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The Female Sherlock Holmes: C. L. Pirkis’ Loveday Brooke

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle applauds the 1890s short stories featuring an early female detective

The name Catherine Louisa Pirkis is relatively unknown now, but Pirkis left two legacies of interest. The first arose out of her animal charity work: with her husband, Pirkis was one of the founders of the National Canine Defence League in 1891. This is undoubtedly a worthwhile legacy in itself, but it’s the second legacy of C. L. Pirkis which concerns us here: her small but nonetheless notable contribution to detective fiction.

In 1893, C. L. Pirkis (1841-1910) wrote a series of short stories featuring a character who has been dubbed ‘the female Sherlock Holmes’, the lady detective Loveday Brooke. It was an opportune, if not out-and-out opportunistic, time to create a new fictional detective: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had just killed off his popular sleuth Sherlock Holmes, much to the nation’s outrage, although a huge financial incentive would persuade him to bring Holmes back a decade later. Read the rest of this entry

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A Summary and Analysis of Virginia Woolf’s ‘Kew Gardens’

On one of Woolf’s earliest short stories

Written in 1917 around the same time she wrote ‘The Mark on the Wall’, ‘Kew Gardens’ is one of Virginia Woolf’s best-known short stories. Yet what the story means is far less well-known – if there is one ‘meaning’ that is ultimately knowable. A short summary and closer analysis of ‘Kew Gardens’ should help to provide a little clarity on what is a rather elusive and delicately symbolic story.

In summary, ‘Kew Gardens’ focuses on the titular gardens in London, on a hot July day. As so often with modernist literature, the focus here is on a moment or a series of moments, rather than a grand, unified narrative or plot. A husband and wife walk past the flower bed with their children, all of them lost in their own thoughts: the husband, Simon, thinks about a woman he’d asked to marry him fifteen years earlier (but whom he never did marry). He asks his wife, Eleanor, if she thinks of the past, and she tells him she remembers being kissed by an old lady with a wart on her nose, twenty years ago while she and a group of other girls were painting at the side of a lake. Read the rest of this entry

Wells’s Heir? John Wyndham’s The Seeds of Time

In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle dusts off the half-forgotten science-fiction stories of John Wyndham

A good many of the books that feature in this weekly Friday column are found in charity shops while I’m looking for something else. So it was with this week’s featured book, or rather pile of books, by John Wyndham, who has been called the most successful British science-fiction writer after H. G. Wells. In his lifetime, Wyndham was a bestselling novelist. How many people read his novels and short stories now, I wonder?

Like many people, I knew the titles before I picked up the books: The Day of the Triffids, The Midwich Cuckoos, The Chrysalids. A number of Wyndham’s novels have been successfully adapted for film, with The Midwich Cuckoos being made into a feature film titled Village of the Damned on not one but two occasions. ‘Triffid’ has even made it into the Oxford English Dictionary, which defines it as follows: Read the rest of this entry