The Web of Iniquity: Early Detective Fiction by American Women

Overview

The Web of Iniquity is a study of detective fiction written by American women between the Civil War and World War II. Refuting the idea that no American detective fiction of substance was produced between the times of Edgar Allan Poe and Dashiell Hammett, Catherine Ross Nickerson shows how these women writers blended Gothic elements into domestic fiction to create a unique and all-but-ignored subgenre that she labels “domestic detective fiction.”
This subgenre allowed women ...

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Overview

The Web of Iniquity is a study of detective fiction written by American women between the Civil War and World War II. Refuting the idea that no American detective fiction of substance was produced between the times of Edgar Allan Poe and Dashiell Hammett, Catherine Ross Nickerson shows how these women writers blended Gothic elements into domestic fiction to create a unique and all-but-ignored subgenre that she labels “domestic detective fiction.”
This subgenre allowed women writers to participate in postbellum culture and to critique other aspects of a rapidly changing society. Domestic detective fiction combined elements of sensationalist papers, popular nonfiction crime stories, and the domestic novel. Nickerson shows how it also incorporated the gothic tropes found in the work of Harriet Beecher Stowe, Louisa May Alcott, and Charlotte Brontë and influenced the work of Pauline Hopkins. Mid-nineteenth-century writer Metta Fuller Victor, who represented such important areas of cultural conflict as the role of professions in the formation of class identity and the possibility of women's independence and self-determination, paved the way for the appearance of women detectives in the late-nineteenth-century fiction of Anna Katharine Green. Nickerson credits Mary Roberts Rinehart, in particular, for bringing sophistication to the subgenre by amplifying the humorous, terrifying, and feminist elements inherent in earlier detective novels by women. Throughout the volume, Nickerson focuses on the narrative qualities of the domestic novel tradition and the ways in which it reflected ideologies of domesticity and gender. Also included are a discussion of various rewritings of the Lizzie Borden scandal in this tradition and an afterword on the relation of domestic detective fiction to the hard-boiled style.
The Web of Iniquity places the detective fiction written by women between 1850 and 1940 into ongoing discussions regarding women, culture, and literature and will appeal to scholars and students of women's studies, American studies, and literary history.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
The Web of Iniquity presents strikingly original research on an intriguing subject: the origins of the American detective novel in mid-nineteenth-century domestic fiction. Nickerson has hit upon a rich and absorbing subject. No other book has treated this area of women’s literary history in America.”—Gillian Brown, author of Domestic Individualism: Imagining Self in Nineteenth-Century America

“A genuinely original, terrifically interesting book.”—Dana Nelson, author of National Manhood: Capitalist Citizenship and the Imagined Fraternity of White Men

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780822322511
  • Publisher: Duke University Press
  • Publication date: 1/28/1999
  • Pages: 275
  • Lexile: 1530L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.05 (w) x 9.53 (h) x 1.09 (d)

Meet the Author

Catherine Ross Nickerson is Associate Professor of American Studies and English at Emory University.

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Table of Contents

Preface
Acknowledgments
Pt. 1 The Advent of Detective Fiction and the Postbellum Period 1
1 "To Trace a Lie, to Discover a Disguise": Genres of Crime and Secrecy 4
2 "The Eye of Suspicion": The Erotics of Detection in The Dead Letter 29
3 The Loop of Surveillance in The Figure Eight and Hagar's Daughter 47
Pt. 2 Anna Katharine Green and the Gilded Age 59
4 "A Woman with a Secret": Knowing and Telling in The Leavenworth Case 70
5 "A Woman's Hand": Good Works and the Woman Detective 97
Pt. 3 Mary Roberts Rinehart and the Modern Era 117
6 "No Place for a Spinster": The Architecture of Retrospection in The Circular Staircase 129
7 "I Suppose They Stood It as Long as They Could": Mothers, Daughters, and Axe Murder in The Album 154
Afterword 197
Notes 219
Select Bibliography 255
Index 269
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