Male crime writers eclipsed by golden age of female authors brought back into print – Telegraph.co.uk
As such, the best-selling and most-acclaimed writers of the day were women, leaving their male rivals swiftly falling out of print and the public consciousness.
The British Library project is now helping to correct that imbalance, bringing lesser-known works back to readers’ bookshelves.
The works, which are designed with vintage covers and have been bestsellers, are sold by the library, with profits ploughed back into its archival and exhibition work.
Speaking at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in Dubai, Robert Davies, who is responsible for the project, said he had previously been challenged over the number of men on the classics list.
The current catalogue shows just three out of 38 books written by a woman, and all of those from one author, Mavis Doriel Hay.
But, he said, the reason was simple: those male writers were “next tier” in their own day, overshadowed by the so-called “crime queens” including Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers, Marjorie Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, Josephine Tey, and Gladys Mitchell.
“It’s something I’ve been challenged about in the past, that so many of the writers we publish are men,” he said.
“That’s not because of sexism, that’s because the women’s writers were often still in print and retained their popularity.
“It was actually their male contemporaries who dropped out of view.
“It might be unique in this genre, that the women writers are the ones who survived.”
He added: “I think the brutal truth is that the top four or five writers in this period were women. They’re in a league of their own.
“I don’t think there was a weird sexism against male writers in the period. It was just that the best had been kept in print and the next tier had been forgotten about for too long.”
Martin Edwards, author and president of the Detection Club, said the success of British female writers in the 1930s was exceptional, with even the United States at the time still largely dominated by male authors.
“In those days, once you were out of print you’re out of print,” he told an audience. “Books sank out of sight pretty quickly.
“Really, it was the quality of what they were writing. There are clear reasons as to why those books [by women] found fame, why they had high sales and why they deserved it.”
The British Library’s next project, called “Foreign Bodies”, will see them republish forgotten international works of crime fiction.
Some of the classics may go on to television adaptations, Davies added.