Gilman, Dorothy 1923-

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GILMAN, Dorothy 1923-

(Dorothy Gilman Butters)

PERSONAL: Born June 25, 1923, in New Brunswick, NJ; daughter of James Bruce (a minister) and Essa (Starkweather) Gilman; married Edgar A. Butters, Jr. (a teacher), September 15, 1945 (divorced, 1965); children: Christopher and Jonathan. Education: Attended Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, 1940-45, University of Pennsylvania and Art Students' League, 1963-64. Politics: Democrat. Religion: Unitarian Universalist.

ADDRESSES: Home—Westport, CT. Agent—Howard Morhaim Literary Agency, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010-7703.

CAREER: Samuel Fleischer Art Memorial, Philadelphia, PA, instructor in drawing in adult evening school, two years; switchboard operator, New Jersey Bell Telephone Co., one year; Cherry Lawn School, Darien, CT, instructor in creative writing, 1969-70.

MEMBER: Authors Guild.

AWARDS, HONORS: Catholic Book Award for A Nun in the Closet.


for young adults, except as noted; under name dorothy gilman butters

Enchanted Caravan, illustrations by Janet Smalley, Macrae Smith (Philadelphia, PA), 1949, published as Caravan, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1992.

Carnival Gypsy, Macrae Smith (Philadelphia, PA), 1950.

Ragamuffin Alley, Macrae Smith (Philadelphia, PA), 1951.

The Calico Year, Macrae Smith (Philadelphia, PA), 1953.

Four-Party Line, Macrae Smith (Philadelphia, PA), 1954.

Papa Dolphin's Table (for children), Knopf (New York, NY), 1955.

Girl in Buckskin (Junior Literary Guild selection), Macrae Smith (Philadelphia, PA), 1956.

Heartbreak Street (Junior Literary Guild selection), Macrae Smith (Philadelphia, PA), 1958.

Witch's Silver (Junior Literary Guild selection), Macrae Smith (Philadelphia, PA), 1959.

Masquerade, Macrae Smith (Philadelphia, PA), 1961, published as Heart's Design, Berkley (New York, NY), 1963.

Ten Leagues to Boston Town (Junior Literary Guild selection), Macrae Smith (Philadelphia, PA), 1962.

The Bells of Freedom (Weekly Reader Book Club selection), illustrations by Carol Wilde, Macrae Smith (Philadelphia, PA), 1963, reprinted, Peter Smith, 1984.

(Under name Dorothy Gilman) The Maze in the Heart of the Castle, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1983.

adult novels

The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1966, reprinted, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1985, published as Mrs. Pollifax, Spy, Tandem (London, England), 1971.

Uncertain Voyage, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1967, reprinted, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1989.

The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1970, Fawcett (New York, NY), 1986.

The Elusive Mrs. Pollifax, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1971, reprinted, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1993.

A Palm for Mrs. Pollifax, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1973.

A Nun in the Closet, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1975, published as A Nun in the Cupboard, R. Hale (London, England), 1976.

The Clairvoyant Countess, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1975.

Mrs. Pollifax on Safari, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1977.

The Tightrope Walker, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1979, reprinted, Curley (South Yarmouth, MA), 1992..

Mrs. Pollifax on the China Station, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1983.

Mrs. Pollifax and the Hong Kong Buddha, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1985.

Mrs. Pollifax and the Golden Triangle, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1988.

Incident at Badamya (Literary Guild alternate selection), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1989.

Mrs. Pollifax and the Whirling Dervish, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1990.

Mrs. Pollifax and the Second Thief, Doubleday (New York, NY), 1993.

Mrs. Pollifax Pursued, Wheeler (Hingham, MA), 1995.

Mrs. Pollifax and the Lion Killer, Fawcett Columbine (New York, NY), 1996.

Mrs. Pollifax, Innocent Tourist, Random House (New York, NY), 1997.

Thale's Folly, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 1999.

Mrs. Pollifax Unveiled, Ballentine Books (New York, NY), 2000.

Kaleidoscope: A Countess Karitska Novel, Ballantine Books (New York, NY), 2002.


(Contributor) On Creative Writing, edited by Paul Engle, Dutton (New York, NY), 1964.

A New Kind of Country (nonfiction), Doubleday (New York, NY), 1978.

Contributor to Good Housekeeping, Jack and Jill, Red-book, Ladies' Home Journal, Cosmopolitan, Writer, and other magazines; contributor of short stories, under name Dorothy Gilman Butters, to Redbook.

ADAPTATIONS: The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax was filmed by United Artists in 1970 as "Mrs. Pollifax—Spy," starring Rosalind Russell. Mrs. Pollifax, Innocent Tourist was recorded as an audiobook, as was Mrs. Pollifax Unveiled by Brillance Audio, 2000.

SIDELIGHTS: Dorothy Gilman began her career as a novelist by writing books for children during the 1950s. Of her young-adult titles written under her married name, Dorothy Gillman Butters, the first, The Enchanted Caravan, was republished as Caravan a half-century after its debut. During the mid-1960s Gilman began writing mystery novels under her maiden name. Among her sleuths is the sixty-year-old Mrs. Pollifax, an unlikely but sympathetic detective who stars in more than a dozen titles written over a thirty-year period, and the psychically endowed Madame Karitska of The Clairvoyant Countess and Kaleidoscope.

A writer of popular suspense novels, Gilman "creates appealing characters whose 'ordinary' lives are changed by their encounters with danger," explained Mary Helen Becker in Twentieth-Century Crime and Mystery Writers. "Naive and innocent to begin with, apparently handicapped by age, poverty, or emotional problems, they pit their courage, perseverance, and resourcefulness (fortified by inner strength discovered in time of need), against the organized powers of evil." Gilman's most popular creation is Mrs. Emily Pollifax, a bored and lonely New Jersey widow in her sixties who applies to the CIA for a job and is chosen for special assignments. Looking more like a tourist than a spy, "Mrs. Pollifax is (at least, on the surface) the archetypal little old lady," wrote New York Times Book Review contributor Allen J. Hubin. Likewise, New York Times reviewer Thomas Lask called Mrs. Pollifax "the picture of the innocent abroad." Under the Covers reviewer Harriet Klausner likened Mrs. Pollifax to sleuth Jessica Fletcher of the popular Murder She Wrote television series. She praised Gilman's 2000 offering, Mrs. Pollifax Unveiled, for its "fresh" characters and smoothly flowing narrative. While remarking that the subgenre of "cozy spy thriller" is a rarity at the turn of the millennium, Library Journal's I. Pour-El noted that sales of Gilman's titles are good, which is a likely result of the "slick and charming" quality of her books, to quote Rex E. Klett, also of Library Journal.

The Pollifax novels chronicle their intrepid heroine's adventures in exotic locales, where her kindly and sympathetic nature often leads her to involve herself with a variety of unusual people. As Becker explained, "Warmhearted and open minded, Mrs. Pollifax is without prejudice and is always sympathetic to those in trouble." This sympathy for strangers, however, frequently involves her in adventures unforeseen by her CIA employers. But the resourceful Pollifax always extracts herself from real trouble. "Disarmingly self-mocking, whenever she is in a tight spot, Mrs. Pollifax imagines what would happen in the movies and acts accordingly, all the while regretting her own clichés," Becker stated.

Lask, however, considered the spy as sometimes too inactive: "Mrs. Pollifax is like an obstacle around whom the rough waters churn and boil. Things happen to her rather than the other way around, and her chancy approach to events [is] so open-eyed that it's a wonder she survives at all." Commenting on Mrs. Pollifax and the Golden Triangle, Elaine S. Povich of the Chicago Tribune noted a similar failing: "The book keeps readers wondering what is coming next, but it fails to portray Emily Pollifax as much more than a victim of events she cannot control." Other reviewers, however, willingly accept the elderly lady as an alternative to the James Bond stereotype. Hubin concluded: "Mrs. Pollifax is an enchantress—long may she terrorize spydom!"

Whatever the novels' supposed shortcomings, they have long been popular, as evidenced by their continual reprinting. In 1992 The Amazing Mrs. Pollifax saw its twenty-third printing. Yet in 2000 Gilman took a vacation from Mrs. Pollifax, revisiting instead Madame Karitska of her 1975 novel The Clairvoyant Countess. In Kaleidoscope, a "tantalizing sequel" to quote a Publishers Weekly reviewer, Madame Karitska uses her psychic powers to solve a string of mysteries brought to her by clients and by serendipity. Several critics found the work flawed but enjoyable, including a Kirkus Reviews contributor, who dubbed the heroine likeable but described the work as a collection of "uneven" short stories that vary from "the sentimental to the melodramatic." Writing in Booklist, GraceAnne A DeCandido remarked that the characters are not fully developed and dubbed the work overall a "light read with some heavy underpinnings" because of its subplot about terrorist activity. Despite any shortcomings, this "well-written, episodic adventure … will appeal to many," predicted Library Journal's Rex E. Klett.



Twentieth-Century Crime and Mystery Writers, 3rd edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1991.


Booklist, January 1, 2000, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Mrs. Pollifax Unveiled, p. 883; December 1, 2001, GraceAnne A. DeCandido, review of Kaleidoscope: A Countess Karitska Novel, p. 632.

Chicago Tribune, February 25, 1988.

Kirkus Reviews, January 15, 1999, review of Thale's Folly, p. 107; December 1, 1999, review of Mrs. Pollifax Unveiled, p. 1851; November 1, 2001, review of Kaleidoscope, p. 1518.

Kliatt Young Adult Paperback Book Guide, January, 1999, review of Mrs. Pollifax, Innocent Tourist (audio version), pp. 46+.

Library Journal, February 1, 2000, Rex E. Klett, review of Mrs. Pollifax Unveiled, p. 121; February 1, 2001, I. Pour-El, review of Mrs. Pollifax Unveiled (audio version), p. 144; December, 2001, Rex E. Klett, review of Kaleidoscope, p. 178.

Mystery Reader, March 12, 2002, review of Kaleidoscope.

New York Times, January 1, 1972.

New York Times Book Review, March 20, 1966; October 15, 1967; March 8, 1970.

Publishers Weekly, January 24, 2000, review of Mrs. Pollifax Unveiled, p. 295; December 24, 2001, review of Kaleidoscope, p. 45.

Times Literary Supplement, February 23, 1967.


Dorothy Gilman Home Page, (May 29, 2004).

Stop, You're Killing Me! (murder mystery site), (November 9, 2003).

Under the Covers, (May 8, 2003), Harriet Klausner, review of Mrs. Pollifax Unveiled, and review of Thale's Folly.*

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Gilman, Dorothy 1923-

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