A mystery about this, justified sin and very private memoirs in the detective novels of Josephine Tey

Rights statement
Awarding institution
  • University of Strathclyde
Date of award
  • 2001
Thesis identifier
  • T10424
Qualification Level
Qualification Name
Department, School or Faculty
  • This thesis examines the eight detective novels produced between 1929 and 1952 by the Scottish writer best known as Josephine Tey. On this side of the Atlantic they are largely out of print and seem almost forgotten. In America, by contrast, her work has grown in reputation and receives respectful academic attention. Critics there examining the novels point to unusual elements in them which they cannot explain. This thesis considers briefly her work as a playwright, novelist and biographer written in the name of Gordon Daviot. Its central concern however, is to address the problems perceived by critics in the detective novels she wrote, by exploring what place the books might occupy in the context of the tradition of Scottish literature. Seen thus, these narratives emerge as selfconsciously literary structures, full of allusion, woven from other texts and underpinned by the use of symbol. Issues of class, gender and sexuality are treated boldly. The detectives created are themselves unstable and their own stories and uncertain fates assume as much importance as the cases they solve. Conclusions are bleak and ambiguous rather than reassuring and the prevailing tone is one of irony darkening on occasion to satire. Throughout, Tey's texts interrogate the nature of Scottish experience and identity, engaging with the debate raging between other writers of the time and relevant still. She appropriated techniques of modernism which at the time seemed inimical to the genre of detective fiction. There is an autobiographical subtext. Finally, these sophisticated narratives locate themselves in the tradition of Scottish writing by women, a tradition only now, almost half a century after her death, achieving recognition. Specifically, clear connections are traced between her work and that of Catherine Carswell. This radical reassessment of Tey's detective novels shows them to stake a claim to a position in the mainstream of the tradition of Scottish literature.
Resource Type
Date Created
  • 2001
Former identifier
  • 633931