I’ve nearly finished the book that is currently pictured in the sidebar as “standing trial” and let’s just say I have A LOT to express about this book, (I am considering doing it over two posts rather than one). Whether this is lots to good to say about it, or the reverse, you’ll have to wait and see. But while I am collecting my thoughts, here is a piece I wrote for CADs magazine a few years ago, which I thought might be of interest. Something to keep busy or out of mischief whilst I get to work on my latest review…
Annie Haynes (1865-1929), a few years ago, was brought out of obscurity by historian Curtis Evans and the Dean Street Press, who reprinted her seven Inspector Stoddart and Inspector Furnival novels in 2015 and her five standalone novels in 2016. She was originally published in the 1920s and 30s and The Illustrated London News in the 1920s placed her on par with Agatha Christie. Haynes’ work is deserving of critical examination, firstly because until recently, her obscurity and unavailability in print has meant little has been written about her and secondly many of her novels are identifiable as hybrids, texts ‘which transgress genre boundaries by combining characteristic traits and elements of diverse literary and non-literary genres,’ (Galster, 226-227). Haynes consistently combines interwar detective fiction components with those found in Victorian sensation fiction and through this genre hybridity explores female experience and roles in ways which often diverge from the styles used by other contemporary crime authors. To investigate this I will be examining Haynes’ The Abbey Court Murder (1923), The Man with the Dark Beard (1928) and The Crime at Tattenham Corner (1929). Within these three texts is a central heroine, whose experiences are prioritised in the narrative, encompassing their relationships, (with companionate relationships triumphing over mercantile ones), and the physical effects stressful situations have on their bodies, a strain often worsened by them committing self-sacrificing acts and/or operating outside what Hoffman (2016) terms ‘the cult of domesticity’ (Hoffman, 29). Consequently this focusing on female experience through genre hybridity reconfigures the interwar detective novel structure, altering the masculine detective’s role.
Evans, who along with Carl Woodings and Peter Harris researched Haynes’ life, has written that until their research, ‘almost nothing was publically known about […Haynes] besides […] her authorship of 12 mysteries during the Golden Age of detective fiction’ (Evans, 1). Since the reprints her books have been reviewed more and Evans on his blog, The Passing Tramp, has discussed Haynes’ life and work more thoroughly, noting her employment of sensation fiction tropes. However, a larger examination of sensation fiction’s role in Haynes’ novels has not yet been published and no contemporary reviews have come to light commenting on this aspect. Much though has been written on gender in sensation fiction, with Ann Cvetkovich and Lyn Pykett being notable doyens in this field of research. In particular, Pykett (1994) wrote that one of sensation fiction’s ‘most distinctive features was the way in which it displayed women’ (Pykett, 6-7) and arguably Haynes’ work mirrors this, with her heroines often paralleling readings made by Cvetkovich and Pykett on sensation fiction heroines. In Hoffman’s Gender and Representation in British ‘Golden Age’ Crime Fiction (2016), she asserts that interwar detective fiction was a ‘space for the exploration of anxieties surrounding constructions of femininity in the period’ (Hoffman, 1) and that ‘female characters [were…] used in ways that can be read as questioning and renegotiating social, gender and genre norms’ (Hoffman, 1). Although present in her work the genre hybridity in Haynes’ corpus results in her overall depiction of women, (especially in the three aforementioned texts), reaffirming rather than challenging traditional ‘domesticity and […the] heteronormative order’ (Hoffman, 2). Some research has also been done, principally by Ascari, in A Counter-history of Crime Fiction: Supernatural, Gothic, Sensational (2007), on the effects of combining sensation and detective fiction, but what makes Haynes’ an important writer to study is her consistent experimentation with genre hybridity, as changes to the nature of the hybridity affect Haynes’ depiction of female experience.
Returning to the hybridity of Haynes’ work, Gupta (2012) notes that hybrid novels are typified by their ‘testing [of genre] boundaries’ (Gupta, 42) in terms of structure, which is visible in Haynes’ novels, where sensation fiction elements used to focus on female experiences, test the interwar detective fiction form that still largely adhered to the formula outlined in Edgar Allen Poe’s ratiocination stories. This included: ‘the introduction of the detective, the crimes and clues, [the] investigation, [the] announcement of the solution, the explanation [and the] denouement’ (James, 63).
The above mentioned structure is often disrupted and tested by Haynes prioritising female experience, which often dominates the texts, with the heroine’s troubled emotions and relationships superseding the police investigations, the latter of which frequently being marginalised in the narrative. This corresponds with the sensation fiction genre, as Macdonald (2013) asserts that in such works ‘male characters [are] often secondary to the action of the story’ (Macdonald, 127). The texts I am examining frequently reflect this, as in The Abbey Court Murder, Inspector Furnival’s investigation is made peripheral in the text compared to Judith Carew’s emotional turmoil as her marriage disintegrates under mutual suspicion. Furthermore, because Judith is the centre of the story, the crime’s solution is revealed early, undermining the detective’s role of disclosing the solution to the reader.
Additionally, this boundary testing in Haynes’ hands becomes gendered. Although in interwar detective fiction there was a ‘feminising of the form,’ (Rowland, 121) when it is combined with sensation fiction elements, a genre ‘perceived as feminine’ (Beller, 13) and ‘focused on women and women’s concerns,’ (Schipper, 7) the interwar detective fiction structure arguably reverts back to the ‘self-contained male rationality’ (Rowland, 121) typified in Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories. Inspector Furnival and Inspector Stoddart, (who propel the interwar detective fiction structure), reflect this, often dismissing women as weak, romance obsessed and dupable.
Before turning to Haynes’ texts it is important to define the genres she combines. Critics struggle to definitively date sensation fiction, as although there are famous examples from the 1860s such as Lady Audley’s Secret (1862), it has earlier roots in works from the 1850s such as The Woman in White (1859) and even has ties to its’ literary predecessor the gothic novel. In terms of content a dominant feature of sensation fiction is that through a ‘blending of realism and melodrama’ (Beller, 8), there is an exposure of dramatic secrets and past lives about its’ frequently middle and upper class characters, including ‘madness, forgery, bigamy and murder’ (Flanders, 254). Critics have often linked sensation fiction to female transgression, though with the contemporary critics there was concern that readers would replicate these transgressions (Cvetkovich, 20). This anxiety was also rooted in the belief that sensation fiction ‘was distinctly transgressive in that it was thought to appeal directly to the “nerves,” eliciting a physical sensation with its surprises, plot twists and startling revelations’ (Gilbert, I-II).
Conversely, interwar detective fiction, which purists define as occurring between the two world wars (Bradford, 19), is typified as having:
‘a mysterious death at its core […with] a closed set of […] suspects […] Each of these suspects must have a credible motive, opportunity to commit the crime, and reasonable access to whatever means was used to commit the deed. There must, too, be a person who unravels the mystery by logical inference from facts put directly before the reader and this person […] must be central to the story’ (Keating, 186).
Both genres have some similarities, including their frequently middle or upper class character casts and their content, which commonly dealt ‘with crime, often murder as an outcome of adultery and sometimes of bigamy’ (Brantlinger, 1). Yet their use of female protagonists produces a mixture of similarities and differences, which Haynes’ work reflects. Hoffman (2016) writes that although interwar detective fiction had an ambivalent response to a woman’s role in society, it often ‘advocate[d] a modern, active model of femininity that […gave] agency to female characters,’ (Hoffman, 2) which can be found in characters such as Christie’s Tuppence Beresford. Nevertheless the status quo is not completely overthrown within these novels and arguably provide a ‘“modern-yet-safe” solution’ (Hoffman, 2).
However, Haynes’ work complicates Hoffman’s assertions about female characters and how they are used in interwar detective fiction, as although an interwar detective fiction writer, her novels’ hybridity alter how she presents female protagonists. Both Judith Carew from The Abbey Court Murder and Hilary Bastow in The Man with the Dark Beard do not convey ‘a modern, active model of femininity.’ Conversely these novels emphasise the impact other people’s actions have on these women, who arguably only become active characters when they are being self-sacrificing, such as when Judith falsely confesses to murder to save her husband from arrest.
Consequently unlike in Hoffman’s assertion, these female characters lack ‘agency’ and women such as Judith, or Hilary’s spinster and traveller aunt, who appear to be transgressive or ‘function[ing] outside the heteronormative model,’ (Hoffman, 33) do not as Hoffman suggests, ‘expose the […] problematic nature’ (Hoffman, 33) of such a model. Indeed Hilary’s aunt actively pushes Hilary to accept Skrine’s marriage, despite it not being a companionate match. Instead these two novels, as in sensation fiction, ‘offer the female body as object while simultaneously inviting an identification of reader and protagonist’ (Tromp, Gilbert and Haynie, XX), which is evinced by the narratives detailing the physiological strain the heroines are under and the reader is privy to their thoughts.
However, Sophie Burslem in The Crime at Tattenham Corner further complicates the female role. Out of the three protagonists she presents the most ‘modern, active model of femininity,’ since after her husband’s presumed murder, (the corpse is actually her brother-in-law, which she knows but the police do not until later), she is required to run her husband’s business and maintain the subterfuge of his death. Her actions cause gossip and opprobrium as she arguably steps outside of ‘the cult of domesticity,’ especially when she gets engaged to her new secretary, (who is really her disguised husband). Yet with this transgressive agency she is unquestioning of heteronormativity. Conversely once the killer is discovered and her husband is publically exonerated, her transgressive behaviour is rewritten as wifely loyalty and Sophie relinquishes her active role, a situation mirrored in Baroness Orczy’s Lady Molly of Scotland Yard (1910).
Beginning with The Abbey Court Murder, the combining of sensation and detective fiction and Haynes’ focus on female experience, is instantly highlighted in the novel’s alternative title, Lady Carew’s Secret, which alludes to Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s sensation novel, Lady Audley’s Secret (1862). The parallels continue with both Lady Audley and Judith Carew being governesses before marrying well. Equally both their first husbands whom they believed were dead reappear, demanding their wives return to them, but are ultimately either murdered or nearly so. Hidden secrets threatening to be exposed and the pain they cause, are intrinsic to sensation fiction, such as in Lady Audley’s Secret when the eponymous heroine is finally found out: ‘She might rest now, for they knew the worst of her […] She had flung the horrible burden of an almost unendurable secret off her shoulders’ (Braddon, 295). This trope is also evinced in Haynes’ novel when Judith is afraid her past will be revealed: ‘All that past, that she had believed buried beyond resurrection had risen, was here at her very doors’ (Haynes, 19).
However, Haynes does not parallel the plot of Lady Audley’s Secret completely. Though for both women circumstantial evidence seemingly implicates them in the crimes against their husbands, it is only in Lady Audley’s case that the evidence correctly indicates guilt. The reader is quickly aware of Judith’s innocence because they are privy to her actions, exonerating her in a way Lady Audley is not. However, the threat of wrongful conviction remains for Judith for much of the story. Nevertheless this deviation from Braddon’s plot is still situated within the sensation fiction genre, as Ascari (2007) states that ‘sensation fiction inherited from the gothic the […] paradigmatic figure […of] the persecuted heroine’ (Ascari, 111).
The overt allusions to Lady Audley’s Secret signpost Haynes’ interest in exploring her heroine’s experiences and actively encourage the reader to interpret Judith Carew in light of the earlier novel, noting her similarities and differences with Lady Audley. This task is aided by Hayne’s novel promoting Judith’s marriage and reactions’ to events, over the police investigation. Antithetical to Keating’s definition of interwar detective fiction, Inspector Furnival is not ‘central to the story’ and his role is reduced to confirming the readers’ surmises. This alteration exemplifies the disruption prioritising female experience has on the detective story structure.
Examining this prioritisation more closely, Haynes employs the emotional style of sensation fiction to describe female experiences. Yet the issues these experiences raise, such as companionate marriages and outlets for women, are ones other contemporary crime novels were also exploring using different styles, such as Christie’s The Secret Adversary (1922).
The emotional style used to depict Judith’s experiences is exemplified in Haynes cataloguing the physiological effects of the strain Judith is under, such as in the line: ‘the very thought drove every drop of blood from her cheeks, her lips, set her heart beating in great suffocating throbs,’ (Haynes, 45). Such depictions of fear and stress on the body, tie into Gilbert’s (2011) assertion of the sensation fiction style ‘appeal[ing] to the [readers’] “nerves”’ and through this appeal enable, as Tromp, Gilbert and Haynie (2000) suggest, a reader identification with the sensation fiction heroine. Judith’s confrontation with Cyril, her supposed first husband, evinces this as when the lights are extinguished and an unknown person interrupts their fight, the reader can vicariously experience Judith’s terror through lines such as, ‘What was it? she asked herself, her limbs trembling under her, a sweat of deadly terror breaking out upon her forehead’ (Haynes, 20).
Another effect Haynes’ emotional style of narrating female experience has, is to preclude a ‘modern, active model of femininity,’ which Hoffman finds in other interwar detective novels. This is because the emotionally-led descriptions of Judith and her experiences emphasise her passivity, physical weakness and low mental resilience, which her fearful reaction to her husband possibly being the murderer epitomises: ‘It could not be true – this monstrous thing that had entered her brain? The darkness was rising nearer, she swayed to one side with a hoarse sob’ (Haynes, 103). Many such moments of weakness culminate in Judith becoming fatalistically passive, thinking that ‘there isn’t anything to be done but to wait – for the end – till the blow fall’ (Haynes, 134). Whilst such instances may seem simply melodramatic, arguably these fatalistic internalisations also embody a wider concern for women at the time, that of having outlets for expression and emotions, a theme other contemporary writers were exploring, such as in Gladys Mitchell Speedy Death (1929) and in Dorothy L. Sayers’ spinster character, Miss Climpson. Hoffman affirms this noting that such writers were often ‘warning against relegating women to a passive, domestic role’ (Hoffman, 63) and in this example such relegation entails Judith becoming emotionally overwhelmed, lacking an outlet within and beyond the home through which to express herself.
Moreover, tying into notions of female transgression and madness in sensation fiction, Beller (2007) suggests that the male detective in such works was focused on the controlling and ‘the containment of the deviant female’ (Beller, 54) and the label of madness is one way of achieving this. When Judith falsely confesses to Cyril’s murder to save her husband from arrest, her agency is categorised as resulting from an ill mind and her husband says, ‘You are mad […] Your night of watch, your grief, have turned your brain’ (Haynes, 172). There is a sense of the male characters here, including the police, using madness to excuse an unfeminine outburst and as a means for regaining control of the situation.
The male desire for control over women is another issue raised through this novel’s focus on female experience and is asseverated in Judith’s marriage, which Haynes’ utilises to explore contemporary anxieties around the ideal marriage. Hoffman argues that during the 1920s, a companionate marriage ‘was the new model which couples aspired’ (Hoffman, 25) to. She further writes that:
‘The idea of a companionate marriage gave women at least some control over their destinies; being able to choose an emotionally and sexually well-suited partner was an improvement upon marrying solely for economic reasons’ (Hoffman, 26).
However, Haynes’ blending of Victorian sensation fiction with 1920s detective fiction, leads to this issue being ambiguously depicted. Companionate marriages although threatened in this novel, do ultimately triumph over mercenary or fear induced marriages. Yet, within such relationships, particularly Judith’s, there is an absence of a negotiated power balance, which was present in other contemporary crime novels, most famously so in Sayers’ Harriet Vane novels. Instead Judith is consistently subordinate, blaming herself for Cyril’s murder and the resulting investigation. Moreover, Judith is keener to redeem herself in her husband’s eyes, than in proving her innocence to the police, an idea reflected when she thinks, ‘it was to him she was telling the tale, it was to him that she must vindicate herself!’ (Haynes, 187). Additionally, Judith’s husband reinforces his wife’s subordinated marital role when he contentedly perceives her as being ‘the wife he loved, lying there before him, humbled to the very dust, her fair beauty dimmed, the very life of her seemingly quenched’ (Haynes, 201).
Moving on to The Man with the Dark Beard. Like The Abbey Court Murder it has sensation fiction connections and prioritises the heroine’s experiences over those of the police, resulting in the interwar detective fiction plotline being disrupted. Similarly these experiences again enable Haynes to explore the ideal marriage. Focusing firstly on those links to sensation fiction, the killer Sir Skrine, murders another man to prevent him revealing that he murdered his wife and then uses his role as guardian over the victim’s offspring, Hilary and Felix, to further his owns ends. These ends involve Hilary being induced to marry him rather than Wilton, his romantic rival, who Skrine goes to the length of drugging and framing for murder. Skrine conforms to sensation fiction’s stock character of the aristocratic villain who ‘appear[s] to be the genuine gentlemanly article, but […whose] exterior respectability and elevated social status mask[s] unscrupulous private behaviour’ (Brewster, XI). Furthermore, Hilary’s experiences of being pressured into marriage moderately mirror Wilkie Collin’s The Woman in White (1859), where Laura is compelled to marry Sir Glyde, despite loving another and Skrine’s plans to frame Wilton for murder, also have roots in Charles Reade’s It Is Never Too Late to Mend (1856). A final connection is found in Skrine’s response to being caught, as he asks for Hilary’s forgiveness before committing suicide, an action which parallels that of the killer in Collin’s Armadale (1866).
The sensation fiction tropes and style in this story, as in The Abbey Court Murder, contribute towards the female experience focus, turning the readers’ attention to Hilary and who she will marry, rather than the police investigation of her father’s murder. The answer to this question oscillates between Wilton and Skrine, as the factors of love, money, security and family pressure gain and lose precedence in Hilary’s mind. Consequently this story’s marriage plot is arguably the primary one, with the murders being relegated to a secondary role, being used by Skrine to further his chances of marrying Hilary. Furthermore, the detectives in this story can be read as taking on an ancillary role, eliminating the barriers to the happy conclusion of the novel’s marriage plot, by proving that Skrine and not Wilton is the killer. Additionally, Hilary’s passivity and the way her marriage to Wilton is achieved diverges from the way some contemporary crime writers had their characters resolve or attempt to resolve obstacles in their relationships. For example, in E. M. Channon’s The Chimney Murder (1929), Cynthia Binn does not allow her father’s wrongful arrest for murdering their neighbour, prevent her from secretly wedding the murder victim’s son and like her mother, Cynthia is a resilient character throughout the story in comparison to some of the male characters. Similarly several of Christie’s female characters show greater agency than Hilary in working towards their marriage goals, even if this means transgressing the law, such as Martha Daubreuil in Murder on the Links (1923).
As previously mentioned the hybridity of Haynes’ novels entail that Hilary, like Judith, resists Hoffman’s argument that interwar detective novels use female characters to challenge and redefine societal norms and provide a more active ‘model of femininity.’ Although central to the primary plot, Hilary’s involvement is predominantly passive. Through focusing on her experiences, the narrative shows that her father’s murder is instrumental in this passivity. Shortly after this murder Hilary acknowledges the need to restrain her response to it, telling herself that ‘the twentieth-century girl does not faint – she merely turned a few degrees whiter’ (Haynes 20). Yet this resolution soon crumbles, as it is said that ‘since her father’s death she had been apathetic to raise any very serious objection to anything’ (Haynes, 66). This is a stark change from her behaviour prior to her father’s death where she plans to marry Wilton even without her father’s approval. His death has removed her agency. Cvetkovich (1992) writing on Isabel Carlyle in Ellen Wood’s East Lynne (1861), argues that she ‘is depicted as a woman who can only respond emotionally to the condition of her life because she is prevented from overt action,’ (Cvetkovich, 101) and that in this novel ‘economic dependence […is] represent[ed…] as an emotional one,’ (Cvetkovich, 101). This mirrors Hilary’s own situation and passive state, as her limited finances leave her in an exploitable position and reduces the ‘overt action’ she can take to repel Skrine’s intentions. Therefore, like Isabel, Hilary is only able to ‘respond emotionally’ to her situation. Judith Carew too, to an extent, finds herself in a similar position.
Comparable to The Abbey Court Murder, Haynes uses the sensation fiction style to portray Hilary’s emotional response to events and the physiological effects she consequently suffers. For example due to the strain Hilary was under, she became ‘perceptibly thinner, the rounded contours of her cheeks and throat had sharpened and her brow were sunken’ (Haynes, 133-134). Moreover, like Judith she has moments where her heart is ‘beating with great suffocating throbs’ (Haynes, 140). This focus on Hilary’s emotions ties into the novel’s sensation fiction elements, as Hansson and Norberg (2012) assert ‘the central importance of emotion’ (Hansson & Norberg, 1) in sensation fiction. They argue further that sensation fiction ‘plots revolve around the effects of characters’ emotions, as opposed to rational behaviour, and the representation of particularly women’s strong emotions is a conspicuous feature of the genre’ (Hansson and Norberg, 1). This is consistently evident in the story such as when Hilary discovers that Wilton has married another:
…one little corner of the curtain of thick fog that seemed to have descended on her brain was lifted for a moment and she visualised the future […] Standing there a sudden wave of passion surged over her. A couple of hours ago she would not have believed herself capable of the feelings that possessed her. Her brown eyes were wide open and the pupils were dilated until the whole eye looked black. Her lips were pressed tightly together, while her nostrils were quivering like those of a thoroughbred horse’ (Haynes, 103).
Interestingly this passage encapsulates the hybridity of Haynes’ work, as within this description are two forms of describing the effects of strong emotions. The description begins with poetical phrases, evocative of sensation fiction, such as a ‘curtain of thick fog,’ whilst the passage ends with scientific phrasing, focusing on the physiological signs of emotional stress such as dilated pupils, which ties into the interwar detective fiction genre which assesses characters for guilt or innocence.
This novel also features the concern for women needing outlets for emotions and expression through its’ female experience focus, as it did in The Abbey Court Murder. Since both her family members are favourable to her marrying Skrine and are disinterested in Wilton’s plight, Hilary lacks a confidante and is required to contain her increasingly negative emotions. Haynes again shows the effect this has on the female mind and suggests that it affects Hilary’s judgement, writing that ‘the sinister visions her distorted fancy had conjured up, the pain and the terror, the thwarted love of the past months had warped her judgement’ (Haynes, 163). It also leads to self-doubt as attested to in the line, ‘her faith in her whilom lover had never faltered hitherto, in spite of his treachery to her. But this morning she could not help asking herself whether it could be possible that she had been deceived all along’ (Haynes, 158). Additionally this self-doubt contributes to her passive state, leaving her unsure how to act.
Returning to the way focalising on female experience disrupts the novel’s interwar detective structure, The Man with the Dark Beard, strongly exemplifies how Haynes derails Poe’s detective story formula. The story’s exposition conforms to the formula, with Inspector Stoddart being introduced when Hilary’s father is murdered and there are a number of unusual clues. However, after this point the formula is deviated from considerably, with limited police investigation presence until near the novel’s denouement, as instead of this third component Hilary is focused on. Consequently the reader is quickly able to identify the killer, meaning the announcement and explanation of the solution are not quite superfluous, but they lack excitement, taking on a confirmatory role instead. Delafield (2009) writes that the ‘hybrid narrative form […] creates competition within the text for control of […] the narrative’ (Delafield, 4), as the various genres compete for dominance. In this novel, that narrative control is occupied by the sensation fiction components, which prevent Inspector Stoddart from performing his solution revealing role and minimise the narrative space allowed for his investigation. Since the sensation fiction elements lead to the prioritising of female experience this serves to support my earlier notion of this genre competing being gendered, as Inspector Stoddart, an example of masculine experience in the novel, is marginalised in comparison to the female voice, which results in a revaluating of the detective figure.
The last novel under examination is The Crime at Tattenham Corner, which like the previous novels contains a number of sensation fiction components with potential bigamy being considered, ‘scandalous secrets and illicit connections […] within a model community of […] apparently upstanding citizens’ (Marsh, 99) being exposed. Analogous to Lady Audley’s Secret, this novel includes a character faking their own death as a matter of self-preservation, though this time it is a husband rather than a wife.
Again the story’s hybridity promotes female experience, though not as extensively as the previous two. The police investigation is not marginalised by Haynes’ exploration of female experience and Inspector Stoddart fulfils his role of revealing the killer. Nevertheless, Sophie strongly mirrors sensation fiction heroines, sharing a similar ambiguity over whether she is innocent or transgressive. During the story Sophie is an ambiguous character, oscillating between the two dichotic roles allotted for women in sensation fiction: the first being the innocent and persecuted heroine as suggested by Ascari (2007) and the second as villainess, ‘duplicitous […] treacherous [and] dangerous,’ (Talairach-Vielmas, 7) which means, like the detectives, the reader is unsure how to interpret her.
Her active support of her husband also strengthens the similarities between her and sensation fiction’s female protagonists, as like the heroine of Collins’ The Law and The Lady (1875), she is ‘resilient, independent and determined’ (Macdonald, 127). Sophie also emulates the heroine from Braddon’s eponymous novel, Aurora Floyd (1863), as Pykett (1992) comments that constant shifts in the story’s perspective ‘tend to keep the heroine’s meaning and significance in a state of flux,’ (Pykett, 102) which Haynes’ novel replicates, with Sophie’s thoughts being less accessible, making it harder to define Sophie’s significance in the tale.
It is in this ‘state of flux’ that Sophie embodies the Victorian literary notion of depicting ‘women as […] simultaneously [as] angel and demons’ (Talairach-Vielmas, 7) and her position on this scale depends on the latest evidence Inspector Stoddart uncovers. Furthermore, even when Sophie’s thoughts are accessible, such as the morning after her husband has been supposedly murdered, her moral status remains ambiguous. For example the reader is told that Sophie:
‘would have to act today if she had never acted in her life before […] Long ago someone used to tell her that she had laughing eyes. Would anyone ever say that again? She asked herself. Just now they seemed to move of their own volition. Glancing here and there into every corner fearfully. Suddenly they were caught by a tumbled heap of white by the sofa near the window. It was the frock she had worn last night […] She stared at it in a species of fascinated horror. Surely she was not mistaken. Across one fold there was an ugly dark stain!’ (Haynes, 10-13).
The sensation fiction style used to portray Sophie’s experience is evident, with the final shocking line tying into Gilbert’s (2011) notions of sensation fiction ‘appeal[ing] directly to the [readers’] “nerves.”’ Moreover, the stained dress has its’ own sensation fiction connections, as like Franklin Blake in Collins’ The Moonstone (1868), Sophie is suspected of the crime due to a stained garment. In Blake’s case it is a paint smear on his night clothes, but on Sophie’s it is blood, which evokes the real life murder at Road Hill House in 1860, where Inspector Whicher partially suspected Constance Kent due to a misplaced, possibly bloodstained, nightdress. Returning to the passage it is ambiguous in that it neither damns nor acquits Sophie from complicity in the murder, such as when the narrator says Sophie will ‘have to act today,’ which could align her either with the deceptive female role or with the troubled heroine. Moreover, the reader experiences the thrills of sensation fiction such as being told about the stain on Sophie’s dress, but it is unconfirmed until later what it signifies. Again as with Hilary’s emotions, this passage encapsulates the novel’s hybridity because with Sophie’s bloodstained clothes Haynes not only wants her readers to act like detectives and notice the stain’s potentially criminal significance, but by the way she structures the information, (using short sentences and ending with the most dramatic news), she also wants her readers to experience a shock.
With sensation fiction being evoked in Haynes’ focus on Sophie, the ambiguity surrounding Sophie’s character also leads to reader and character speculation over her potentially transgressive behaviour. For instance the narrative notes that ‘public opinion was divided, but it was generally taken for granted that […] Sophie Burslem had some guilty knowledge of her husband’s death,’ (Haynes, 151-152) and her subsequent behaviour of going abroad and becoming engaged to her secretary seemly substantiates this. However, the novel’s conclusion shows that the real female transgression comes from elsewhere, that of the victim’s wife and killer and whom during the investigation makes advances towards Inspector Stoddart, aligning herself with Hoffman’s notion that ‘women who exhibit [or who are perceived to be exhibiting] excessive or deviant sexuality are often portrayed as […] villains in golden age crime fiction’ (Hoffman, 38). This character also adds to the equivocal role active femininity has in Haynes’ work as she actively responds to her husband’s poor behaviour towards her by killing him, but by placing this active model within a ‘deviant female,’ it is unclear whether such a model is being advocated and even Sophie’s more acceptable activeness terminates when her husband is declared innocent.
This novel includes more female activeness than the previous two novels examined, yet like these others Sophie’s emotional experiences are also portrayed in a sensation fiction style, such as when it is said that ‘Sophie Burslem’s hands were twisting themselves together in an agony’ (Haynes, 11). Furthermore, like Judith and Hilary, Sophie’s heart also suffers ‘great suffocating throbs’ (Haynes, 11), a phrase which recalls the lexicon of 19th century scientific thought on female hysteria, which Althaus (1866) believed to occur in women when given painful news, producing intense emotions within them. Althaus goes on to identify the symptoms of this hysteria saying the woman ‘perceives […] oppression on the chest, and palpitations of the heart; a lump seems to rise in her throat and gives a feeling of suffocation’ (Althaus, 245). This connection to hysteria literature further undermines the activeness of these three protagonists and alternatively emphasises their emotional responses to problems, echoing Cvetkovich’s reading of Isabel Carlyle. Additionally intense female emotions, as examples of physiological stress, are linked to ill health in further descriptions of Sophie, such as ‘her cheeks were burning now and her eyes were fever bright’ (Haynes, 41).
As with The Abbey Court Murder, this novel explores companionate marriages through Haynes’ focus on female experience. Unlike in Judith’s marriage, where her husband’s dominance is consistent throughout the story, Sophie’s husband, Sir John, exhibits less dominance, as arguably being required to hide and run his business through his wife and his brush with the law, have mellowed him. Out of all three novels, Sophie’s companionate relationship is the least unsettling, with Sir John describing Sophie as the ‘most loyal of comrades,’ (Haynes, 228) which emphasises the companionate aspect. Moreover, he is grateful for what Sophie did for him, acknowledging the sacrifices she made to her reputation.
These sacrifices, which entail potentially transgressive behavior though, are reinterpreted at the novel’s conclusion, such as when her husband says, ‘she has been faithful to me, devoted to me, as I firmly believe no other woman on earth […] has been to the man she loved’ (Haynes, 204). Sophie’s independent and potentially dubious behavior is reconfigured as wifely devotion and Sophie herself perceives it as her duty saying, ‘how silly you are, John! You are my husband! Helping you is just my job!’ (Haynes, 228). This line also reinforces how Sophie does not see a role for herself beyond her marriage, a stance which differs from other contemporary crime novels where women have roles other than wife, such as the female explorer in Vernon Loder’s The Mystery at Stowe (1928) and in A. G. Macdonell’s The Factory on the Cliff (1928), the female protagonist eschews the typical heroine’s romantic ending, preparing instead to forge a new independent life for herself after the demise of her father and his weapon manufacturing plans.
As this article has shown, Haynes consistently melds sensation and interwar detective fiction into her work, which allows for a prioritising of female experience, often at the expense of the structures and norms utilised in the latter genre. Sensation fiction’s emotional style is consistently used to achieve this female experience focus and through this style the physiological effects of stress on the female body are emphasised and the heroine’s relationships and marriages are fundamental aspects of the plots, sometimes to the extent that the murders and the subsequent police investigations take on a marginalised and ancillary role which forwards the stories’ marriage plots. Consequently, the detective figure is frequently undermined, denied the role of revealing the crimes’ solutions to the reader, or is redefined in texts such as The Man with the Dark Beard, becoming almost like a fairy godmother who enables Hilary to marry the man she loves.
Aside from the genre hybridity and prioritising of female experience in Haynes novels challenging the structure used in interwar detective fiction, these aspects of her work also gave voice to contemporary concerns around marriage and the need for emotional and cognitive outlets. Yet this very genre hybridity entails that this voice does not to any large extent question ‘the cult of domesticity,’ nor heteronormativity. Haynes does explore ‘anxieties surrounding constructions of femininity,’ but her novels do not provide a comforting or modern solution, since relationships in these novels decidedly favour male dominance and Haynes’ heroines, especially Judith and Hilary, lack the agency to combat their problems.
Overall, although these three Haynes novels have many similarities, they each provide a different reading experience because Haynes’ hybrid formula does not remain stable. Throughout her novels she is constantly altering different features, which showcase female experience in a new way and these alterations also effect the novels’ detective fiction structures. It is this unending experimentation which makes Haynes’ work deserving of critical examination and the way she ‘transgress[es] genre boundaries’ is important in how it affects her portrayal of female experience, a portrayal which often diverges from the more ‘active model of femininity’ depicted in other contemporary detective novels.
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