Rembrandt, “The Artist and His Wife,” 1635-1636.

According to Francis Nevins, this is Ellery Queen’s first short story to include a dying clue, that is, a clue left by the victim as immediately before death as possible.  Here, the victim, an artist, painted a beard on a woman in a copy he was rendering of Rembrandt’s The Artist and His Wife, thus telling the world, “find the man cross-dressing as a woman, and you will find the person who murdered me.”

Believe it or not, back in 1934, some heterosexual men found themselves sexually insecure, or even threatened, around cross-dressers.  This shows up full tilt in The Bearded Lady, or The Sinister Beard, as it was called when it originally appeared in the August, 1934 issue of Mystery.

First, of interest, is the use of the word “wench.”  I do not recall it being used in any of the cousins other writings, but here it is, twice.  In the opening paragraphs, Ellery compares life, and himself, to a “Spanish wench.”   I’ll spare you the details.  Further on, a Long Island detective refers to another character, the one who found the corpse, as a “Nice wench, by God!”  Without breaking dialogue, he immediately goes on to say there are no alibis. blah, blah blah.  Throughout the story, the writers go severely out of their way to support Ellery’s heterosexuality with an obsessive observance of women as sexual objects.

Each time a female character is introduced, her attractive physical traits are mentioned, even if they have been mentioned before.  For instance, at one point in the story, smokes billows from a room, fire is assumed, pandemonium ensues as the characters, confused, try to make sense of what is happening.  How is this scene described?  What is highlighted?  Here you go:

Thick smoke was curling about her slender ankles, and the moonlight
shining through the corridor-window behind her silhouetted her long
plump trembling shanks through the thin nightgown.

Aren’t we all glad we do not live in such an age of heightened sexual insecurity?

One thought on “The Adventure of the Bearded Lady (1934)

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