Degree Name

Master of Philosophy


School of the Arts, English and Media


The history of crime writing reveals that women writers, although constrained by their gender, have been producing crime stories as early as the 1700s. The figure of the female sleuth is also much older than had been recognised previously, with women writers using the trope to express anxieties about women’s roles in society and problems they face under patriarchy. The figure of the older spinster amateur sleuth emerged in the 1800s and was further developed by many women writers in the Golden Age of crime writing in the 1920s and 1930s where she was depicted as using her age and gender to assume an invisibility which made her invaluable as an investigator. The spinster was a woman who functioned outside of the acceptable role of wife and mother and therefore threatened heteronormative ideals. As a result, she was often portrayed as an outcast and an undesirable role model for young women. However, an elderly spinster, no longer considered a threat to patriarchy, could benefit from the expectations of a society that not only rendered her invisible but also endowed her with the stereotypical characteristics of the elderly. An inquisitive, gossipy, culturally invisible, and morally upright woman, she had the perfect requirements to become the ideal amateur detective, completely unassuming and free from suspicion. The development of the figure of the older spinster sleuth will be analysed from the late 1800s until the late 1900s using examples of novels written by women who continue to use the stereotypical characteristics of the character to help solve crimes. This analysis will considered the development of the elderly spinster sleuth over time, in different social and historical periods, and analyse the subversive nature of her portrayal which ensures the reestablishment of moral certainties as well as challenging gender expectations and shows the fallacy of using preconceived ideas about the capability of individuals based on cultural stereotyping.



Unless otherwise indicated, the views expressed in this thesis are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of the University of Wollongong.