Reading Journal: Women of Mystery

As the students in my Reviewing course are gaining traction on their own weekly journals, I’m realizing that several of them are feeling anxious on a couple of specific points, especially the ones focusing on reading as opposed to, say, nail polish: 1) they don’t know if they can read anything extra on top of everything they’re already struggling with in their classes, and 2) they’re trying to write full reviews of whatever they’ve consumed.

I’m trying to ease anxieties by stressing that this shouldn’t be too formal and shouldn’t require extra assignments. Like them, most of my own reading is what’s “assigned” for classes—though I’m the one who’s done the assigning—but isn’t that fair game to write about?

My lit course this semester is one I’ve taught several times before: “Women of Mystery”—a survey of mystery and suspense fiction from the mid-1800s onward with a focus on woman writers and women characters (across a range, as it turns out: detectives, victims, or criminals). While I’ve read these texts before, I obviously (is it obvious?) go back and reread them again each time—this past week including C.L. Pirkis’s “Drawn Daggers” (published in the heyday of Sherlock Holmes) and Baroness Orczy’s Lady Molly of Scotland Yard story “The Ninescore Mystery”—appearing just over a decade later, but what a world of difference in terms of how the women detectives work. In the former, Loveday Brooke is navigating layers of authority and expectation about being a woman detectives—subtle championing of her abilities and expertise in comparison to men—while in the latter case, women are praised far more explicitly, even as prejudices persist: “We of the Female Department are dreadfully snubbed by the men, though don’t tell me that women have not ten times as much intuition as the blundering and sterner sex; my firm belief is that we should’t have half so many undetected crimes if some of the so-called mysteries were put to the test of feminine investigation.”

One of the goals of the course is to look at how various texts offers windows into their eras—and how text after text can chart changing social values or fresh challenges to traditional values.

It’s a lot of fun—and hopefully educational too, of course.

That’s what I’ve been reading—and enjoying! And note to my students: No review above—just a quick bit of thought on what I’m reading, that’s about it.