an excellent example of a woman fully satisfied with her professional career and she avoids the private life having a family. The four texts discussed present the bonds of womanhood via particular kinds of the partnership which are stressed by the female characters. Christie provides a traditional female institution which is led by elderly ladies from the village and their linguistic code which makes them understand one another. Sayers indicates a similar bond of womanhood compiled by the so-called spinsters. Miss Climpson, whose goal is to save the lives of elderly women who lost their ambitions and are still capable of working, provides the example of such a bond. She engages them with different tasks and they listen to her in order to be useful within society. Rendell comes up with a more up-to-date institution of women, police force. She pictures two representatives of the women police bond, Karen Malahyde and Nicola Weaver, and emphasizes their abilities to see any reliable and relevant evidence, female intuitions, their perfections and preferences that make them superior to men. Fyfield, being the most pro-feminist author out of the four, introducing her female characters in the novel, highlights the notions of solidarity and rivalry in some bonds of womanhood. Helen West belongs to several bonds of womanhood, being the Crown Prosecutor she falls into category of the professional bond and at the same time she takes part in the domestic bond, which makes her struggle for being a better housekeeper than Emily, who also forms her own specific bonds of womanhood, mentioned above, considering her behavior and character. The culpable Cath Boyce creates her own environment being a desperate woman and a frustrated mother which sets her in the position of an unhappy housewife who desires her revenge.

Finally, the last chapter deals with manipulative techniques of women and at the same time with women manipulated by others. Female creatures are considered to be sensual and sensitive subjects that present them as very easily manipulated objects. The male human beings basically desire to be in control and thus manipulate with their female counterparts, on the contrary, women are intelligent enough in the novels discussed to be able to manipulate men in the positions they want them to be. All the four women writers analyzed depict female manipulating relations between women and men, as well as among women. Christie describes both types of women manipulating and manipulated, even in one character. Bridget provides the first example of a woman manipulating and at the same time manipulated, her objects of manipulations are mainly Lord Gordon and unintentionally Luke Fitzwilliam. Miss Waynflete represents the other woman in control, at the beginning of the novel she commits all the crimes and nobody suspects her, but eventually she is revealed and her position of in control changes to out of control. Sayers introduces the idea of woman decisive tendencies in Harriet Vane’s case and the female jury that vote for Harriet’s innocence, further on, the author also renders the notion of marriage and changing female names as well as the relationship which are rather tampered by female partners. The female protagonist, Harriet Vane expresses her manipulating features concerning Philip Boys, her former boyfriend and Lord Peter Wimsey, her future husband. Rendell creates a more present picture of the criminal world. Her female characters possess fewer manipulating tendencies, but still something below the surface can be spotted in the plot. For example, Sheila Wexford makes her own decision to stay as a single mother and give birth to her only child at home. Her behavior presents the independent woman features. Even her mother, Dora Wexford epitomizes one of the people in charge of environmental issues, who strives to save the world. Fyfield’s chapter on “Independent Women” concludes the entire analysis of the pro-feminist tendencies, including Helen herself, but also the masculine woman Mickey Gut who both represent the most influential manipulative people from the four novels.

The pro-feminist issues produce the most striking topics in the four novels and split them up between the two waves of English Queens of Crime in the twentieth century with their individual approaches discussed above. Out of the four author’s, Frances Fyfield seems to be the most pro-feminist writer who attempts to vividly depict the struggle between male and female dominancy. She describes her female protagonists, especially Helen West and Mary Secura, as strong women fighters who are interested in other women’s issues and strive to assist them at their difficulties and thus they embody the troubleshooters. Rendell’s novel also renders several pro-feminist tendencies, which reveal the equality between men and women, represented by the female protagonist’s relationship. Dora and Reg Wexford form a strong and close liaison, which advocates the equality in modern times.

9Works Cited

9.1Primary Texts

Christie, Agatha. Murder is Easy. [1939]. Collins, 1993. (MIE)

Fyfield, Frances. A Clear Conscience. Bantam Press, 1994. 425-657. (CC)

Rendell, Ruth. Road Rage. [1997]. Arrow Books, 1998. (RR)

Sayers, Dorothy L. Strong Poison. [1930]. NEL: Hodder & Stoughton, 2003. (SP)

9.2Secondary Sources

Bergmann, Helena. Between Obedience and Freedom, Woman’s Role in the Mid-Nineteenth Century Industrial Novel. University of Goteborg, 1979.

Cawelti, John G. Adventure, Mystery, and Romance. University of Chicago Press, 1976.

Cott, Nancy F. The Bonds of Womanhood: “Woman’s Sphere” in New England, 1780 – 1835. Yale University Press, 1977.

Danielsson, Karin Molander. The Dynamic Detective: Social Interest and Seriality in Contemporary Detective Series. Sweden: Edsbruck, 2002.

Hogeland, Lisa Maria. Feminism and Its Fictions: The Consciousness-Raising Novel and the Women’s Liberation Movement. Philadelphia: UP Pennsylvania, 1998.

James, P. D.‘An Introduction’, In The Art of Murder, British Crime Fiction, The British Council, 1993: 2-12.

Light, Alison. Forever England: Feminity, Literature and Conservatism Between the Wars. London: Routledge, 1991. 61-112.

Moi, Toril. “Feminist, Female, Feminine.” The Feminist Reader. [1989]. Second Edition. Maryland: Blackwell Publishers Inc. 1997. 104-16.

Morris, Virginia B. “Arsenic and Blue Lace: Sayers’ Criminal Women.” Modern Fiction Studies. Volume 29/3, Autumn 1983. 1-5.

Munt, Sally R. ‘Masculinity and Masquerade or ‘Is that a Gun in Your Pocket?’. Murder by the Book? London: Routledge, 1994. Chapter 1, 1-29.

Rowland, Susan. From Agatha Christie to Ruth Rendell. Palgrave, 2001.

Scaggs, John. Crime Fiction. New York: Routledge, 2005.

Spender, Dale. “Women and Literary History.” The Feminist Reader. [1989]. Second Edition. Maryland: Blackwell Publishers Inc. 1997. 16-25.

Stevenson, Jane. Women Writers in English Literature. Longman York Press, 1993.

9.3Internet Sources

“History by the Yard.” Women Police 2006. 3 November 2007 .

Miller, Ron. “In the Modern Mystery World, Women Rule.” Case Book: Women of MYSTERY! 2004. 12 October 2007 .

Lee, Elizabeth. “The Women’s Movement – Our History.” Feminism and Women’s Studies 1993. 22 October 2007 .

Wright, Matt. “Golden Age of Detective Stories: The Ten Commandments of Detective Fiction.” 8 April 2005. <>.

1 Susan Rowland based her literary analysis on Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Margery Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, P. D. James, and Ruth Rendell

2 Frances Fyfield’s pseudonym

3 Morris analyzes two novels and uses examples of two female suspects.

4 Mr. Boyes, Philip’s father

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