Name: Miss Phryne Fisher
Occupation: Detective (fictional)
Location: St. Kilda, Melbourne, Australia, 1928
As seen in: Kerry Greenwood’s Phryne Fisher detective novels (1989-) and Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries (2012-2015)
The first undercover lady in our series on female detectives and spies is Miss Phryne Fisher, a fictional private detective and aristocrat living in Melbourne, Australia in the late 1920s. Named after famous 4th Century Greek courtesan Phryne, Miss Fisher is an unmarried, trouser-wearing, bohemian flapper who drives her own car and has a reputation for being frustratingly independent, much to the chagrin of stoic Detective Inspector Jack Robinson, who becomes her hesitant partner and friend as the series progresses.
Miss Fisher is the poster girl for early feminism ‚Äì in the television show put out by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation she is often attending political clubs or otherwise advocating for women’s rights with her close friend, a surgeon named Dr. Elizabeth MacMillan. Phryne is an incredibly capable detective, often using seduction and female stereotypes to fool her targets and weasel out information. She has a knack for arriving at the scene of the crime just before a catastrophe, which endlessly frustrates Detective Robinson. In an early novel, Murder on the Ballarat Train, Miss Fisher rescues a woman who had been chloroformed in her train car, solves the murder of her missing companion, and adopts Jane, a little orphaned girl found with the murdered woman’s stolen jewels. In others she flies biplanes, races dragsters, and teaches etiquette classes to disadvantaged girls. She is a Renaissance woman at heart, and her kindness shows through in interactions with her Butler, her housekeeper and right-hand woman Dot, and her adopted daughters, all of whom become involved in her detective work over the course of the series.
What I admire most about Miss Fisher’s character, and the series as a whole, is her ability to demonstrate feminism not as a series of character traits, but as a mindset. Miss Fisher herself is whole-heartedly independent and wild, which makes her an exciting character and a spot-on private detective. Her attitude about women’s rights goes deeper than that wildness, though. Miss Fisher advocates for independence in all its iterations, through support of her friend Dr. MacMillan, who is a surgeon and professor, and her mentorship of her housekeep Dot, who is more traditional but is essential to Miss Fisher’s success because of her attention to detail and bravery in times of crisis. Both the novels and the television series demonstrate the immeasurable talents, courage, and unique abilities that women bring to the table ‚Äì in short, it represents female characters in the same way that historically literature and TV have presented male ones. For this reason, and many others, Mis Fisher is character worth knowing.
Girl Museum Inc.