SHANKHA SHUBHRA DUTTA
DEPARTMENT OF COMPARATIVE LITERATURE
ZADIG AS A DETECTIVE FICTION
If history is to be believed, the 1748 novel by Voltaire established a new genre and style within the prevailing literary arena what we know today as the detective fictions. Taking as a sub-genre of crime or mystery fictions it is a style where an investigator or a detective investigates a crime. What we cherish today through Sherlock Holmes in western literary canons or Feluda or Byomkesh in vernaculars, its Zadig who is the god-father of this new essence and style of revolving mysteries and fictions that gives us an adrenaline rush just by going through pages of mere words.
Before Zadig there have been many stories from the old testament of Bible like “Susanna and the Elders” or the play of Oedipus by Sophocles that bear some similarities in their nature to what we today call as the detective fiction. Even we find the same in various Arabian or Chinese early novels and plays but what differs them from todays generalized structure of this genre is that in those cases those particular mysteries were not taken as a “case” and thus they had no actual desire to solve the case moreover they even lacked a central character who performs the whole feat of analysis. Voltaire first introduced these characters and styles that concentrate on asserting the truth through complex and mysterious process involving intuitive logic, acute observation and inference and mostly wrapped up under the attire of emotions and philosophies of human life, its deeds, judgments and destiny. These are often referred to by many writers as the “Tales of Ratiocination”.
Now we are always fond of these detective fictions because of their appeal that is formed by the possibilities of the subject. The charm of the unknown and the mysterious, the problem of setting of the powers of observation and reflection against a mystery and the knowledge that at the end of the story we are to have the solution. This simple formulation that is preset in the minds of the writers makes stories like Zadig or its followers like Poe or Sherlock Holmes interesting to us.
What is really striking about Zadig that makes it a new class are the deductive ability and the detective power of observation that makes it stand out from the other creations of its age. The extraordinary ability to detect the race, as we clearly see through the accurate depiction of the queen’s dog and the horse, without seeing them ever before breaks the normal path to be regarded as something new. The fiction cannot be regarded as a perfect detective story as there is no offence or crime; it’s just because of its style of tracing or detection that makes it one of the earliest exemptors of this highly popular genre of present. Voltaire being a writer of that time actually turned out to be a retro-futurist in his ideas and thinking. So though we can’t consider it to be a detective text but it’s certainly a great influence on the detective writings of the period that followed it.
Even if we have a close look through the various creations by Voltaire and try to understand the secondary meanings and philosophies that appears as a backdrop to the primary narrative we can clearly smell Voltaire’s passion for clarity, reason, contradiction, introspections that emphasizes his self-urge and attempt of creating a new culture or philosophy at that age. The 2-D’s (Deductive and Detective) style was also a new philosophy or angle of looking towards a broader view of life through a different focus of vision in which we are not adjusted. It’s just the method of simple logical reasoning that Voltaire used. Till then art and logic were always on separate tracks, it was then that the two tracks intermingled to form a new line in the movement of logical literature that makes you think while knowing and believing and that too at the same time.
Now when we...