Women Sleuths in
Historical Mysteries

Late 1920s - United States

©1996-2013
womeninworldhistory.com

Unpunished

by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

This book is a rare discovery, a recently found previously unpublished last major novel by this influential feminist author. It was written as a spoof on detective novels and includes a number of the author’s social ideas. The story is not complex. A husband and wife detective team, Bess and Jim Hunt, solve the murder of a hated tyrant of a man who was found shot, stabbed, bludgeoned, strangled and poisoned! Lamentably, the book was written on the eve of Gilman’s seventieth year, during a time of waning sympathy for women’s rights. After an impressive body of work, she now had trouble placing her work, and Unpunished was never published.

The story’s plot and 1920s speech patterns are not as engaging nor suspenseful as other books on our list. But it is an easy, sprightly read. As a champion of gender equality, Gilman gives us a conventional, contented wife in Bess, but one who eagerly assists husband Jim, who welcomes and admires Bess’s imaginative help and, without negative comment, assumes some of the family’s domestic chores. Gilman hits hard at the harsh patriarchal control of the story’s father and his conniving friend, who both hold antiquated notions about the education of girls and female obedience. She also uses the story to underline the consequences of domestic, emotional, and sexual abuse, as well as the economic dependence on men of women who have not been trained to support themselves.

Informative textual notes and a full afterword on Gilman written by Catherine Golden and Denise Knight make this a possible classroom text.

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