Mary Russell is what Sherlock Holmes would look like if Holmes, the Victorian detective, were a) a woman, b) of the Twentieth century, and c) interested in theology. If the mind is like an engine, free of gender and nurture considerations, then the Russell and Holmes stories are about two people whose basic mental mechanism is identical. What they do with it, however, is where the interest lies.
Russell is a child of her parents, first and foremost, half Boston Brahmin, half English-Jewish. She is also a product of the defining trauma of her childhood, when her family was ripped from her, as well as being shaped by the world around her. To her, the world is not a secure place, as it would have been for an upper class male growing up in the late Nineteenth century. She was allowed access, if limited in scope, to higher education, but even by the time of Locked Rooms (1924) she cannot yet vote in an election.
However, English history is scattered with the most extraordinary women, women like Gertrude Bell and Mary Kingsley (links below) who simply didn’t listen when told there were things they really shouldn’t do. I like to think of Mary Russell as kin.
I’ve put together some suggestions for using the Russell books in school projects.
Russell coming to age during the Great War sees the changes in the status of women, click here.
Imagine the conversation over a dinner with three Mary Russells: our own; the author of the superb review of women explorers, including Mary Kingsley, The Blessings of a Good Thick Skirt ; and the extraordinary novelist Mary Doria Russell.
Russell’s spiritual sister, Gertrude Bell, and the making of Iraq