Phryne Fisher (//, FRY-knee), often called "Miss Fisher", is the main character in Australian author Kerry Greenwood's series of Phryne Fisher detective novels. Phryne is a wealthy aristocrat and private detective who lives in St Kilda, Melbourne, in the late 1920s. With the assistance of her maid Dot, and Bert and Cec (who are wharfies, taxi drivers and red raggers), she solves all manner of crimes as a quintessentially Australian construction. Phryne is no ordinary aristocrat, as she can fly a plane, drives her own car (a Hispano-Suiza) and sometimes wears trousers. However, while displaying bohemian panache, she manages also to maintain style and class.
|Phryne Fisher mysteries character|
|First appearance||Cocaine Blues|
|Created by||Kerry Greenwood|
|Portrayed by||Essie Davis|
|Children||Jane Fisher and Ruth Fisher (adopted daughters)|
|Religion||Church of England|
Phryne was accidentally named after a famous Greek courtesan who lived in the 4th century BC. At her christening, her father forgot the classical name, Psyche, that her parents had intended for her.
Phryne was not always rich, having been born into a poor family in Collingwood, Melbourne. Her childhood was one of deep poverty, and she occasionally had to scavenge for food in the pig-bins in Victoria Market, and often ate rabbit and cabbage because there was no other food available. In Cocaine Blues, she tells her maidservant and secretary Dot that during her youth she "starved like Billy-o" and that her sister died of diphtheria and starvation.
In World War I, the other male heirs to a British peerage were killed, and Phryne's father inherited the title. As his daughter, she was granted the style of "The Honourable Phryne Fisher" and an enormous fortune. She has an aunt, Mrs. Prudence Stanley.
After completing school, Phryne ran away to France where she joined a French women's ambulance unit during WWI, receiving a reward for bravery and a French war pension. She then worked as an artist's model in Montparnasse after the war. Following her time in France, Phryne travelled widely, and has disclosed that she has, amongst other places, visited Florence and spent a night in a Turkish prison (for unknown reasons).
Move to Australia and career as a detectiveEdit
Phyrne Fisher's career as a detective is described in Cocaine Blues as having had its origins in an incident that took place at her family's estate in England. At an evening ball, a diamond necklace belonging to one of the guests disappeared, and Phryne was able, through observing the guests and the room, to quickly identify the person responsible for the theft as Bobby, a young cricket-playing aristocrat.
Impressed by her skills, another guest at the party, a retired Colonel Harper and his wife, Mrs. Harper, engaged Phryne to travel to Australia, her country of birth, and find out if his daughter, Lydia Andrews, was being treated well by her husband, John Andrews. This set in motion the events described in the first of Kerry Greenwood's books on Phryne Fisher, Cocaine Blues. Phryne's motivation to take up private detection as a career is rooted, at least initially, in boredom with the activities of high society in England. Although she did previously engage in charitable works, Phryne noted that "the company of the Charitable Ladies was not good for her temper."
In Flying Too High, Phryne Fisher decides to settle down in Melbourne, buying a house at 221B, The Esplanade, and moving in there with Dot Williams, her maid. She also engages Mr. and Mrs. Butler to act as her butler and housekeeper, respectively. Phryne confesses to her friend Bunji Ross that she bought the house because it was numbered 221 and that she added 'B' in an obvious reference to the home of Sherlock Holmes at 221B Baker Street.
Through the course of the books, Phryne collects a personal maid, Dot; two adoptive daughters, Ruth and Jane (whom she rescued from slavery); a cat, Ember; a dog, Molly; and two loyal servants, the Butlers. She also has relationships with a string of lovers, most notably Lin Chung, a wealthy Chinese man (whom she rescues in the city one evening). Lin is the only lover with whom she maintains a relationship for more than a few books and even goes so far as to make a deal with his autocratic and overbearing grandmother that after he is married, she (Phryne) be allowed to continue a relationship with him.
Character and appearanceEdit
Phryne is described in Cocaine Blues as having a 'short black cap of hair' which is very straight, and cut to leave the nape of her neck and most of her forehead uncovered. She has grey-green eyes. In Flying Too High, she is described by an acquaintance as being 'small, thin, with black hair cut in what I am told is a bob, disconcerting grey-green eyes and porcelain skin. Looks like a Dutch doll." – a description that Phryne herself agrees with.
Character and skillsEdit
Phryne can shoot, and frequently carries, and uses, a lady's handgun in her purse. She is frequently described as being possessed of great courage and fearlessness, and personally admits to having very few actual fears (one of them being head-lice, which she abhors). She rarely cries, noting in Cocaine Blues that the last time she had done so was over a book of poetry by Wilfred Owen, after being sickened by the deaths in World War I.
Phryne is a skilled and experienced pilot, and in Flying Too High, performs a number of dangerous and skilful flying maneouvres in a Gipsy Moth plane in response to a flying instructor's doubts about her skills. She has also flown Dr. Elizabeth Macmillan, her friend and a surgeon, through dangerous conditions to provide medical assistance to those who needed it. In addition to planes, Phryne is a skilled, if somewhat reckless driver, and drives a red Hispano-Suiza, one of her prized possessions.
She is fond of dancing and has learned to dance the tango from 'the most expensive gigolo on the Rue de Chat-qui-Peche' in Paris. She speaks French fluently, with a Parisian accent and peppered with 'indelicate apache idioms'.
Phryne is described as being fond of the luxuries her position and wealth afford her, while always being conscious of her impoverished origins. She tells the Princess de Grasse in Cocaine Blues that "there is nothing like being really poor to make you relish being really wealthy." She often carries cash on her person, reasoning that she is unused enough to wealth to want the security of having readily available funds. She is generous with her money, and tips well.
Phryne is frequently described as dressing in high fashion and her clothes are often described in great and elaborate detail. She occasionally dresses in trousers and men's shirts. Phryne also enjoys good food. She is 'devoted' to lobster mayonnaise with cucumbers, in particular. Despite her numerous relationships and conduct that some parts of society might find shocking, Phryne describes herself as being immune to blackmail, showing no alarm, for instance, when Bobby Matthews, a thief she had once caught, threatens to tell all of Melbourne that she had once visited an expensive gigolo in Paris.
Although Phryne has had several relationships with men, she is described as being disinclined to settle down and marry. She is described in her books as using a diaphragm sold by Dr. Marie Stopes to avoid unwanted pregnancies. She is described as being heterosexual, and often politely rebuffs advances from women who are attracted to her.
In Cocaine Blues, for instance she is the subject of the attentions of both Sasha De Lisse and his twin sister Ellie, but tells Sasha that she would prefer him over her, in general. She also declines an unstated offer from a woman attending to her at the Turkish Baths in Melbourne, and notes that she had visited several bars frequented by lesbian and bisexual women in the company of her friend and gigolo, Georges Santin, in Paris. Phryne notes that she "had little leaning towards homosexuality but she had liked the lesbian bars. They were free of the domination of men, creating their own society."
Phryne's relationship with her family can occasionally be strained. In Cocaine Blues, after a theft of jewelry belonging to a guest at a dinner party hosted by the Fishers, Phryne's father and mother engage in a vocal altercation, a situation that Phryne describes as 'normal'. On her arrival in Melbourne, she is initially embarrassed to discover that her father had left a number of unpaid debts of honour there, including one to the local MP, Mr. Sanderson.
Phryne once describes herself as having 'not the faintest spurt of maternity' and demonstrates a disinclination towards young children.
Main and recurring charactersEdit
Dorothy 'Dot' WilliamsEdit
Dorothy Williams, known as 'Dot' is Phryne's confidential maid and social secretary. Phryne meets Dot soon after her arrival in Melbourne, while taking a walk through the city. Dot, possessed of a knife, had been trying to find and kill her former employer's son, who had repeatedly harassed and molested her and had her fired when she resisted his advances. Phryne convinces Dot to hand over the knife and gives her food to eat, and then secures Dot's revenge by using the knife to surreptitiously cut through her persecutor's braces, thus disrobing and publicly embarrassing him. Phryne then offers Dot a job as her personal maid and secretary, which Dot accepts. Dot is described as being a very devout Catholic and is very neat with a particular talent for delicate mending and sewing work. She is close to her family and her mother, in particularly, whom she visits frequently.
Bert (Albert Johnson) and Cec (Cecil Yates)Edit
Cecil Yates, known as 'Cec' and Albert Johnson, known as 'Bert' together run and operate a taxi cab in Melbourne, Australia. Phryne Fisher first meets them when her ship docks at Melbourne, and they transport her luggage as well as Dr. Elizabeth Macmillan's to their respective hotels. Cec is described as being tall and blonde-haired, with brown eyes and a taciturn, quiet manner. Bert, on the other hand, is short, darker and older than Cec, as well as more voluble. Cec and Bert are both described as 'red-raggers' i.e. Communists. Cec, in particular, is a gifted navigator with a keen memory for the streets of Melbourne, and is also described as having a soft spot for any animal or person in trouble. Cec and Bert eventually join Phryne as investigative assistants. Phryne Fisher pays them enough money to enable them to buy a new taxi to replace their old one.
Jane (née Graham) and Ruth (née Collins) FisherEdit
Phryne's adopted daughters.
One of Jack's policemen and Dot's husband-to-be.
Mr Tobias Butler and Mrs Aurelia ButlerEdit
Phryne's butler and cook. Mr and Mrs. Butler initially planned to retire after working for a long period of time, but were persuaded out of retirement by Phryne Fisher's generous offer of employment as well as her request that they maintain the confidentiality of her work as a private detective. In Flying Too High, they are known by the names 'Ted' and 'Else'
Dr. Elizabeth MacmillanEdit
Dr. Elizabeth Macmillan is a Scottish surgeon who works at the Queen Victoria Hospital for Women in Melbourne, Australia. She is a friend of Phryne's. Dr. Macmillan and Phryne reunited during Phryne's voyage by ship from England to Australia in Cocaine Blues. Dr. Macmillan is described as being of around forty-five years of age, with a broad, strong physique, rough and calloused hands, and a weatherbeaten complexion. Her black hair, now turning white, is cut into a 'short Eton crop' and she tends to dress in men's clothes for convenience. Phryne and Dr. Macmillan first meet when there is a 'flu epidemic at a remote island, and Phyrne steps in to fly Dr. Macmillan in on a plane despite dangerous weather conditions. She then assists Dr. Macmillan in attending to the unwell residents of the island, including slaughtering a Highland cow to make them broth.
Jillian Henderson is a lawyer and a friend of Phryne Fisher's. She frequently represents clients referred to her by Phryne, and has inherited her practice from her father, who was partner in a firm called Henderson, Jones, and Mayhew.
Detective Inspector John 'Jack' RobinsonEdit
Phryne Fisher first meets Detective Inspector Jack Robinson while investigating a cocaine ring in Cocaine Blues, and becomes friends with him thereafter. He respects her skills and intelligence, and the two frequently collaborate on criminal investigations. He is described in Murder on the Ballarat Train as being a "private man with a doting family, who grew grevilleas and rare native orchids in his yard."
Police Constable JonesEdit
Woman Police Constable Jones works for Detective Inspector Jack Robinson and is one of the few women in the police force. She frequently acts as a bait and decoy in investigations and has won a medal for Gallantry for baiting and capturing a suspect in a string of rapes.
- Lin Chung – Phryne's lover
- Li Pen – A Shao Lin monk and Lin's bodyguard
- Cocaine Blues (1989) aka Death by Misadventure
- Flying Too High (1990)
- Murder on the Ballarat Train (1991)
- Death at Victoria Dock (1992)
- The Green Mill Murder (1993)
- Blood and Circuses (1994)
- Ruddy Gore (1995)
- Urn Burial (1996)
- Raisins and Almonds (1997)
- Death Before Wicket (1999)
- Away with the Fairies (2001)
- Murder in Montparnasse (2002)
- The Castlemaine Murders (2003)
- Queen of the Flowers (2004)
- Death by Water (2005)
- Murder in the Dark (2006)
- Murder on a Midsummer Night (2008)
- Dead Man's Chest (2010)
- Unnatural Habits (2012)
- Murder and Mendelssohn (2013)
Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries is a television costume drama series based on the novels, starring Essie Davis in the title role. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Every Cloud Productions produced the series of thirteen one-hour episodes, the first series of which premiered on ABC1 on 24 February 2012.
A second series of 13 episodes followed, a third series of 8 episodes has been released and funding for a fourth season has been approved. The first episode aired on 8 May 2015, and the season wrapped up with Episode 8 on 26 June 2015.
The series has been well awarded:
- Australian Film Institute Award Nomination for Best Television Drama Series (2016)
- Australian Film Institute Award Nomination for Best Costume Design in Television (2016)
- Australian Film Institute Award Winner for Best Costume Design in Television (2014)
- Australian Film Institute Award Nomination for Best Lead Actress in a Television Drama (Essie Davis, 2013)
- Logie Awards, Gold Logie Award Nomination (Essie Davis, 2016)
- Logie Awards, Silver Logie Award Nomination for Best Actress (Essie Davis, 2016)
- Logie Awards, Silver Logie Award Nomination for Most Outstanding Actress (Essie Davis, 2016)
- Logie Awards, Silver Logie Award Nomination for Most Popular Actress (Ashleigh Cummings, 2013)
- Sichuan Television Festival, Gold Panda Award Nomination for Best Writing for a Television Series (2013)
- Johnson-Woods, Toni; Franks, Rachel (2015). "Phryne Fisher: Feminism and Modernism in Historical Crime Fiction". The Australian Journal of Crime Fiction. 1 (2). Retrieved 18 January 2016.
- "Official website". Phyrne Fisher. Retrieved 15 February 2015.
- Greenwood, Kerry (1989). Cocaine Blues (First Paperback ed.). Australia: McPhee Gribble. ISBN 978-0869141724.
- Greenwood, Kerry (1990). Flying Too High. Australia: McPhee Gribble. ISBN 978-0869142158.
- Greenwood, Kerry (1 April 2001). Away with the Fairies. Australia: Allen & Unwin. p. 233. ISBN 978-1865084893.
- Greenwood, Kerry (1991). Murder on the Ballarat Train. Australia: McPhee Gribble. ISBN 978-0869142455.
- "Kerry Greenwood". Fantastic Fiction.
- Baugher, Lacy (16 June 2014). "Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries Will Return for a Third Season". weta.org. Retrieved 14 December 2014. and broadcast in 2015.
- "Miss Fisher's Murder Mysteries (2012– ), Episode List". 2016-01-18.