DARLINGS! Here we are again, to do some more fangirling. This week I’m sharing with you the necessity to both watch AND read the fabulous Phryne (FRY-nee) Fisher mysteries.
So if you have no idea who Phryne Fisher is, those two sites will tell you all kinds of details. I’ll sum her up in a nutshell: wealthy aristocrat (but from humble beginnings) who does private detective-ing in St. Kilda, Melbourne in the late 1920s.
Basically, you know that one friend you have? Or the one you wish you had? The one who’s always stylish, classy, sassy, fun, interesting, up for a good romp through a bar who appreciates good food, good company, and good drinks? But she’s also welcoming and non-judgmental (unless you’re behaving badly) and is as much at home driving fast, flying an airplane, or drinking champagne at an art gallery? THAT friend? That’s Phryne.
She’s stylish, classy, fearless, progressive, beautiful, and liberated in ways that many women weren’t or couldn’t be. Her money allows her the freedom to do what she wants, but she’s also philanthropic and ends up with a maid and two adopted ‘tween daughters (in the books; one in the Australian Broadcasting series).
And you can get your Phryne on in two ways. You can watch the Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s adaptation from the original series of books by author Kerry Greenwood, AND you can read the latter! So much Phryne!
I’ve done both. I started watching the series first because a friend recommended it and it was streaming on Netflix. AND STILL IS. So one Christmas, I binge-watched the first season with my parents and we loved the hell out of it, so I watched the rest of what I could get on Netflix and then promptly began reading the books, of which there are 20 currently available.
It doesn’t matter which you decide to do first. I do have a suggestion, however. Think of the TV adaptations as fanfic of the books. That is, the TV adaptations stay true to the mood and overall history and feel and some of the plots of the books, but they diverge from the books in several ways. Which is fine, because the actors who bring the characters to life on screen, I think, really evoke how Greenwood writes them. But don’t expect the TV adaptation to be completely true to the books.
Now for my top 10 reasons to fangirl over Miss Fisher:
- HISTORY. I’m such a history geek and Greenwood does extensive research for each book (she’s also a Melbourne native), to accurately convey the era (1920s Australia, in case you missed that) and its different sociopolitical currents. She includes bibliographies in many of them. AND MAJOR PLUS! She often includes drink and cocktail recipes.
- The characters. They’re brilliant. Each of them, as conveyed in the books and on screen, are delightfully individualized.
- The books (and TV show) not only deal with mysteries, but also larger social and political issues, many of which affect women, like abortion, misogyny, women’s health, and sexual expression. Other issues include PTSD (post WWI), political movements (like leftist anarchists and communists), religion, and racism. A recurring character in the books in this regard is Lin Chung, a Chinese man; he appears in the TV adaptation, but not to the extent he’s visible in the books and the role he plays in the books is VERY, VERY different than the TV adaptations. wink wink nudge nudge
- Queer representation! Phyrne is completely accepting of LGBT people and one of her colleagues and friends is a lesbian doctor who runs a women’s hospital and dresses as a man. In the books, this character appears, as do a few gay men. In one of the books, Phryne is on a cruise trying to solve a mystery and there’s a group of musicians of which some are lesbians, and she gets propositioned. She takes it all in stride.
- The setting. I love that Phryne Fisher is set in Australia in the 1920s. I confess I’m not up on Australian history, and though this is a fictional representation, Greenwood has done some homework, and I’m pretty sure that’s transferred to the screen.
- Phryne Fisher. She’s absolutely riveting, both on the page and in the TV adaptation. Kudos to Australian actress Essie Davis for bringing Miss Fisher to life in all her vibrancy, convictions, integrity, sex appeal, and gentle comedic turns. She’s comfortable in any setting, doesn’t look down on people (unless they’re assholes), and does a lot of good works in addition to being her private investigator self.
- The plots. Many different types of crimes, often with some surprising turns, and always populated with fascinating people. Even the secondary and tertiary characters find representation in both media, and leave an impression.
- The 1920s is one of my fave historical eras, and seeing it set in Australia is really interesting. The sets and costumes in the TV adaptations are so detailed that you’ll probably find yourself loving the material culture of the era and how it’s used by the characters. Each book and each TV episode are lush with details like these that don’t detract from the story.
- Phryne’s unabashed single-hood. I love this about these stories, that she has no interest in getting married, she expresses her attractions, picks men up, and delights in her sexuality. Even today, almost a hundred years after this era, sex and sexuality for women is fraught and it’s so refreshing that Phryne owns her body, she loves her body, she loves what she does with it. If only all women could feel that way.
- The dialogue and banter and, in the books, there’s always amusing self-reflection on the part of most of the characters. Greenwood does go into the POVs of some of the secondary characters, as well, and offers their perspectives, but she does it seamlessly, and you enjoy the ride.
So, darlings. Indulge. Get your heads out of this era and meet the fabulous, sassy, sexy, sultry, fabulously interesting Phryne Fisher and friends. I think you’ll find it worth your while.
Happy Friday, Happy Fangirling, and may the odds be EVER in your favor.