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Issue Details: First known date: 2007... 2007 The Fortunes of Mary : Authenticity, Notoriety and the Crime-Writing Life
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Author's abstract: Mary Helena Fortune wrote "The Detective's Album", the longest-running early detective serial, published for over 40 years in the Australian Journal. She was probably the first woman to write from the viewpoint of a police detective, and certainly the first to specialize in the nascent genre of crime fiction. Yet during her lifetime, and for decades afterwards, her identity was a mystery. This article will examine the sensational life and writing of Fortune. She was a hybrid colonial, born in Ireland, of Scottish ancestry, emigrating to Canada and then to Australia. Her crime writing was informed by bitter personal experience: on the lawless Australian goldfields; a bigamous marriage to a policeman; a son who spent over 20 years in jail. At times she was homeless, living in de facto relationships, and wanted by the police. Yet she was continually writing - her bibliography comprises over 500 items. The article will consider Fortune as an example of transgressive femininity, whose literary anonymity gave her both the freedom to write, and also protected her from the censorious gaze of the colonial Mrs Grundy. But she never progressed beyond colonial publication, despite producing one book, The Detective's Album (1871). Moreover, evidence exists that she was exploited and underpaid. Even during her lifetime it was commented that had she gone to England or America "where literary talent is properly appreciated", she would have become "a leading novelist". Few nineteenth-century crime writers had personal experience of their low-life subject matter. Even fewer female authors of the era could publicly assume the role of writer manqué. The irony with Fortune is that it is precisely this knowledge which both gave her the authority to write crime and sentenced her to anonymous literary drudgery.
This article revisits and revises some matters dealt within an article which appeared in the Australian Magazine Overland, no. 183, Winter, 2006.
(Source: Women's Writing online, Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group)

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  • Appears in:
    y separately published work icon Women's Writing vol. 14 no. 3 December 2007 Z1470475 2007 periodical issue 2007 pg. 449-459
Last amended 9 Sep 2008 15:11:31
449-459 The Fortunes of Mary : Authenticity, Notoriety and the Crime-Writing Lifesmall AustLit logo Women's Writing