Detection & Its Designs: Narrative & Power in 19th-Century Detective Fiction

Detection & Its Designs: Narrative & Power in 19th-Century Detective Fiction

Detection & Its Designs: Narrative & Power in 19th-Century Detective Fiction

Detection & Its Designs: Narrative & Power in 19th-Century Detective Fiction

Synopsis

Detective fiction is usually thought of as genre fiction, a vast group of works bound together by their use of a common formula. But, as Peter Thoms argues in his investigation of some of the most important texts in the development of detective fiction in the nineteenth century, the very works that establish the genre's formulaic structure also subvert that structure. Detection and Its Designs reads early detective fiction as a self-conscious form that is suspicious of the detective it ostensibly celebrates, and critical of the authorial power he wields in attempting to reconstruct the past and script a narrative of the crime.

In readings of Godwin's Caleb Williams, Poe's Dupin stories, Dickens's Bleak House, Collins's The Moonstone, and Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, Thorns argues that the detective's figurative writing emerges out of a desire to exert control over others and sometimes over himself.

Detection and Its Designs demonstrates that, far from being a naive form, early detective fiction grapples with the medium of storytelling itself. To pursue these inward-turning fictions is to uncover the detective's motives of controlling the representation of both himself and others, a discovery that in turn significantly undermines the authority of his solutions.

Excerpt

CALEB WILLIAMS STRIPS storytelling of its innocuous veneer to expose its sinister motives. In the novel's opening chapters Caleb's narrative appetite, like the reader's curiosity, seems relatively innocent and harmless: he indulges his private passion first in reading books and then--in a shift that might initially appear equally harmless--in reading his mysterious employer. But through Godwin's depiction of his latter act--of Caleb's reading, detecting, and writing of Falkland--we eventually discern that narration is an oppressive assertion of power and that the story- making of Caleb, Falkland, and Tyrrel does not so much reflect as create "things as they are."

In turning now to Poe's amateur investigator, Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin, we again confront the issue of the detective's storytelling and how it situates him in relation to the shadowy world he attempts to describe. Certainly the three stories involving Dupin . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.