Friday, October 29, 2010

Metta Fuller Victor: The First Woman Crime Novelist in the U.S.

By Jeffrey Marks

Recently, the long-forgotten works of American author Metta Fuller Victor, who wrote her mysteries under the name of Seeley Regester, have been reintroduced to the mystery community. The novels that have been re-published in the last 10 years predate Anna Katherine Green’s work by almost a decade, making Victor the first author and first woman author to produce a full-length mystery novel in the United States.

Little is known about Fuller’s personal life. She was born in 1831 and seemed called to writing from an early age. Fuller didn’t limit her craft to detective novels. She wrote in genres ranging from westerns to rags-to-riches works, using a new pseudonym for each genre. At 25, she married Orville Fuller, the editor for Beadle and Adams. The marriage, which produced nine children, allowed Fuller to publish more of her works. Beadle’s Monthly serialized The Dead Letter in 1866 and the novel came out in book form the following year. The Figure Eight appeared in 1869.

Fuller’s works are typically Postbellum in style. Her novels give insight into the social mores of the time. She would be classified as a cozy author today, writing books that focus on the effect of a crime on a family and the ramifications of crime. In her work, murders threaten the domestic tranquility and must be cleared up to restore equilibrium.

Like many women of her era, Fuller was a proponent of social change. Her other works included denunciations against slavery, alcoholism and Mormon polygamy. The Dead Letter has a distinctly moralistic tone when the villain’s gambling and wanton behavior foreshadows the solution.

While her mysteries use a methodical approach to solve a murder, Fuller is not above using supernatural means to further her plots. She uses the detective’s clairvoyant daughter to locate a suspect in The Dead Letter and a sleepwalking governess in The Figure Eight. These gothic elements are surprising to today’s readers who expect fair play in their mysteries, but not to the readers of the 1860s who knew Poe as much for The Telltale Heart as his tales of detection.

Jeffrey Marks is the award-winning author of "Who Was That Lady? Craig Rice: Queen of the Screwball Mystery," "Atomic Renaissance: Women Mystery Writers of the 1940s and 1950s," and the Anthony Award-winning "Anthony Boucher: A Biobibliography." He is also the author of the U.S. Grant mystery series that includes "The Ambush of My Name" and "A Good Soldier." Marks lives in Cincinnati.


Sandra Parshall said...

Fascinating! I would have said Anna Katherine Green was the first. I'm glad to see the real "first lady" of American crime fiction get the credit she deserves.

Marni said...

Never knew this! Thanks for the information.