Catherine Ross Nickerson
These two detective novels by Anna Katherine Green represent signifi-
cant developments in the history of women’s popular writing, making
clear a fact that has become somewhat obscure to us in the present mo-
ment: women were central to the history of popular literature and to the
development of mass culture at the beginning of the twentieth century.
Readers who believe that the American detective novel originated with the
hard-boiled school of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler will be
surprised to learn that American women in the 1860s took the detective
story apparatus famously introduced by Edgar Allan Poe and developed it
into a full-blown novelistic form. This female tradition of detective fiction
was highly popular in its own day and enjoyed a devoted readership of men
and women from the middle and upper classes. It is quite different from
either of the styles well known to readers of detective fiction today, the
American hard-boiled style and its several offshoots or the British golden-
age style and its current variations. Green’s novels are a hybrid of the de-
tective story and the domestic novel, an earlier popular genre of women’s
writing in which both the narrative emphasis and the kinds of crimes that
occur are centered around questions of home, family, and women’s experi-
ence. So close is the connection between these two narrative forms that
we can call the tradition domestic detective fiction.
Anna Katharine Green was one of the most successful and acclaimed
of these early writers of detective fiction, producing thirty-four novels
and four collections of short stories. She was the daughter of a New York
City criminal attorney, and it is entirely plausible to speculate that she ab-
sorbed some of her knowledge about both crime and the law from living in
such a household. Green was educated at a female seminary in Vermont,
as befit a daughter of the professional class, and she began to write fiction
and poetry in her teenage years. She was thirty-two years old when she
published her first novel, The Leavenworth Case in 1878, which became the
best-selling novel of that year. It is sometimes named as the first detec-
tive novel written by a woman, but that honor actually belongs to Metta
Fuller Victor’s The Dead Letter of 1867 (reprinted in a companion vol-
ume). Green most likely read Victor’s fiction before writing her own, be-
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