‘The most dangerous thing in England’?
Detection, deviance and disability in Richard Marsh’s Judith Lee stories
in Richard Marsh, popular fiction and literary culture, 1890–1915
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This essay examines the adventures of Richard Marsh’s female detective and lip-reader Judith Lee (1911–16). The short-story series offers a powerful example of the cross-fertilisation of the genres of detective, Gothic, New-Woman and science fiction through Marsh’s ambivalent construction of his protagonist as a potentially progenerate being with seemingly supernatural communication skills. Lee is a liminal heroine who is simultaneously resistant to and complicit with the normalising taxonomies of gender, sexuality, ethnicity and class commonly associated with detective fiction. However, while the stories’ conformist position as scientifically minded crime fiction is complicated by their apparent tolerance of deviance, Lee’s expertise as a teacher of the deaf undermines counter-hegemonic readings because her profession aims to ‘cure’ a disability, deafness. Lee’s adventures show how popular fiction synthesised disparate discursive frameworks drawing on criminology, eugenics, science, communications technology and psychical research.

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