Silence is Golden: John William Bobin’s Sylvia Silence and the Emergence of the British Girl Detective in Golden Age Crime Fiction



golden age crime fiction, girl detectives, John William Bobin, Sylvia Silence, Nancy Drew


Sylvia Silence is a little-known figure today. Created by story-paper writer John William Bobin under the pseudonym Katherine Greenhalgh, she appeared in the Amalgamated Press story paper Schoolgirls’ Weekly in a series of detective narratives from 1922 to 1924 in the early years of the Golden Age of crime fiction. Despite her relative obscurity, however, Sylvia played an important role in the development of the girl detective tradition in juvenile fiction, predating famous American girl detective Nancy Drew by several years. This article explores Sylvia’s emergence from the Victorian and Edwardian tradition of the financially motivated professional or personally motivated amateur female detective and that of Holmesian genius prominent in the Amalgamated Press boys’ story papers into a new detective model for the Golden Age of crime fiction. This article identifies the Golden Age characteristics of Sylvia Silence, particularly those she shares with a much more famous Golden Age female detective, Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, and draws links between the spinster detective and the girl detective. In particular, it considers why Golden Age crime fiction was a suitable form for the girl detective tradition to develop and thrive within.