Gladys Mitchell

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia - View original article

 
Jump to: navigation, search

Gladys Mitchell (21 April 1901 – 27 July 1983) was an English author best known for her creation of Mrs. Bradley, the heroine of 66 detective novels. She also wrote under the pseudonyms Stephen Hockaby and Malcolm Torrie. Feted during her life (called "the Great Gladys" by Philip Larkin), her work was largely neglected for the two decades after her death.

Life[edit]

Gladys Maude Winifred Mitchell was born in Cowley, Oxford on 19 April 1901 to James, a market gardener of Scottish parentage, and Annie. She was educated at Rothschild School, Brentford and The Green School. From 1919 to 1921 she attended Goldsmiths College and University College London.

Upon her graduation Mitchell became a teacher of history, English and games at St Paul's School, Brentford until 1925. She then taught at St Anne's Senior Girls School, Ealing until 1939. In 1926 she obtained an external diploma in European History from University College in 1926 and she then began to write novels while continuing to teach. In 1941 she joined Brentford School for Girls where she stayed until 1950. After a three-year break from teaching she took a job at Matthew Arnold School, Staines, where she taught English and history, coached hurdling and wrote the annual school play until her retirement to Corfe Mullen, Dorset in 1961. She continued to write until her death aged 82 on 27 July 1983.

She was a member of the Middlesex Education Association, the British Olympic Association, the Crime Writers' Association, PEN and the Society of Authors. Her hobbies included architecture and writing poetry. She studied the works of Sigmund Freud and her interest in witchcraft was encouraged by her friend the detective novelist Helen Simpson. Mitchell never married.

Work[edit]

Mitchell wrote at least one novel a year throughout her career. Her first novel (Speedy Death, 1929) introduced Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley, a polymathic psychoanalyst and author who was featured in a further 65 novels. Her strong views on social and philosophical issues reflected those of her author and her assistant, Laura Menzies; they appear to have been something of a self-portrait of the young Mitchell.

Mitchell was an early member of the Detection Club along with G. K. Chesterton, Agatha Christie and Dorothy L. Sayers and throughout the 1930s was considered to be one of the "Big Three women detective writers", but she often challenged and mocked the conventions of the genre – notably in her earliest books, such as the first novel Speedy Death, where there is a particularly surprising twist to the plot, or her parodies of Christie in The Mystery of a Butcher's Shop (1929) and The Saltmarsh Murders (1932). Her plots and settings were unconventional with Freudian psychology, witchcraft (notably in The Devil at Saxon Wall [1935] and The Worsted Viper [1943]) and the supernatural (naiads and Nessie, ghosts and Greek gods) as recurrent themes.

In addition to her 66 Mrs. Bradley novels Mitchell also used the pseudonyms of Stephen Hockaby (for a series of historical novels) and Malcolm Torrie (for a series of detective stories featuring an architect named Timothy Herring) and wrote ten children's books under her own name.

After her death Mitchell's work was neglected although three posthumously published novels sold well in the 1980s. Radio adaptations were made (by Elizabeth Proud) of Speedy Death (6 October 1990) and The Mystery of a Butcher's Shop (11 & 18 December 1991) both with Mary Wimbush as Mrs Bradley and broadcast on BBC Radio 4; both adaptations were very faithful to the original books. A BBC television series, The Mrs Bradley Mysteries (starring Diana Rigg) was produced in 1999; however, the characteristic cackle and crocodilian looks were absent, and the plots and characters were changed. Several of her books were published in large print editions in the mid 1980s. By the mid 1990s, only one of her novels was in regular print: a Virago Press paperback edition of The Rising of the Moon (1945) – which is still in print. Something of a renaissance began in 2005 with the publication of a collection of hitherto unpublished short stories, Sleuth's Alchemy, by Crippen and Landru. In the same year Minnow Press published a new edition of her rare 1940 novel Brazen Tongue.[1] Also, Rue Morgue Press published new editions of Death at the Opera (1934) and When Last I Died (1941)[2] – this publisher now has a total of nine Mrs Bradley books in print. Minnow Press continued their Mrs Bradley Collectors' Series with the reissue of the scarce 1939 title Printer's Error in 2007, The Worsted Viper in 2009, and Hangman's Curfew in 2010. Of the four Minnow Press titles, only the last two are still in print.[1] More recently, Random House has published nine titles in paperback and as ebooks under their Vintage imprint[3] and Greyladies has published Convent on the Styx (1976) in paperback.

Although critical opinion is divided on what is her best work, her strengths and style can be gleaned from the following 16 books: The Saltmarsh Murders (1932), Death at the Opera (1934), The Devil at Saxon Wall (1935), Come Away, Death (1937), Brazen Tongue (1940), When Last I Died (1941), The Rising of the Moon (1945), Death and the Maiden (1947), The Dancing Druids (1948), Tom Brown's Body (1949), Groaning Spinney (1950), The Echoing Strangers (1952), Merlin's Furlong (1953), Dance to Your Daddy (1969), Nest of Vipers (1979), and The Greenstone Griffins (1983). The Gladys Mitchell Tribute Site has reviews of almost all the books in its Bibliography section.

Bibliography[edit]

as Gladys Mitchell[edit]

The last-named is a complete collection of Gladys Mitchell's short stories from 1938 to 1956, many previously uncollected; edited and with a comprehensive introduction by Nicholas Fuller.

as Malcolm Torrie[edit]

Mystery novels:

as Stephen Hockaby[edit]

Historical adventure novels:

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b [1] Minnow Press Website. Retrieved 2012-02-09
  2. ^ [2] Rue Morgue publisher's catalogue. Retrieved 2012-02-09
  3. ^ [3] Random House author page for Gladys Mitchell. Retrieved 2012-02-09