Anna Katherine Green was an American poet and novelist, famously dubbed as the ‘Mother of the detective novel’. With such memorable characters as detective Ebenezer Gryce, and the spinster Amelia Butterworth, she successfully used many of the genres' plot devices—such as expert witnesses, medical inquiry, dead bodies found at unexpected places—to weave gripping stories . Her knowledge of criminal law, gained from her lawyer father, helped give an air of realism to the novels, and her books helped outline the formulas that were to characterize the field of detective fiction. She was a progressive woman for her time who succeeded in a genre dominated by male writers but she was opposed to women's suffrage and she did not approve of many of her feminist contemporaries. She had personal responsibilities and raised a family, but still managed to turn out more than three dozen books over a span of four decades. She helped to make the genre of detective fiction popular in America by creating well-constructed plots based on a good knowledge of criminal law. Her fictional detective, Ebenezer Gryce, influenced in some aspects the character of Sherlock Holmes created later by Arthur Conan Doyle. Her expert detailing of the logical procedure through discovery of possibilities, deduction, and reasoning won her readership all around the world.
Childhood & Early Life
She was born on November 11, 1846 in Brooklyn, New York to James Wilson Green, a lawyer, and his wife, Catharine Ann Whitney. She was the second daughter and fourth child of the couple. Her mother died when Anna was about three years old.
His father’s career had a major influence on her as he was an attorney who practiced in New York and was involved in many criminal cases. During her early years, she learned enough about officers on the metropolitan police force to depict them as rather ordinary except for their expertise in handling investigations.
In 1866, she graduated from Ripley Female College in Poultney, Vermont, and then moved back to New York to live with her extended family.
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She had an early ambition to write romantic verse but when her poetry failed to gain recognition, she shifted to another genre and produced her best known novel. Her first detective novel titled ‘The Leavenworth Case’ (1878) was a murder mystery tale which received critical as well as commercial acclaim.
After its success, she published another detective novel, ‘A Strange Disappearance’ (1880). Later her two non-detective works, ‘Defense of the Bride and Other Poems’ (1882) and ‘Hand and Ring’ (1883) were also published but did not receive the attention her detective novels achieved and she returned permanently to detective fiction genre.
Another one of her acclaimed works was the ‘Amelia Butterworth Series’ which also featured the famous detective, Ebenezer Gryce, she created in her first novel. The series consisted of three novels; ‘That Affair Next Door’ (1897), ‘Lost Man’s Lane’ (1898), and ‘The Circular Study’ (1900).
Her other detective novels include ‘The Mill Mystery’ (1886), ‘7 to 12: A Detective Story’ (1887), ‘Behind Closed Doors’ (1888), ‘A Matter of Millions’ (1891), ‘Doctor Izard’ (1895), ‘Agatha Webb’ (1899), ‘One of my Sons’ (1901), ‘The Chief Legatee’ (1906),‘The House of the Whispering Pines’ (1910), ‘Dark Hollow’ (1914), ‘The Mystery of the Hasty Arrow’ (1917) and her last novel ‘The Step on the Stair’ (1923).
Some of her non-detective literary works were ‘The Sword of Damocles: A Story of New York Life’ (1881), ‘The Defence of the Bride, and other Poems’ (1882), ‘Hand and Ring’ (1883), ‘Risifi's Daughter’ (1887), ‘Forsaken Inn’ (1890), ‘To the Minute; Scarlet and Black: Two Tales of Life's Perplexities’ (1916).
In 1891, her short story collection titled ‘The Old Stone House and other stories’ was published which featured stories such as ‘The Old Stone House’, ‘A Memorable Night’, ‘The Black Cross’, ‘A Mysterious Case’ and ‘Shall He Wed Her’.
Another one of her short story collection titled ‘Room Number 3, and Other Detective stories’ was published in 1905. It included stories such as ‘Room Number 3’, ‘The Ruby And The Caldron’, ‘The Amethyst Box’, ‘The House in the Mist’ and ‘The Thief’.
Her first detective novel, the 1878 book ‘The Leavenworth Case’ is widely regarded as the first American detective novel. A murder mystery which introduced the fictional detective, Ebenezer Gryce, to the literary world, it was the first such novel ever written by a woman, and in the views of some historians, the first bona fide American bestseller. It was so highly regarded for its insight into legal matters that it was used in Yale University law classes as an example of the perils of trusting circumstantial evidence.
Personal Life & Legacy
On November 25, 1884, she married Charles Rohlfs, an actor and stove designer who later became an internationally acclaimed furniture designer. The couple was blessed with three children; a daughter, Rosamund, and two sons, Sterling and Roland.
In late 1880s, the family settled in Buffalo. She maintained a steady income during her prolific career and lived a Victorian life of strong values and morals.
She died on April 11, 1935, at her home in Buffalo, New York, at the age of 88.