The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
by Jess Nevins
The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective (1893-1894)
copyright © Jess Nevins 2022
The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective was written by C.L. Pirkis and first appeared as a serial in Ludgate Monthly (Feb-Apr 1893). Catherine Louisa Pirkis (1839-1910) was a minor writer during the last three decades of the nineteenth century, producing fourteen novels and numerous short stories, most for female readers. After 1894 she abandoned writing and began campaigning against vivisection and for animal rights, founding with her husband the National Canine Defence League. Pirkis is best-known for the Loveday Brooke stories.
Brooke is a private detective, working for a “well-known detective agency in Lynch Court, Fleet Street.”1 She did not always want to be a detective, but “by a jerk of Fortune’s wheel”2 was left bankrupt and friendless, and so chose for herself a career that had cut her off sharply from her former associates and her position in society. After several years of drudging “patiently in the lower walks of her profession,”3 she ended up, by chance, aiding Ebenezer Dyer, the head of a detective agency, on a complex case. Dyer was impressed with Brooke’s work and began giving her steady work “that brought increase of pay and of reputation alike to him and to Loveday.”4
Although Brooke reports to Dyer, she has nearly complete autonomy in her job. Dyer respects her, describing her as
the most sensible and practical woman I ever met. In the first place, she has the faculty—so rare among women—of carrying out orders to the very letter; in the second place, she has a clear, shrewd brain, unhampered by any hard-and-fast theories; thirdly, and most important item of all, she has so much common sense that it amounts to genius.5
But when Brooke disagrees with Dyer, which occurs with some frequency (they are said to “snarl at each other”6), she ignores him and goes about her work. Brooke is as close to Sherlock Holmes (See: The Sherlock Holmes Mysteries) and the other Great Detectives as a fictional female detective reached in the 1890s. She is unmarried; this lack of romantic entanglements is extremely unusual, as most female detectives were sooner or later saddled with the marriage plot (see: “The Lady Detective”), if they were not already married to begin with. Brooke also has no friends and no Watson-figure. She is self-enclosed and self-sufficient. Her job as a detective seems to be her life, with no outside attachments or interests whatsoever. Most female detectives saw themselves as detectives only temporarily, until something else happened, either marriage or the improvement of a financial situation. Loveday Brooke is truly a professional detective.
She is a good one, too. She is calm, self-assured, courageous (she is unafraid of physical harm), and self-reliant. She is good at reading evidence, has a great deal of common sense (something that proves useful in the cases she investigates), and is highly rational. Unlike most female detectives Brooke is never credited with having “feminine intuition;” when Brooke solved her cases she does so through detection and deduction. She uses a “chain of reasoning”7 and is methodical in her approach. And unlike Sherlock Holmes and his imitators, she does not use science of any sort to catch criminals, instead relying on clever detection and sound deduction. Brooke is good at disguise and is a passable actress. She often is hampered in her investigations by other men; Pirkis makes a point of showing how men treat professional women. Brooke is a type of New Woman, one of those “odd women” who were single by choice rather than circumstance, but her personality is that of a detective, not a Victorian feminist, and her stories are entirely lacking the ideological axe-grinding of the lesser varieties of New Woman fiction. Brooke is in fact so much a detective and so much a New Woman that she is willing to confront the police and other detectives as an equal and as a colleague rather than as someone who would be looked down upon and seen as lesser in stature. “Her independence, indeed, is striking among female detectives of her era, extending to willingness to confront male colleagues as an indisputable equal. Catherine Louisa Pirkis merits inclusion among the most forward-thinking of writers about the female detective —and about late-Victorian culture.”8
The plots are interesting and the style readable, if more old-fashioned than those of Pirkis’ contemporaries. If Brooke lacks sympathy and is unlikable, the reader does not find these factors to be impediments to the enjoyment of the stories. The crimes Brooke handles are mostly those of the upper class: robbery, murder, nuns being framed, a Turkish princess’ relationship with an English major leading to trouble, an heiress involved in marriage fraud, and male harassment of women.
Print: Catherine Louisa Pirkis, The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective. New York: Routledge, 2016.
1 Catherine Louisa Pirkis, The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, Lady Detective (New York: Dover, 1986), 1.
2 Pirkis, The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, 2.
3 Pirkis, The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, 2.
4 Pirkis, The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, 3.
5 Pirkis, The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, 3.
6 Pirkis, The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, 3.
7 Pirkis, The Experiences of Loveday Brooke, 11.
8 Kestner, Sherlock’s Sisters, 83.