Gladys Mitchell Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

It is tempting to compare Gladys Mitchell, the creator of Dame Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley, to her contemporaries, Agatha Christie, the creator of Miss Jane Marple, and Patricia Wentworth, the originator of Miss Maud Silver. All three began writing mysteries in the 1920’s with novels that featured eccentric female sleuths who occupied their spare time with knitting. There the similarities end, for in Dame Beatrice Gladys Mitchell created a far more complex and controversial character than either Christie or Wentworth imagined. In her fifty-year career, Dame Beatrice turned into the sleuth many readers loved to hate.

Gladys Mitchell’s personal interests are clearly reflected in those of her female sleuth: Dame Beatrice is, among other things, a psychoanalyst and is reputedly the descendant of a woman executed for witchcraft. This intermingling of modern psychoanalytic theory and the supernatural in Mitchell’s fiction has made her books either maddening or absolutely intriguing depending on the biases of her readers.

An extremely literate writer, Mitchell constructs plots that are, at their best, exceptionally intricate and filled with digressions on various subjects (such as transvestism) and, at their worst, improbably convoluted. At times it is difficult to decide whether she is writing serious crime fiction or attempting an arcane spoof of the genre.

She was, however, nothing if not prolific, having written more than sixty novels in her fifty-four-year career as a mystery novelist. Her fiction is quirky and eccentric, in keeping with the fictional sleuth she created in 1929, but she is never dated. In fact, Mitchell’s greatest strength lies in her originality and her attempts at contemporaneity.

Gladys Mitchell Bibliography

(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Budd, Elaine. Thirteen Mistresses of Murder. New York: Ungar, 1986. Study of thirteen important British and American female detective fiction authors helps place Mitchell in context.

Craig, Patricia, and Mary Cadogan. The Lady Investigates: Women Detectives and Spies in Fiction. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1981. Extended study of British women detectives and their creators sheds light on Mitchell’s writings.

DuBose, Martha Hailey, with Margaret Caldwell Thomas. Women of Mystery: The Lives and Works of Notable Women Crime Novelists. New York: St. Martin’s Minotaur, 2000. Mentions Mitchell in connection with the other Golden Age writers and contains information on those writers that helps the reader understand Mitchell.

Hanson, Gillian Mary. City and Shore: The Function of Setting in the British Mystery. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2004. Analyzes Mitchell’s use of setting in The Saltmarsh Murders. Bibliographic references and index.

Kungl, Carla T. Creating the Fictional Female Detective: The Sleuth Heroines of British Women Writers, 1890-1940. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2006. Study of unknown and overlooked British female detective fiction authors who, Kungl argues, were direct influences on the fiction of Mitchell, as well as that of Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers.

Reynolds, Moira Davison. Women Authors of Detective Series: Twenty-one American and British Authors, 1900-2000. Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2001. Examines the life and work of major female mystery writers, including Mitchell.