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Green, Anna Katharine

Page history last edited by Jon 14 years ago

Anna Katharine GreenAnna Katharine Green (November 11, 1846 in Brooklyn, New York – April 11, 1935 in Buffalo) was an American author. She was one of the first writers of detective fiction in America and distinguished herself by writing well plotted, legally accurate stories (no doubt assisted by her lawyer father). Her most famous book, The Leavenworth Case (1878) was actually written only after her poetry failed to gain recognition. Green's first passion was to write romantic verse. She even corresponded with Ralph Waldo Emerson. When her poetry was ignored, she wrote a novel. This made her famous overnight. Anna Katharine Green was a very progressive woman for her time. In a world of man's literature, she managed to not only get published, but also to become a bestselling authoress. Yet, she did not approve of many of her contemporary feminists. She did not even believe women should get the vote. She gained fame for her well thought out plots, but was not always appreciated for her Victorian era characters and dialogue.


Her first and most successful detective was Ebenezer Gryce. Others include Violet Strange and Amelia Butterworth, Gryce's assistant.


She published about 40 books. November 25, 1884 she married the actor and later designer and artist Charles Rohlfs. They had one daughter and two sons, Roland Rohlfs and Sterling Rohlfs who were test pilots.


Many of Anna Katharine Green's books are available electronically from Project Gutenberg


Mike Grost on Emile Gaboriau's influence on Anna Katherine Green


The American writer Anna Katharine Green, who was influenced by Gaboriau, includes this sort of historical novel too, in books like The Circular Study (1900); to modern readers it is annoying, but it is simply a Nineteenth Century convention one has to live with. The passionate, complex family feuds of Monsieur Lecoq which stretch across generations, also turn up in the historical novel section of Green's The Circular Study. Green's plots in these historical sections are at least as complex and melodramatic as Gaboriau's.


The way menials get greedy ideas of their own, and gum up the elaborate criminal schemes of the rich characters, plays a role in both the crime solution of Monsieur Lecoq, and of such Green novels as The House of the Whispering Pines (1910). Even the crime settings of the two authors are similar: both like lonely rendezvous at out of the way places, filled with a spooky, sinister atmosphere. Often characters come to these places, filled with elaborate, illicit schemes. These rendezvous get out of hand, and murder ensues. There are plenty of clues left behind at the scene, and the detectives have to reconstruct the action on the night of the murder. And, yes, the killing often takes place at night, in both writers.


In both Monsieur Lecoq and Green there is far more emphasis on detection than on puzzle. There was indeed a tradition of puzzle plots in the Nineteenth Century; it is found in the romantic writers Hoffmann, Hawthorne, Poe, and Melville, with the latter's "Benito Cereno" (1855) being especially brilliantly constructed. Wilkie Collins also used puzzle plots, at least in The Moonstone and The Haunted Hotel. In Monsieur Lecoq and Green, the focus is instead on detectives and detection.


The focus on detection logically implies some aspects of their books' content. Both writers' detectives are supremely well characterized. Not only Lecoq, but all the other police detectives and magistrates in Le Crime d'Orcival and Monsieur Lecoq come off as real people. Gaboriau is at least as interested in portraying these people as characters, as he is in describing the suspects. Gaboriau is also deeply interested in "police procedure". Gaboriau's careful handling of real police procedure gives him claim to be an early exponent of the police procedural school of writing; later his well researched use of French legal proceedings will be echoed by Green's equally careful look at American legal activities in her The Leavenworth Case - Green was the daughter of a lawyer, and learned much about this from her father. Both authors' works will in fact be used as unofficial textbooks on their countries' police procedure. One suspects that an inside look at the police and law courts of the day, was a big selling point of the novels with the public of the period.


It is easy to see both similarities and differences between Gaboriau and Green. Green, like most later 19th Century mystery writers, is highly indebted to Gaboriau. But she also innovates with her use of detection, peeling off layer after layer of buried past reality, making hidden aspects of the plot gradually emerge. This use of detection to gradually unveil complex situations is her biggest accomplishment as a detective story writer; she does it with excellent logic and plot construction. Gaboriau does not do this, at least in Monsieur Lecoq; most of his detection is limited to the opening chapters, and comes all at once, revealing everything he will learn about the case in nearly a single fell swoop. By contrast, the best sections in many Green novels are the middle chapters of the story, in which detection unfolds more and more of the mysterious past. In Gaboriau's Le Crime d'Orcival (1866), there is more unveiling of buried past secrets, but it still does not approach the elaborate and systematic quality of Green.


Gaboriau's portrait in Monsieur Lecoq (1868) of an inexperienced but brilliant young detective on his first case probably also influenced Green as well. Towards the end of the 1890's Green started creating some new detectives. Miss Amelia Butterworth had already appeared in two novels when she created Sweetwater in Agatha Webb (1899). Caleb Sweetwater begins as a young man hoping to get his first job as a detective. When a murder occurs in his small hometown, he wangles a minor job as an investigator, with the local Constable. Sweetwater is neither an amateur or a professional, Green's two categories in The Leavenworth Case, but functions instead as an inexperienced, aspiring professional. Later he will become an assistant to Ebenezer Gryce, serving as a full fledged professional detective, as well as getting further cases on his own, such as The House of the Whispering Pines (1910). In his debut work Sweetwater proves more brilliant than the experienced detective brought in from Boston to solve the case. The two detectives become rivals. Green's literary model here is clearly Gaboriau's Monsieur Lecoq (1868), and the young Lecoq's rivalry with the established detective Inspector Gevrol in that novel. Like the young Lecoq on his first major case in that book, Sweetwater is a bundle of detectival energy. There is also a Gaboriau like emphasis on examining murder scenes, and making deductions from them. However, Green is nowhere as clever as Gaboriau in recreating crimes from physical evidence. As a whole Agatha Webb is strictly one of her most minor novels.




Initials Only

Room No 3

The Leavenworth Case (1878)

A Strange Disappearance (1880)

The Sword of Damocles (1881)

XYZ: a Detective Story (1883)

Hand and Ring (1883)

The Mill Mystery (1886)

7 to 12: A Detective Story (1887)

Behind Closed Doors (1888)

Forsaken Inn (1890)

The Forsaken Inn (1890)

The Old House and Other Stories (1891)

Cynthia Wakeham's Money (1892)

Marked Personal (1893)

Miss Hurd: An Enigma (1894)

Doctor Izard (1895)

The Doctor, His Wife, and the Clock (1895)

Lost Man's Lane (1898)

Agatha Webb (1899)

That Affair Next Door (1897)

A Difficult Problem (collected 1900)

The Circular Study (1900)

A Difficult Problem (1900)

Three Women and a Mystery (1902)

The Filigree Ball (1903)

The House in the Mist (1905)

The Millionaire Baby (1905)

The Amethyst Box (1905)

The Chief Legatee (1906) {aka The Woman of Mystery}

The Woman in the Alcove (1906)

The Mayor's Wife (1907)

The House of the Whispering Pines (1910)

Three Thousand Dollars (1910)

Masterpieces of Mystery (collected 1913)

Dark Hollow (1914)

The Golden Slipper: and other problems for Violet Strange (1915)

To the Minute and Scarlet and Black (1916)

The Mystery of the Hasty Arrow (1917)

The Step on the Stair (1923)


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