A Clear, Shrewd Brain: Enter Loveday Brooke

Lady Brass is known as being particularly peeved by rival detectives, particularly “a certain hawk-nosed poseur” who is more interested in publicizing his work than doing it diligently himself. Now in BRASS: The Devil in Whitechapel, she has a new rival, the Lady Detective Loveday Brooke, a dogged sleuth with a talent for disguise. Brooke was also a character in our interactive theater mystery The Launch Party,  where she led half the party on her own investigations into the death of an airship inventor. But how many of our audiences know that Brooke comes into the BRASS world through her own series of Victorian detective stories?

Brooke was the first fictional female detective created by a woman writer, the novelist Catherine Louisa Pirkis, who debuted the estimable Ms. Brooke in Ludgate Monthly in February 1893 with the story “The Black Bag Left on a Door Step.” Described by Victorian fiction scholar Jess Nevins as being “as close to Sherlock Holmes and the other Great Detectives” as any created in Victorian fiction, Brooke was perhaps the most ingenious and effective of this first wave of Lady Detectives.

We are told that Ms. Brooke was through a “jerk of Fortune’s wheel” forced to take on detective work, a choice that “had cut her off sharply from her former associates and her position in society.” Quick-witted, with “so much common sense that it amounts to genius,” she was to eventually star in seven adventures collected as “The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective” in 1894.

Brooke solves her mysteries through reasoning, analysis and detection, without recourse to literary coincidence or calling upon “feminine Intuition” (a popular attribute among many of her fictional contemporaries). The stories are also refreshingly lacking in romantic interest, often inserted by male writers to suggest that the detective is only professional until she lands a mate. What’s even rarer is that Brooke is far from a beautiful ingenue or glamorous femme fatale–her appearance is described as “altogether nondescript,” ideal for when she needs to masquerade as a servant or gather information unnoticed.

While there was quite a vogue for female detectives in Victorian fiction, reality lagged far behind. The first woman hired by the British police as a police ward and counselor was in 1905, and it wasn’t until 1918 that the London police hired the first women as officers. Given the talent that women have for observation, analysis and emotional intelligence over men, it’s easy to see why detective writers were drawn to the Lady Detective–and hard to see why it took so long for them to gain such employment in the real world.

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