Invisible Ink: No 148 - James Redding Ware

Christopher Fowler
Sunday 04 November 2012 01:00 GMT

James Redding Ware published under a pseudonym, but nobody knew who he was, or cared. There was no particular subterfuge in this; at the time – 1863 – many partwork "sensation" stories appeared without their origins attached, such was the lowly status of those who wrote for money. However, when one of Ware's stories was rediscovered in the form of a pamphlet, his works were traced through the periodicals in which they first appeared, and they revealed their creator.

This son of a Southwark grocer became a jobbing writer, producing stories for penny dreadfuls such as Boy's Own Paper and Bow Bells Magazine. He also turned out books on chess, photography, mistaken identity, The Life and Speeches of His Royal Highness Prince Leopold, and some essays on police court life.

He wrote a non-fiction book called The Road Murder, about the Constance Kent case which Kate Summerscale investigated for The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, and after his death he became famous for his dictionary of Victorian slang, still a useful tool for researching authors.

But Ware had another claim to fame, although he didn't recognise his achievement. He invented the world's first female detective. Others were working on similar projects; Ruth Trail created Ruth The Betrayer, or The Female Spy, a character she described as "a female detective – a sort of spy we use in the hanky panky way when a man would be too clumsy". Hers was a 51-parter that doesn't really give us a fully formed female detective. The heroine of William Stephens Hayward's racy Revelations of a Lady Detective daringly smokes and carries a Colt revolver, but Hayward missed the deadline by just six months. You could argue that Marian Halcombe in Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White acts as a detective, but James Ware got The Experiences of a Lady Detective, a collection of seven cases, out ahead of the competition, under the name of Andrew Forrester.

His heroine, Mrs Gladden, solves mysteries in the way we have come to expect: by visiting crime scenes, talking to witnesses and adopting subterfuge to hunt down murderers. It's likely that Ware drew on the real-life murder cases that captured the imaginations of Victorian readers, so the novel has the stamp of veracity.

Only a few copies survived in world libraries, and the book had effectively become lost when the British Library rediscovered it. It has now reprinted it as The Female Detective, with a new foreword by Alexander McCall Smith.

Join our commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies


Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in