The Literary Detective: 100 Puzzles in Classic Fiction

The Literary Detective: 100 Puzzles in Classic Fiction

The Literary Detective: 100 Puzzles in Classic Fiction

The Literary Detective: 100 Puzzles in Classic Fiction

Synopsis

The Literary Detective is an omnibus edition of John Sutherland's three best-selling collections of literary puzzles, Is Heathcliffe a Murderer?, Can Jane Eyre be Happy?, and Who Betrays Elizabeth Bennet? Investigating a variety of anomalies, enigmas, and conundrums such as 'Why does Robinson Crusoe find only one footprint?' and 'Where does Fanny Hill keep her contraceptives?', Professor Sutherland explores the questions readers often ask and critics rarely discuss. His forensic skills focus on authors from Defoe and Fielding to Wells and Woolf, relishing in particular thenineteenth-century novelists, Austen, Collins, Dickens, and the Brontes. By addressing 'real world' questions John Sutherland has brought lit. crit. Down from the rarefied heights of academe and into the everyday discourse of ordinary readers, who bring their own expertise to bear on these novels. In his introduction he quotes from some of the many letters he hasreceived, which demonstrate that we can all be astute and entertaining critics. The 'Sherlock Holmes of Literature', as he has been called, John Sutherland reminds us of the sheer pleasure and excitement that good books inspire, and of their endless ability to surprise and delight us.

Excerpt

Walter Scott ∣ The Heart of Midlothian

Effie Deans' phantom pregnancy

The wonderful plot of The Heart of Midlothian--Jeanie Deans's refusing to perjure herself in court to save her sister's life, and her tramp down to London to beg mercy from the queen -- originate in the misfortune of Effie's pregnancy. Yet that misfortune, closely examined, is an extremely problematic thing. Certain improbabilities in it force us to assume either, (1) that Scott found himself trapped in a narrative difficulty which he could not easily write himself out of, or (2) that there is more to the episode than meets the casual reader's eye.

I prefer the second of these assumptions, although in support of the first it should be said that the law by which Effie is condemned contains some very dubious propositions. Scott outlines the 1690 law (which was repealed in the early nineteenth century) in a note to Chapter 15. A woman was liable to execution for infanticide on the circumstantial grounds 'that she should have concealed her situation during the whole period of pregnancy; that she should not have called for help at her delivery; and that, combined with these grounds of suspicion, the child should be either found dead or be altogether missing' (p. 528). What is unlikely is that a woman, in any normal social situation, should be able to disguise her altered physical shape in the last months of pregnancy, or that she should be able to deliver her own child without the assistance of a midwife. Common sense suggests that the ordinance must have been most effective, not against infanticide, but abortion. A woman might well conceal her . . .

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