Mrs Bradley

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Mrs Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley
First appearance Speedy Death
Created by Gladys Mitchell
Portrayed by Diana Rigg
Information
Gender Female
Occupation Psychiatrist
Title Mrs later Dame
Family Maiden name unknown
Spouse(s) Widowed (thrice)
Religion Agnostic
Nationality British

Beatrice Adela Lestrange Bradley is a fictional detective created by Gladys Mitchell. Mrs (later Dame Beatrice) Bradley is Mitchell's most significant and long-lived character, appearing in 66 novels that were published between 1929 and 1975.

Overview[edit]

Appearance and personal attributes[edit]

Bradley is often described in reptilian terms: “a deadly serpent basking in the sun or of an alligator smiling gently while birds removed animal irritants from its armoured frame”; or “a hag-like pterodactyl”. Perhaps the most amusing description is to be found in Dead Men’s Morris (1936), where she has “the maternal anxiety of a boa-constrictor which watches its young attempting to devour their first donkey”! In later years, she is known as ‘Mrs Crocodile’, a nickname given to her by her secretary Laura Menzies—although originally coined by the village lunatic Mrs Gatty in The Saltmarsh Murders (1932).[1]

Physically, she is very much stronger than she looks, her arm "deceptively stick-like" and capable of exerting and sustaining considerable pressure, and even the "yellow forefinger" with which she habitually prods people in the ribs, "like an iron bolt." When Laura is downed in a fight, Mrs Bradley performs "a feat...to make strong men quail," picking up "the hefty Laura in her arms" and carrying her off "to put her to bed as though she had been a small child" (Laura returns the compliment in My Father Sleeps, bearing Mrs Bradley in her "powerful grasp...on to Scottish soil, much...in the manner of the Roman eagles being carried on to disputed territory"). Elsewhere, she proves herself "no mean performer at a game in which muscle and temper, skill, boldness and patience all played a considerable part." [2]

Methods[edit]

As a detective, Mrs Bradley is an exemplar of the omniscient school. Messrs. Barzun & Taylor refer, in Catalogue of Crime, to a story, "Daisy Bell," in which Mrs. Bradley is "cut down to size;" but this is probably the unique instance of that process, since it is rare to find her even disconcerted, and the usual turn of events is quite the reverse. It is a safe prediction that she will "lay down her cards and scoop the pool...She always does. She weaves her web and, in the end, the flies walk into it." Her overall mental ascendancy is quite remarkable. Deep-dyed villains blush and fumble and fail to meet her gaze, and Alastair Bing and Mrs. Bryce Harringay are only the first and second in a long line of people who are "afraid of her." Her habit of addressing most of the males she encounters, from schoolboys to Chief Constables, as "child" is further indicative of her benign Olympian supremacy.

In addition, she leads a charmed life. Other detectives get cracked over the head, or have boulders hurled down upon them, or bullets avoiding brain or heart by a hair's breadth. But however many dark passages, or dank caves, or sinister, twilit gardens she may investigate, Bradley escapes all unhurt, often turning the tables on those who foolishly imagine they can better her, protected at such times by "a curious sixth sense which she trusted" (as well she might, since it informs her when "all was not as it should be"). "She was not unaccustomed to homicidal maniacs," and predictably knows just what to do when one such threatens her with her own revolver: "Mrs. Bradley suddenly moved faster than could possibly have been expected of an elderly lady. She seized, not her notebook, but a beautiful little bronze which she used as a paperweight. It represented the shepherd boy David. 'Down with Goliath,' she said with an unearthly cackle, as the heavy missile found its mark and she, like a tigress, leapt after it towards the bulge. The bulge fell forward with a crash which shook the room."

On an earlier occasion, during her visit to Saxon Wall, her reactions are equally quick, her behaviour just as picturesque: "Something sang through the air. Mrs Bradley jerked her body to the left. A large hammer swung past her, and cut a chunk of turf out of the lawn when it fell. Mrs Bradley retrieved it, swung it thrice round her head as the arm clothed in white samite once had waved the sword Excalibur, and then darted in among the rhododendron bushes." It is good to know that in Miss Mitchell's most recently completed novel, Noonday and Night, she is still evading ill-wishers by the time-honoured device of retreating to the powdering-closet while a deceptive dummy awaits the murderous attack.[3]

Mrs Bradley's life[edit]

Childhood and Education[edit]

Mrs Bradley (maiden name unknown) was born in Yorkshire, of English stock, with “only a drop” of Highland blood. The year of birth is unknown, although, as she was fifty-seven on her first appearance in 1929, and went to school in the 1870s, we must assume that she was born in 1872, and so, presumably, on her last appearance in 1984, is 111-112. She was brought up “so far as religious matters were concerned, by the Church of England”.

She attended a small private school sometime in the 1870s, whose Old School Tie was “a blasphemous combination of gold, silver and purple”; a school friend “chiefly remember[ed her] in the gym and at cricket, and being so jolly good at maths, and English, and music, and playing up Miss Poppleweather”. However on one occasion she stated that she did not go to school and was taught by her father, learning “to read … Lewis Carroll, and the Bible, and the Swiss Family Robinson, …and not to lose our tempers when we argued”.

Mrs Bradley had a very successful academic career, being “holder of all the doctorates I've ever heard of except that of Doctor of Divinity”, including an honorary degree from Oxford.[1]

Private Life[edit]

By her first husband, an unscrupulous man of French and Spanish descent “who cornered wheat on Wall St. and then slipped up and all the wheat fell on him”, she had Ferdinand Lestrange, born on her eighteenth birthday. He studied at Oxford from 1908 to 1911, was called to the bar in 1914, fought in the Great War from 1914 to 1917, but was invalided out in June, 1917. He is knighted by the time of The Saltmarsh Murders (1932), and, like his distinguished mother, wrote—on forensic medicine, as “he knows what doctors have to know about the law” and was married twice: in St. Peter’s Finger (1938), he is married to Juliet; in When Last I Died (1941), he is married to Caroline—and has a son, Derek, aged seven. In a later book, he has a daughter, Sally ; although, on her first appearance, Sally is not Mrs. Bradley’s grand-daughter, but her great-niece. These are but some of the many inconsistencies surrounding the Bradley/Lestrange clan. Mrs. Bradley once stated that Ferdinand was her only son, but she is later revealed to have had another son, by her second husband: “the apple of her eye”, an authority on tropical diseases, living in India. In an even later book, she states that she has “other sons”—at least three children. Although she originally only had two husbands, by the early 1940s, she has been married thrice.

As well as having two (or more) sons, Mrs. Bradley also had an unofficial daughter: Laura Catriona Menzies, who replaced Mrs. Bradley’s earlier secretaries—Nancy and Miss Cummings, and acted as her assistant in crime solving, and, in some cases—12 Horses and the Hangman’s Noose (1956), Skeleton Island (1967)—even taking over from her, much to the reader’s alarm and dismay. She was married three times (although the earlier books say only twice) —“a woman who marries three times is almost bound to be either super-normal, abnormal, or sub-normal”. One honeymoon was spent in the south of France “in the days when she was young and had been in love”, and another at Amalfi.[2]

Career[edit]

Mrs Bradley is described as being "one of the most famous of modern women," preeminent in her sphere, and of commanding intellect and erudition. Both to Deborah and the staff of Hillmaston School, she is "the Mrs. Bradley." As "psychiatrist and consulting psychologist to the Home Office," with "degrees from every university except Tokyo," she is immensely distinguished, her services in constant demand, her reputation, both in her professional and amateur capacities, wide and unquestioned.

Her publications include "her famous popular book on hereditary tendencies towards crime," the Small Handbook to Psycho-Analysis (1929), a paper on "the psychology of martyrs, both Christian and otherwise," and another "On the Psychology of the Re-orientation of Paranoics." At the Scheveningen Conference in 1964, she delivers a paper on "Traumatic Regicides, with special reference to the death of Charles I."

She was awarded a DBE in 1955/1956.[2]

Portrayals[edit]

Mrs Bradley was portrayed by Diana Rigg in the television series The Mrs Bradley Mysteries and on radio by Mary Wimbush.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b http://www.gladysmitchell.com/fullerbradley.htm
  2. ^ a b c http://www.gladysmitchell.com/
  3. ^ "one of the most famous of modern women," pre-eminent in her sphere, and of commanding intellect and erudition. Both to Deborah and the staff of Hillmaston School, she is "the Mrs. Bradley." As "psychiatrist and consulting psychologist to the Home Office," with, in Laura's words, "degrees from every university except Tokyo," she is immensely distinguished, her services in constant demand, her reputation, both in her professional and amateur capacities, wide and unquestioned. Her publications include "her famous popular book on hereditary tendencies towards crime, "The Small Handbook to Psycho-Analysis" (1929), a paper on "the psychology of martyrs, both Christian and otherwise," and another "On the Psychology of the Re-orientation of Paranoics." At the Scheveningen Conference in 1964, she delivers a paper on "Traumatic Regicides, with special reference to the death of Charles I."