Dorothy Gilman Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Dorothy Gilman’s novels featuring the eccentric and charming Emily Pollifax appeal widely to young and old, having developed a considerable following since their introduction in 1966. The first novel in the series, The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax (1966), became a film starring Rosalind Russell under the title Mrs. Pollifax—Spy in 1971. A second adaptation, the Columbia Broadcasting Service television movie The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, was released in 1999 with Angela Lansbury cast as the aging sleuth.

Gilman has earned wide acclaim for the quality of her storytelling. Blending humor and intrigue, her works are rooted in the Cold War era and explore topics such as international espionage, life in iron-curtain countries, the emerging nations of the Third World, terrorism, political assassination, aid to endangered dissidents, and the role of double agents.

Despite their subject matter, Gilman’s novels are not violent. Reviewers have commented on their wholesome and upbeat entertainment value. Evil is defeated. Good and Mrs. Pollifax prevail over very real danger. The direct quality of the prose makes the characters and the plots plausible. Mrs. Pollifax knows that dedicated and determined individuals can make a difference and that the discovery of one’s true self produces deep reservoirs of endurance and courage to meet the most unexpected challenges.

A prolific writer of fiction for young and adult readers, Gilman has contributed to numerous publications, including On Creative Writing (1964). Her short fiction has appeared in such magazines as Redbook, Ladies’ Home Journal, Cosmopolitan and Writer. Gilman received the Catholic Book Award for A Nun in the Closet (1975).


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Cargill, Ann Sanders. “Dorothy Gilman.” In Great Women Mystery Writers: Classic to Modern, edited by Kathleen Gregory Klein. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1994. Contains a study of Gilman’s life and writing. This work contains many similar authors and a list of Internet resources for mystery and crime-fiction enthusiasts.

Cava, Frances A. Sleuths in Skirts: A Bibliography and Analysis of Serialized Female Sleuths. Oxford: Routledge, 2002. Briefly discusses Gilman’s work in the context of the changing roles of female detectives through the last century and in relation to the works of similar authors.

Giffone, Tony. “Disoriented in the Orient: The Representation of the Chinese in Two Contemporary Mystery Novels.” In Cultural Power/Cultural Literacy, edited by Bonnie Braendin. Tallahassee: Florida State University Press, 1991. A cultural study of ethnic depictions of Chinese in Gilman’s Mrs. Pollifax on the China Station and Ruth Rendell’s A Speaker of Mandarin (1983).

Gilman, Dorothy. Interview. The Writer 91 (July, 1978): 13-15. Gilman is interviewed about her life and work, with an emphasis on the success of her Mrs. Pollifax series.

Gilman, Dorothy. A New Kind of Country. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1978. Gilman’s autobiography looks at her life from a new perspective, after moving to a small house in a lobstering village. Provides insights into her writing.

Herbert, Rosemary, ed. The Oxford Companion to Crime and Mystery Writing. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999. Encyclopedia-style reference work on detective fiction includes several references to Gilman in relevant entries. Bibliographic references and index.