Victims or Villains: Jewish Images in Classic English Detective Fiction

By Malcolm J. Turnbull | Go to book overview

Conclusion

At the outset of Victims or Villains, I indicated that my aim was to examine in some detail the incidence and extent of anti‐ semitic characterisations, remarks or references in English detective fiction, specifically, although not exclusively, during the Golden Age. My survey proceeded from the assumption that the treatment of Jews in crime and detective fiction might provide us with accurate insights into the real-life perceptions and attitudes of the reading public of two or three generations ago. Interpreting the evidence has been complicated by the fact that historians are in disagreement as to the true significance and profundity of British antisemitism during the first half of this century. One school of thought has argued that organised Jew‐ hatred was confined to the "lunatic fringe," generally marginal to British society as a whole, and usually temporal in nature (i.e. linked to specific factors such as refugee immigration in the 1930s, and relatively transient). Another school suggests that twentieth-century Judeophobia was and is far more widespread, part of a long-standing and deep-seated English tradition. By logical extension, deductions about the significance/profundity of antisemitic generalisations in the detective story must take into account whether such statements are superficial, the echo (more often than not) of ignorance or insensitivity, or the literary manifestation of a much more malignant and pathological world view.

Utilising multiple examples culled from the literature, my study has examined the treatment of Jews in British crime and detective writing, from the form's beginnings (with Conan Doyle) to the post-1945 period, paying particular attention to the work of the 1920s and 1930s. In what I have referred to as the "Prelude" to the Classic era (bounded by the advent of Sherlock Holmes and the end of the Great War), the founding fathers and mothers of the genre formulated the fundamental features of the standard whodunit, such requisites as the omniscient investigator

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