University of Notre Dame

Crime and Detection in British and American Fiction

Course Number: 13186-6
Instructor: Susan Harris

In this course we will look at the development of crime fiction as a genre from its nineteenth-century origins in Victorian sensationalist fiction to the latest developments of it in twenty-first- century American fiction. We will focus on the development of the two figures around which crime fiction revolves: the criminal and the detective. Discussions and written assignments will investigate questions about what these figures do for the cultures that create them. Why did Victorians love Sherlock Holmes—and why do we still love him now? Why, after the bloodbath of the First World War, did England become obsessed with the clue-puzzle murder mystery? Where did the police procedural come from, and why are we still fascinated by it? What explains the explosion of interest in serial killers in American popular culture at the end of the twentieth century? What do the fantasies and nightmares about the ‘criminal’ that we see in crime fiction tell us about the societies that produce and consume it? How are ideas about crime and criminality linked to beliefs about death, the supernatural, justice, and morality—as well as issues involving gender, race, sexuality, and class? How do all of those concerns affect the way crime fiction evolves as a literary form? Where do we find elements of this form in contemporary literary fiction? Authors will include but are not necessarily limited to Wilkie Collins, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Dorothy L. Sayers, Raymond Chandler, P.D. James, and Patricia Cornwell. Students will write three papers and will be responsible for one major presentation.

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