Women Sleuths in
Historical Mysteries

England, Edwardian Period

©1996-2013
womeninworldhistory.com

Snobbery with Violence

by Marion Chesney

Chesney’s principle character, Lady Rose, doesn’t fit in. Well educated and with a curious mind, she is sneeringly referred to by her peers as a “walking encyclopedia.” Rose is matched with Captain Harry Cathcart, another misfit made bitter and taciturn through his experiences in the Boer War. Although well born, Harry lacks financial support and has had to be hired as an investigator for others of his class. When a malicious guest is found dead under strange circumstances at a country weekend Rose is attending, she tries to uncover the lies behind the death. Then Harry appears, and the two are thrown together as unlikely, and reluctant, crime solving partners.

The story’s plot in many ways is driven by the preoccupation of the Edwardian upper class to maintain itself through displays of wealth and agonizing insistence on “appropriate” manners, speech, and work - of lack of it. Fears of threats to their class privileges are palpable. Increasingly they are subject to criticism, from newspaper reports about indifferent landlords who are perpetuating the insanitary misery and poverty of their agricultural villages, to grumblings by the local policeman who is forced to help cover up their misdeeds. “Republicanism is afoot, not to mention Bolshevism,” one lord proclaims.

Although sharp distinctions between the classes remain, there is some defection among their own. Lady Rose has begun to realize that by learning how to type she could live alone in London and support herself, even if this meant losing her upper class status and ensuring the approbation of her parents. Already she has participated in increasingly militant suffrage demonstrations. For this, and her general outspokenness, she is painted with the dreaded phrase “unfeminine.”

The strength of this sprightly, simply written story is its clear depiction of Edwardian era attitudes regarding upper class women, as well as the demeaning position forced upon those assigned to classes below them. Of particular interest is the book’s descriptions of the tortures and various clothing devices women were forced to undertaken to qualify as a small-waisted, S-shaped figured Edwardian era “beauty.” Quotes at the start of each chapter from period writers, politicians, and others, help situate the story in its time and place.

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