Wednesday, February 7, 2018

"Crime Must Touch Our Imagination by Showing People, Like Ourselves, but Incredibly Transformed by Some Overwhelming Motive"

"Why Human Beings Are Interested in Crime."
By Anna Katharine Green (Mrs. Charles Rohlfs, 1846-1935).
First appearance: The Strand Magazine, April 1919.
Article (4 pages).
Online at (HERE).

"This Author has written detective stories which have sold by the million. When it comes to judging what interests people she is an expert."
At the age of seventy-two and with four decades of mystery writing under her belt, Anna Katharine Green's thoughts on crime fiction would be worth consideration. Here's an article by her that was published roughly a year before Agatha Christie's first book hit the press.

A few excerpts:
  Over the years, S. S. Van Dine and many other detective fiction authors have echoed Green about the primacy of murder in detective fiction:

   "Murder is the most interesting crime in the whole category . . . There is complete finality about such a crime. And as the motive must be corres-pondingly overwhelming it is, therefore, of the most vital interest."

  What she means by the next sentence becomes clear in the article:

  "Crime is contrary to Nature. And Nature often seems bent on punishing it."

  It's plain that Green isn't enamored of ingenious "gimmicks" (what she terms "arbitrary helps") to tell the story, which would pretty much relegate John Dickson Carr and Co. to oblivion:

  "In writing detective stories, the less one resorts to arbitrary helps in the mystery, the better."

  To her, motivation is the principal element in crime fiction:

  ". . . motives do not change! Character remains the same—built of the eternal qualities of good and evil."

- Of course there's an article about Anna Katharine Green on Wikipedia (HERE) and one on the GAD Wiki (HERE), and of course Project Gutenberg has many of her books (thirty-eight, in fact) starting (HERE).
- It has been well over three years since we last discussed our author; previous ONTOS postings are (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), (HERE), and (HERE).

The bottom line: "Do we have to do murder? Sure we have to do murder. There are only 
two subjects—a woman's chastity, and murder. Nobody's interested in chastity any more. 
Murder's all we got to write stories about."
   ― Leslie Ford


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