Theory and Practice of Classic Detective Fiction

By Jerome H. Delamater; Ruth Prigozy | Go to book overview

6
Parody and Detective Fiction

Janice MacDonald

The three most popular stances to take regarding detective fiction have been labeled as the psychological approach, the sociocultural approach, and the historical method. Of course, most of these methods are interested in detective fiction primarily as artifact rather than art, for as we've all been told by Edmund Wilson and others, detective fiction is, at best, sub-literary.

The psychological approach attempts to answer the question of why people read detective fiction. So does the sociocultural approach, but it also addresses the questions of why the formula is so massively popular and why literature of this sort came to be written. The historical survey, of course, tells what has been written where and when. The question still to be asked is “how”: How does the genre generate new material within each sub-genre, how do thse subgenres evolve, and how does the formula plot stay true without becoming tiresome? John G. Cawelti sees these changes occurring in response to changes in the cultural climate (51), but this explanation cannot be the complete answer. There must also be an internal dynamic within the genre that aids in its propagation and flexibility, and parody can be considered a key dynamic element in the development of the popular formulaic genre known as detective fiction.

As yet mere has been no consensus on a concise definition of parody. The Oxford English Dictionary definition is

A composition in prose or verse in which the characteristic turns of thought and phrase
in an author or class of authors are imitated in such a way as to make them appear ridi-
culous, especially by applying them to ludicrously inappropriate subjects; an imitation
of a work more or less closely modeled on the original, but so turned as to produce a
ridiculous effect. (489)

This definition has often been called into question, because it is based on only

-61-

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