Quick--who was the first woman to publish a mystery novel?
Despite her many achievement, no, it wasn’t Agatha Christie. Technically, the honor goes to Seeley Regester, the pseudonym used by Metta Victoria Fuller Victor, whose novel The Dead Letter was published in 1867. But, Anna Katherine Green (photo below), whose novel The Leavenworth Case became a runaway bestseller in 1878, is generally acknowledged as “the mother of the detective novel.”
I’ve chosen to pay tribute to both for their achievements, since March is National Women’s History Month.
Metta Victoria Fuller Victor, a native of
was a pioneer in the dime novel tradition, penning more than 100 titles. After
the family moved to Erie, Pennsylvania Ohio, she and her sister Frances began
publishing in local newspapers. Her first novel, Last Days of Tul, A Romance
of the Lost Cities of ,
was published in 1847 when she was only 15 years old. Yucatan
After their marriage, she and her husband, Orville Victor, a newspaper editor, moved to
City. Despite bearing nine children and having the
responsibilities of a wife and mother, she continued to work, publishing in
many genres as well as poetry, non-fiction and even a few cookbooks.
Her achievement as the writer of the first detective novel is marred by the fact a main character is clairvoyant.
Green’s novel, on the other hand, set the standard for mystery novels to follow. Her detective, Ebenezer Gryce, who serves with the New York Metropolitan Police Force, would continue to fight crime in a series of novels. Gryce is often assisted by Amelia Butterworth, a nosy spinster. Green also invented a ‘girl detective,’ Violet Strange, a debutante who leads a secret life as a sleuth.
Green’s father was a prominent attorney and it is believed some of his cases provided the basis for her plots. The Leavenworth Case sold more than a million copies and was lauded by Wilkie Collins, among other luminaries. The novel also sparked a debate in the Pennsylvania Senate over whether such a book could actually have been written by a woman.