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Richard Marsh.The Complete Adventures of Judith Lee.  Intro. Jean-Daniel Brèque.  Tarzana, CA: Black Coat Press/Hollywood, 2012.  408 pp., ISBN 978-1-61227-071-5, US$29.95/GBP £19.99.

---.  The Complete Judith Lee Adventures.  Ed. Minna Vuohelainen.  Richmond, VA: Valancourt Books, 2016. 518 pp., ISBN 978-1-943910-22-9, US $23.99.

Reviewed by Emelyne Godfrey.

In October 1916, the Reading Mercury contained a favourable review of a new short story which was being showcased in the Strand Magazine that month. It reads, "Richard Marsh’s popular heroine, Judith Lee, in helping to solve 'The Barnes Mystery' goes through many exciting experiences." What the reviewer chose not to reference was the grisly modus operandi of the American fin-de-siècle mass murderer H. H. Holmes or indeed any of the other real-life criminals who find their way into Marsh’s work. Marsh had an uncanny knack for describing the weird and twisted. In his novels, in which the everyday comes up against the supernatural and perverse, it is inadvisable to accept gifts from strangers, or smoke pipes without caution, or propose to a woman without finding out who she really is. In the world of Judith Lee, who is a self-supporting, multilingual lip-reader and teacher, spoken words are seen, if not heard.

In 1864, two detective stories featuring professional female investigators had appeared in quick succession. They were Andrew Forrester’s The Female Detective featuring the illusive ‘Miss Gladden’ and Revelations of a Lady Detective, presumed to be authored by Samuel Bracebridge Hemyng or William Stephens Hayward, in which Mrs Paschal sensationally discards her crinoline in order to climb down into an underground passage. Both books were narrated by these resourceful women themselves. This was a promising start yet it was not until around twenty years later that the next professional female detectives appeared in fiction. There has been growing interest in work by Marsh beyond the acclaim for his famous shocker The Beetle: A Mystery (1897), which initially outsold Dracula. This work features a shape-shifting, exotic and lascivious monster which preys on both sexes alike, stalking London’s streets, where no New Women are safe. Over the last few years Valancourt Books has added new Marsh titles to its portfolio of reprinted little-known and rare nineteenth-century novels, some of which include scholarly editing, so it really is about time for the publication of an anthology of stories featuring Marsh’s most successful heroine.

Like the sudden appearance of two volumes of female detective stories in 1864, two rival anthologies of Judith Lee stories have made it into print within a short space of time. A while in planning, Valancourt’s version was pipped to the post by Black Coat Press’s The Complete Adventures of Judith Lee, published in 2012. Arnaud Hascoët’s arresting cover illustration for Black Coat Press depicts Judith Lee standing confidently in Parliament Square. She gazes directly at the viewer, a woman who is self-assured in this public, albeit masculine, space. Given that the stories were published in the Strand Magazine between 1911 and 1916, years which span the later stages of the militant campaign for women’s suffrage, the cover promises something feminist and political within, and does not disappoint. Valancourt Books takes pride in reproducing the original cover images. The result is that in its reprint of The Beetle, the eponymous insect with its spiky limbs scampers across the lurid cover, dominating the book’s suggestively Art Nouveau font. The cover design for Valancourt’s Judith Lee anthology is a sketch by J. R. Skelton who illustrated the first set of stories when they first appeared in the Strand Magazine in 1911 (they were turned into book form under the title Judith Lee: Some Pages from her Life in 1912). Lee is represented on the cusp of a physical battle with a tall, moustachioed villain. Given that the vast majority of the stories are narrated in the first person, this is less visually satisfying as a cover and less representative of the flavour of the stories. Here, Lee’s attention is turned away from the viewer, her expression uncertain and almost pleading as she grasps the man’s coat (the outcome of the scenario is that he renders her unconscious).

Black Coat’s edition features a short and lively, if hastily written, introduction by Jean-Daniel Brèque. In his bibliography he cites Minna Vuohelainen as a main source of information on Marsh and graciously concedes that she has written "the definitive guide" to The Beetle, even recommending that the reader purchase it. In her edition, she returns the favour and credits him in her list of sources consulted. Vuohelainen’s version is more substantial and academically reliable and rather good value for money. Her critically sophisticated introduction, accompanied by detailed datelines and organised further reading sections, is clearly the product of her scholarly background. Some of the groundwork had been done by earlier Marsh scholars but her introduction shows that she has obtained and scrutinised the relevant documents and filled in blanks herself. She helpfully provides the addresses at which Marsh lived throughout his life, which makes it easier for scholars to look up the documents themselves on genealogy websites. Moreover, in her accompanying notes to the text, she indicates that Marsh knew the locations in which the action takes place as he had lived there himself.

For a leading fin-de-siècle author, Marsh gave unusually few interviews; historical research has uncovered some of the personal revelations which he nonetheless worked into his fiction. Marsh was born Richard Bernard Heldmann in 1857 to a lace manufacturer Joseph Heldmann who married Emma Marsh. Emma's father was also in the Nottingham lace trade. Shortly after Richard’s birth, Joseph was involved in reckless trading but was refused bankruptcy, and went into teaching. By the early 1880s, Marsh started contributing signed pieces to Quiver, Young England and G. A. Henty’s boys’ paper, Union Jack, becoming co-editor on the magazine with Henty. The serialisation of one of his stories was brought to an abrupt halt and he began living an itinerant life, bouncing cheques to fund his lifestyle until he was caught and sentenced to hard labour in 1884. As Vuohelainen observes:

Marsh’s fiction articulates a fascination with criminality which is essentially ambivalent […]. With their ambivalent protagonists and progressive take on criminality, the Judith Lee stories are yet another example of Marsh’s ventures into liminality in the early twentieth century. (xxiv)

The Strand Magazine offered a stage on which Marsh, and his contemporary Conan Doyle, could exhibit the unique qualities of their detectives at a time when the forces of law were coming under fire. Vuohelainen writes that the police’s handling of ‘Bloody Sunday’ in 1887 coincided with Sherlock Holmes’s earliest appearance; he became a quintessentially non-establishment figure on whom the public could depend. I would also add that the first Judith Lee story, which appeared in the Strand Magazine in 1911, "The Man Who Cut Off My Hair," was preceded almost a year earlier by a violent confrontation between suffragettes and police outside the Houses of Parliament, an event which became known as ‘Black Friday’ (18 November 1910). Many witness accounts describe sexual violence being used against the women. "The Man Who Cut Off My Hair," which takes place when Lee is a child, ends with a discussion of trauma, referred to as "outrage." Years later Lee looks in the mirror and contemplates the criminal who attacked her locks, and "deprives [her] of what ought to be the glory of a woman" (19). In Sherlock’s Sisters: The British Female Detective, 1864-1913 (Ashgate, 2003), Joseph Kestner argued that Judith Lee is "intertextual with his famous horror novel of 1897, The Beetle" (Sherlock’s Sisters, 210). The Beetle’s Marjorie Lindon is an independent woman and would-be detective who is abducted and rendered powerless, whilst in the Judith Lee stories, it is the woman who avenges and rescues. In a sense she rescues herself through her resourcefulness when she finds herself tied up and adrift in a boat. Describing herself as "Nemesis," Judith Lee considers herself to be a challenge to hostile men, women or creatures with special powers.

In the Judith Lee stories, plenty of men are up to no good. Just as Sherlock Holmes has a misogynistic streak to his personality, Lee questions the behaviour of the men around her; and both detectives share an aversion to marriage. They also pay the price of unwelcome attention when they become well-known. For instance, in the second set of stories, published under the title The Adventures of Judith Lee (1916), the famous Lee is stalked by men with cameras. Lee and Holmes also have in common their knowledge of Japanese martial arts. Holmes tells Watson in "The Adventure of the Empty House" (1903) that he defeated Professor Moriarty using his knowledge of "baritsu, or the Japanese system of wrestling": baritsu being the real-life martial art of Bartitsu, founded by engineer Edward William Barton-Wright who incorporated French la savate, Japanese jujitsu and boxing into this new form of self-defence. In the tale, "Mandragora," Judith Lee also uses her knowledge of jujitsu. Vuohelainen argues that "we could, perhaps, question whether Lee’s avoidance of romance puts her femininity into question, and this is to an extent borne out by references to her unfeminine skills in martial arts" (xxii). I have yet to find any Edwardian sources warning of the dangers of Japanese martial arts for womanliness in the way that some feared that, for instance, cycling might affect a woman’s reproductive organs, ultimately impugning her femininity.

Vuohelainen points out that, despite the prevalence of female detectives in fiction:

[w]omen did not work in detective roles within the police force at the time, and there was never a  female detective, a Lady Molly, at Scotland Yard in this period. Although the Metropolitan Police had appointed two women in 1883 to oversee female prisoners, women only gained full police status in 1918. These real-life policewomen worked to ensure the protection and custody of women and children and dealt with cases of wife-beating and child prostitution; they did not solve jewel robberies, murders, or spy cases.(Introduction, xii)

Although this appears to be correct, Vuohelainen needs to make it clear that by ‘real-life policewomen’ she is referring to the women working within the force at the end of the nineteenth century. After all, real-life post-war policewomen, such as Mary Allen, were engaged in a variety of work. Vuohelainen follows this discussion with a footnote in which she cites a literary source but as she has been talking about actual police history, I would have preferred to see a historical source mentioned. The explanatory notes within the stories can appear haphazard and there are some terms and phrases which could be explained in their historical context. Given the intertextual nature of Marsh’s work, I think that the story "Curare" needs a brief discussion of character Madeleine Orme who is also a key protagonist in The House of Mystery (1898). There are some obvious typographical errors in both the Black Coat Press and the Valancourt Books copies. These quibbles aside, both copies have done much to revive Marsh’s popular female detective who, being physically fit, independent and a defender of women is an intriguing forerunner of Detective Superintendent Stella Gibson, played by Gillian Anderson in the acclaimed BBC drama, The Fall.

Emelyne Godfrey graduated with a PhD from Birkbeck College in 2008 and is author of Femininity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature and Society: From Dagger-Fans to Suffragettes (2012) and Masculinity, Crime and Self-Defence in Victorian Literature (2010), published by Palgrave Macmillan. In 2014 she edited Elizabeth Robins’s The Convert and in 2016 she edited Utopias and Dystopias in the Fiction of H.G. Wells and William Morris: Landscape and Space for Palgrave Macmillan. She is currently working on a book about militant suffragettes and the police with funding from the Society of Authors. Emelyne is a regular contributor to the Times Literary Supplement and is the Publicity Officer of the H.G. Wells Society.