Thursday, February 20, 2014

"No Longer to be Considered As a Serious Type"

Let's face it: We love to read about criminals, both in real life and also especially in fiction. As early as 1900, the basic elements of detective fiction were so familiar as to be cliches:
A series of sketches which is now running in one of our magazines, and which will appear in book form in the autumn, deals with the criminal in his relations toward the police. The series is an interesting one, first of all, because it suggests the subject of the criminal in fiction and his evolution—an evolution which is very typical of all the types of fiction.
Not that the old-fashioned villain—sardonic, black-moustached—is no longer to be found in contemporary romance. Indeed, he is still a very important factor in the half-dime novel and the serials of the Fireside Companion and the Family Story Paper sort.
From time to time he changes his appearance, his station in life and his mode of dressing; but no matter in what form he shows himself, there is always the same black heart, diabolical though ultimately futile cunning, and insidious manner. Only his relegation to machine-made fiction has been so complete that he is no longer to be considered as a serious type.
The criminal of old-time fiction used poison or stiletto with perfect suavity; when he stooped to such commonplaces as forgery or bank burglarising it was considered a radical concession to realism on the part of the author. In the future, however, we may look to the novel and the short story for the romance in the life of the "second-story man," the "wire tapper," the "welcher," the "fence" and the exponent of the "gentlemen, find the little joker" game. — "Chronicle and Comment: The Criminal As Literary Copy," THE BOOKMAN (September 1900)
Category: Detective fiction

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