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DRPS : Course Catalogue : Centre for Open Learning : Literature, Languages and Cultures

Undergraduate Course: Great Female Detectives (LLLG07131)

Course Outline
SchoolCentre for Open Learning CollegeCollege of Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 7 (Year 1 Undergraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits10 ECTS Credits5
SummaryDetective fiction is a genre that has generated a series of very successful women writers and detectives. Through this course we shall explore key examples of detective fiction written by women authors and/or featuring a female detective including Wilkie Collins' first female sleuth Valeria Brinton in The Law and the Lady, Christie's Miss Marple and Margaret Atwood's twist on the genre, Alias Grace. We shall be exploring how women deal with issues such as violence in the cases, as well as how they make use of , and innovated upon, the traditional forms of detective fiction.
Course description A student on this course can expect to explore key examples of detective fiction written by women authors or featuring a female detective. We shall examine the role played by women in the development of the genre and consider how women contribute to the diversity within it. Beginning with Wilkie Collins' Valeria Brinton, we shall consider how Collins uses the constraints of Victorian society to develop his detective's motivation to solve a mystery. Through Agatha Christie's Miss Marple, we shall explore the important role played by women writers in the so-called Golden Age of detective fiction. This will lead us on to discuss developments in the genre, discussing the presentation of violence in Val McDermid's serial killer novel, The Mermaids Singing. From McDermid, we move on to consider Margaret Atwood's exploration of the crime genre with her historical novel, Alias Grace. We shall discuss how Atwood presents 'evil' and consider the significance of a female murderer to the structure of the novel as a whole. Our final detective, Jane Tennison began life for most people on the television and so we shall consider how this character is presented in text, but also how she fits into the police procedural ,and what she reveals about British society and policing at this time.
Lectures will provide a contextual overview of each novel, followed by a guided discussion on themes, characterisation, plot and narrative style. The course will be taught in a small seminar setting, where participation will be supported and encouraged.
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
On completion of this course, the student will be able to:
  1. Analyse and evaluate the distinctive characteristics of detective fiction through close reading, using recognised literary critical terminology and methodologies;
  2. Articulate knowledge and understanding of the contribution made by women to the detective genre;
  3. Analyse contemporary responses and reactions to the novels by evaluating and assessing ideas from non-literary texts such as criticism or journalism;
  4. Apply knowledge of cultural, political and socio-historical contexts in arguments;
  5. Construct, present and evaluate arguments coherently.
Reading List
Resource list will be made available via Leganto.

For 19/20 instance of the course the reading list is:


Collins, Wilkie., 2008. The Law and the Lady. Oxford: Oxford World┬┐s Classics.

Christie, Agatha., 2016. 4:50 from Paddington. London: Harper Collins.

McDermid, Val., 2015. The Mermaids Singing. London: Harper Collins.

Atwood, Margaret. 2017. Alias Grace. London: Virago.

La Plante, Linda., 2013. Prime Suspect. London: Simon and Schuster.


Priestman, Martin ed., 2003. The Cambridge Companion to Detective Fiction.

Cambridge: CUP.

Scaggs, John, 2005. Crime Fiction. London: Routledge.

Plain, Gill, 2001. Twentieth-Century Crime Fiction. Edinburgh: Edinburgh

University Press.

Nickerson, Catherine Ross ed., 2010. The Cambridge Companion to American

Crime Fiction. Cambridge: CUP.

Craig, P., & Cadogan, M., 1981. The lady investigates : Women detectives and

spies in fiction. London: Gollancz.
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Presentation and evaluation of evidence and argument;
use of different registers of language in discussion and written assessments;
independent autonomous learning
research and produce written assessment work.
Course organiserMrs Anthea Coleman-Chan
Tel: (0131 6)51 1589
Course secretaryMs Kameliya Skerleva
Tel: (0131 6)51 1855
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