The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana

by Jess Nevins

Revelations of a Lady Detective (1864) 

copyright © Jess Nevins 2022

Revelations of a Lady Detective was written by “Anonyma,” the pseudonym of William Stephens Hayward. Hayward (1825-1870) was a member of the British Navy who wrote widely in retirement, producing travelogues, sensation novels, and juvenile adventure novels, including a number of serials in British story papers. Revelations of a Lady Detective was the second book to star a female professional detective in British fiction.

The titular female detective is Mrs. Paschal. Just before she turned forty her husband died, leaving her without a secure income. Mrs. Paschal was approached to join a special group of female detectives employed by Colonel Warner, chief of the London Police Detectives:

Fouché, the great Frenchman, was constantly in the habit of employing women to assist him in discovering the various political intrigues which disturbed the peace of the first empire. His petticoated police were as successful as the most sanguine innovator could wish; and Colonel Warner, having this fact before his eyes, determined to imitate the example of a man who united the courage of a lion with the cunning of a fox, culminating his acquisitions with the sagacity of a dog.1 

Mrs. Paschal works for both the London Police and for private citizens. Like most of the other casebook detectives, Mrs. Paschal is allowed to moonlight as a consulting detective as well as work as a police detective. Her salary from the London Police is non-existent, and she is dependent on the rewards from her cases, both police and private, for her living. Mrs. Paschal’s position as a female detective is a social oddity, although she says that “in this country it is not so uncommon a thing.”2 But she is driven to succeed at her chosen profession. What drives her is not the desire to prove a point about female competency to a sexist society, but rather financial necessity and what can only be called professional pride:

I had not long been employed as a female detective, and now having given up my time and attention to what I may call a new profession, I was anxious to acquit myself as well and favourably as I could, and gain the goodwill and approbation of my superior.3 

Her work has hardened her and made her, in her own words, “callous through experience and contact with a hard world.”4 After some time she even looks forward to the work

I undertook it (a case) for it was a task of some difficulty which I fancied would occupy a week or so most agreeably. I was always happier in harness than out of it. I do not mean to say that I despised reasonable relaxation, but I deprecated any great waste of time.5 

She is confident about her own abilities and enjoys the challenge of the work. Mrs. Paschal is careful in both her preparation and in her detective work, seeing that preparation is the key to success. She is both intelligent and well-educated. She makes use of disguises when necessary, does what research she can, carefully observes crime scenes and suspects, and makes deductions from the available evidence. She is street-oriented in her investigations, and even uses a reformed pickpocket to do her legwork for her.

Mrs. Paschal is for the most part devoid of stereotypically female characteristics. Although she relies on intuition, it is never described as something which only women have. She often acts in ways which contemporary readers would have thought of as unladylike, even slipping out of her petticoat on one occasion. Of course, in the 1860s a middle- or upper-class British lady would not have engaged in the spying, lying, and chasing which are a part of Mrs. Paschal’s job, but Hayward goes beyond that in the Mrs. Paschal stories. Mrs. Paschal is brave—not just for a female detective, but for any detective. She does not faint when in danger and does not cower before dangerous criminals, but faces them down, and she is willing to use the Colt revolver which she carries. The cases which she takes on include theft, murder, and kidnapping, all of which other casebook detectives handled but none of which were crimes which a proper lady would have investigated. Mrs. Paschal is not mannish and is not unusually aggressive, but she is an independent businesswoman (her concern for money is another aspect of her personality which is unladylike) who operates on her own, without supervision. She organizes her own investigations and has help only when she asks for it. Lastly, though not vain she is confident and not demure about it.

Revelations of a Lady Detective is an interesting curiosity. It followed Andrew Forrester’s The Female Detective by only five months, and was clearly written with no knowledge of Forrester’s work. And unlike Forrester’s work Revelations of a Lady Detective acknowledges the real-life existence of female detectives; Paschal’s comment that “in this country it is not so uncommon a thing” is an acknowledgment that there were female detectives in England in 1864, and that Hayward’s audience would have been aware of them, even if they were held in as much social disrepute as Paschal is in her stories.

The Mrs. Paschal stories are not classics, but they are more than just historical curiosities.

Recommended Edition

Print: William Stephens Hayward, Revelations of a Lady Detective. London: British Library, 2013.



1 Anonyma, Revelations of a Lady Detective (London: George Vickers, 1864), 2.

2 Anonyma, Lady Detective, 44.

3 Anonyma, Lady Detective, 3.

4 Anonyma, Lady Detective, 71.

5 Anonyma, Lady Detective, 116.