Between Men: How Ruth Rendell
Reads for Gender
Martha Stoddard Holmes
While detective fiction is frequently called a conservative genre, the fact remains that the heart of any detective story is a series of questions. Regardless of what stabilizing answers the end may try to deliver, the middle's search for what Peter Hühn calls “a hidden story inscribed in everyday reality” effectively transforms the fictional landscape into one in which “all phenomena may lose their usual, automatically ascribed meanings and signify something else” (454).
An investigation of persons is a significant component of the process of unearthing the buried story of the crime, and thus notions of individual subjectivity are actively questioned, or at least shaken, in the middles of detective stories. If we take the position mat individual subjectivity as constructed within and by society is always gendered and that this “mark of gendering” cannot be voluntarily excluded from subjectivity, then detective fiction's destabilizing investigations of persons are inescapably investigations of gender as well. Accordingly, the genre invites scholarly inquiry into the ways in which criminal investigations both construct and question gender identities and, at the same time, gender (both concepts of gender and the gender of the investigator) constructs investigations.
On a more simplistic level, I might argue that any genre mat reproduces the adage “Cherchez la femme” practically announces its participation in the social construction of gender and “social relationships based on perceived differences between the sexes” (Scott 94). If, as Myra Jehlen has suggested, “one has to read for gender; unless it figures explicitly in story or poem, it will seldom read for itself” (273), one might say that detective fiction routinely reads gender for itself and us.1
Different examples of the genre, obviously, offer different intensities of