Biography (Critical Survey of Mystery & Detective Fiction, Revised Edition)
Phyllis Dorothy James was born in Oxford, England, on August 3, 1920. She attended Cambridge High School for Girls from 1931 until her graduation in 1937. Prior to World War II, she served for a time as assistant stage manager at the Festival Theatre, Cambridge. She worked during the war as a Red Cross nurse and also at the Ministry of Food. She married Ernest C. B. White, a medical practitioner, on August 8, 1941, and was widowed in 1964. She has two daughters.
In 1949, James commenced a long career in the civil service. She was a principal administrative assistant with the North West Regional Hospital Board, London, until 1968, when she became a senior civil servant in the Home Office. From 1972 until her retirement in 1979, she served in the crime department. James is a Fellow of the Institute of Hospital Administrators. Although writing has been her full-time occupation since 1979, she has also served as a London magistrate.
James’s first novel, Cover Her Face, did not appear until 1962, at which time the author was past forty years of age. Nevertheless, she quickly attained recognition as a major crime novelist. A Mind to Murder appeared in 1963, and with the publication of Unnatural Causes in 1967 came that year’s prize from the Crime Writers’ Association. James denies that her decision to write under her maiden name preceded by initials only was an attempt to disguise her identity as a woman. Clearly,...
(The entire section is 308 words.)
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Biography (Critical Survey of Long Fiction, Fourth Edition)
Phyllis Dorothy James was born in Oxford, England, on August 3, 1920. She graduated from Cambridge High School for Girls in 1937. She was married to Ernest C. B. White, a medical practitioner, from August 8, 1941, until his death in 1964. She worked as a hospital administrator from 1949 to 1968 and as a civil servant in the Department of Home Affairs, London, from 1968 to 1972. From 1972 until her retirement in 1979, she was a senior civil servant in the crime department. Since her retirement from the Home Office, James has served as a magistrate in London and as a governor of the British Broadcasting Corporation.
Although she began her career as a novelist rather late in life, by 2008 James had authored eighteen mysteries, most of which had been adapted for broadcast on television. In addition, her heroine Cordelia Gray was featured in a series of television dramas—not adapted from stories actually written by James—produced under the overall title An Unsuitable Job for a Woman.
The temperament informing James’s fiction seems to be a conservative one, but she has stated that she belongs to no political party. Although not overtly a Christian writer, James, a longtime member of the Church of England, frequently touches on religious themes in her fiction. This tendency is more marked in the later novels and is reflected in several of the works’ titles.
James has been the recipient of numerous literary prizes and...
(The entire section is 295 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
Born in Oxford, England, on August 3, 1920, Phyllis Dorothy James attended Cambridge Girls School from 1931 to 1937, then clerked in a tax office for a few years until she found more interesting work as assistant stage manager of the Festival Theatre in Cambridge. She later was a Red Cross nurse during World War II and an assistant at the Ministry of Food. James married Ernest White, and the couple had two daughters, Clare and Jane. When White returned from the war, he was a severe schizophrenic and was permanently institutionalized, forcing James to provide for her family.
Thus, in 1946, James began her long civil service career, first as a National Health Service clerk and then, after earning diplomas in hospital administration and medical research, as a principal administrative assistant with the North West Regional Hospital Board in London. The latter position provided her with the detailed knowledge of illness, aging, and institutions that makes her novels authentic and credible. At forty-two, James published Cover Her Face (1962) and was immediately recognized as a major crime novelist.
James’s husband died in 1964. Four years later, she took the highly competitive Home Office exams and became a senior civil servant in the criminal department, specializing in juvenile delinquency and criminal law policy. This position, which she...
(The entire section is 391 words.)
Biography (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
P. D. James’s novels are realistic studies of the hidden realities of the soul that compel forbidden acts of violence and murder. Yet despite their grim, clinical detail and their cynical, uncompromising study of behavior, they postulate, in sophisticated, literate prose, the civilizing influence of daily domestic acts and of art, architecture, poetry, and song.
A sense of irony and of existential absurdity lies behind James’s depiction of a civilized English facade that crumbles only slightly in the face of multiple murders by seemingly decent human beings. Her characters are three-dimensional, living and suffering in an imperfect world, one in which evil is a tangible reality and in which the diseased, the dying, and the maladjusted are simply part of what one of her characters calls the “progressive incurable disease” that is life. James’s genuine curiosity about human nature and motivations is sensitive to the density of human experience and the nuances that govern lives. She coldly dissects character and act but communicates understanding and compassion for frailty. Her knowledgeable treatment of technical procedure and forensics and her meticulously detailed descriptions of place are entirely convincing. As the Queen of Crime, James has made her crime novels uniquely effective studies of human interaction and psychology, setting very high standards for other practitioners attempting to write not simply detective fiction but true...
(The entire section is 225 words.)
Biography (Cyclopedia of World Authors, Fourth Revised Edition)
In the decades since the publication of her first book, Cover Her Face, P. D. James has become one of the mystery genre’s most popular and critically acclaimed writers, considered by many to be the heir apparent to such enduring figures as Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers. Yet while James uses the conventions of the traditional British murder mystery—a murder or series of murders, a detective, and a group of suspects, each with a possible motive—her novels are more firmly grounded in reality than those of either of her predecessors. Drawing on her earlier career as a hospital administrator and her work in a forensic laboratory and the British government’s Criminal Policy Department, James gives her books a level of realistic detail that separates them from the cozy, comfortable tone of many classic mysteries.
Phyllis Dorothy James is the daughter of Sidney James, an employee of the Inland Revenue office, and his wife Dorothy. James was educated at the Cambridge High School for Girls and at the age of sixteen went to work, like her father, in a tax office. After a brief stint as a stage manager at the Cambridge Festival Theatre, she married Ernest Conner Bantry White in 1941.
White, a physician, returned from his service in World War II with severe psychological problems. His young wife became the sole support of the family,...
(The entire section is 793 words.)