Monday, December 2, 2013

"The Red Badge of Carnage"

A dedicated, rationalistic, and antitheistic Englishman satirically scores some points against the status quo—especially 19th century imperialism—using the new field of detective fiction as a convenient starting point. Excerpts:
MR. JOHN M. ROBERTSON writes disapprovingly of "the sanguinary school of fiction" which he thinks is being much too sedulously cultivated by British writers. Now, instead of the "problem novel," it is the "murder novel" which appears as a menace to society.
And this literature of homicide, we are to understand, is a peculiarly British product. Even America stands exonerated, as Mr. [Henry] James and Mr. [William Dean] Howells obstinately pursue the presentment of mere character and its reactions.
But in England the psychological novel "feels the competition of the sarcological, and is moved to adopt modern methods," while the short story "wears the red badge of carnage in two cases out of three."
Mr. Robertson is gently ironical throughout the article. He observes that the taste appealed to by the sanguinary school is eminently virtuous . . . .
Robertson also strikes a note of mild condescension towards women mystery authors:
"To be sure, a difficulty might be raised about the possible effects of the murder novel upon the statistics of crime.
"If it be true that the penny dreadful, with its highwaymen heroes, propels untutored youth to burglary, it seems arguable that the constant reading of tales of honorable murder, written by gentlemen for gentlemen and ladies, might tend to encourage the practise in real life, where it must often seem so convenient, and where its propriety must often be perfectly clear, as tried by the generous standards of the sanguinary school, so notoriously scrupulous about morals.
"But thousands of estimable people will be ready to testify that such apprehensions are 'morbid' and 'sentimental'; so that we seem entitled to be of good cheer over our literary condition.
"At the close of the nineteenth century, unemasculated by peace and the Peace Society, unsophisticated by Socialism, untainted by utilitarian ethics and French models, our great reading public draws a Spartan moral stimulus from the healthy novel of homicide; and the weaker sex, too long a prey to mere psychology and the lore of the affections, has learned to share the masculine interest in the effective use of the knife and pistol, whether in public or in private quarrel." — Unsigned, "Homicide in Fiction," THE LITERARY DIGEST (April 1, 1899)
John M. Robertson, the political radical's political radical, has an entire Wikipedia article devoted to his career in politics and his anti-religious opinions.

As an example of women sharing "the masculine interest in the effective use of the knife and pistol," see, for instance, Allan Griffith's VINTAGE POP FICTIONS (July 7, 2012) review of TWELVE WOMEN DETECTIVE STORIES.

Category: Detective fiction

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