Thursday, April 13, 2017

"Mystery and Detective Fiction Sprang from the Startling Changes That Occurred During a Vibrant, Tumultuous and Exciting Era of History—the Victorian Period"

"Why Mystery and Detective Fiction Was a Natural Outgrowth of the Victorian Period."
By Sharon J. Kobritz.
Thesis, 49 pages (38 text pages), 2002.
Online (HERE) (PDF).
(Note: No spoilers that we can find.)
"It will be argued in this thesis that detective and mystery fiction is a natural outgrowth of the Victorian period. To a great extent the Victorians were a self-satisfied lot, happy with their world and their place in it. Their mythos was that England was the best place to live and that they were living in the best possible time."
IT'S BEEN SAID that more than one inhabitant of the British Isles has entertained the notion that God is an Englishman; something akin to that idea, but not quite as grandiose, must have motivated Cecil Rhodes when he (reputedly) declared: "Remember that you are an Englishman, and have consequently won first prize in the lottery of life." No doubt Rhodes would have rewarded British detective fiction authors first prize for bringing their literary genre as close to perfection as they did, one that even at this late date attracts universal interest. Our Thesis Thursday author, however, wouldn't single out any particular group for praise; instead she feels that, given the culture which the Victorians evolved, mystery and detective fiction as we've come to know them were inevitable . . .

     "This project will argue that mystery and detective fiction flourished because of the changes in popular culture; that the sweeping changes in education, medicine, literature, religion and business solidified the popularity of this genre. Along with this genre of fiction came a new way of publishing and reading. One mystery and detective fiction writer will be examined: Wilkie Collins, credited with writing one of the first mystery and detective novels and known as one of the fathers of the modern detective novel."
  Chapter 1: Victorian Culture:
     ". . . Such was the cultural environment of the Victorian period, an environment that helped shape the literary world. This environment was particularly nineteenth century and could not have emerged prior to that time. There was a natural evolution resulting from the assumption of the throne by Queen Victoria and her tastes and ethics defining the period. The British people were haunted by fear of a revolution similar to what had taken place in France; had to face a loss of faith, had to experience the great waves of rural people flooding the cities, had to develop new technology, had to slowly come to the realization that class and working conditions had to change, had to realize that education in all areas was the path to the future, and had to be brave enough to confront uncertainties and be willing to take courageous steps to embrace the future."
  Chapter 2: Victorian Literature:
     "An important characteristic of English Victorian detective fiction was its place between popular and high culture. Many were dismissive of detective fiction because it appealed to popular tastes. Critics thought it did not encourage intellectual stimulation, but, rather, encouraged a lurid interest in the sensational. While part of its popularity rested on just that theory, it can be argued that detective fiction was intellectually stimulating to the Victorians and wildly popular. Victorians took mystery and detective fiction very seriously and spent a great deal of time analyzing and critiquing the stories. This is an example of intellectual stimulation combined with leisure time, which gave the Victorians a sense of satisfaction because it was an efficient use of time. The fact that Victorians spent a great deal of time following criminal trials and solving the crimes along with the police exhibited a wholesome, intellectual avocation that was a major element of their leisure time. It was harmless. It could involve the entire family. It was, regardless of what the critics said, intellectually stimulating. And being a devotee of detective fiction meant that people were reading, one of the major outcomes of the social reformation of the Victorian period."
  Chapter 3: Mystery and Detective Fiction As a Natural Outgrowth of the Victorian Period:
     "He [Wilkie Collins] was a prolific writer in an era when printing presses and inexpensive paper and ink revolutionized the publishing industry. He wrote for the penny dreadfuls, establishing himself as a writer of lurid imagination with a highly creative pen. He graduated to writing sensation novels when they were the Victorian rage. From there, it was a simple step up to mystery and detective novels, novels that paved the way for others. The Woman in White and The Moonstone were long, complex novels incorporating many of the Victorian cultural standards previously discussed."
  Works Cited (2 pages)
  Works Consulted (4 pages)
  Biography of the Author (1 page)

Typo: "J. I. M. Steward"
- Crime Culture has an introduction to Victorian detective fiction (HERE).
- For even more background on this era's detective fiction, go to A Companion to Crime Fiction (2010) online (HERE, PDF); see especially Chapters 1—7, 19, and 28—31. Also 
consult Howard Haycraft's Murder for Pleasure (1941), Chapters I—IV (HERE).
- The British Library has a series of articles on 19th century "Crime and Crime Fiction" (HERE).
- Listopia has 134 mystery titles set in the Victorian era beginning (HERE).
- If you're at all interested in "Leather Apron," then the Casebook: Jack the Ripper website (HERE) is for you.
- We've already dealt with The Woman in White and The Moonstone (HERE) several years ago.

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