“It’s elementary, my dear Watson!” This line stated by the famous fictional character Sherlock Holmes is known around the world. The beloved British detective, created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, is to many the true essence of classical detective fiction. However, the origin and source of classical detective fiction is located further back, earlier than the 1930’s of Sherlock Holmes, in a previous century. For all the truly educated literary readers of the world, classical detective fiction originated with the character Monsieur C. Auguste Dupin, introduced in the short story The Murders of the Rue Morgue by Edgar Allen Poe, in the early 1840’s. Monsieur Dupin embodied the “Bi-Part Soul...-the creative and resolvent.” (Muir 50 Course Reader. Fall 1999. P.50-51) A blending of imagination and pure intellect to form the analytical power that would become the classical model for future generations of detectives that would follow in his footsteps. Since the achievement of Dupin, writers have tried to immolate Poe’s fusion of intellectual and “creative” language, which is crucial for the making of classical detective fiction.
This, of course, leads to the obvious question, “what exactly are the ingredients or requirements for a classical detective?” To discover the answer to this question we must refer to passages in detective fiction stories and find the common themes of detective characterization. The stories that we will examine include The Murders in the Rue Morgue, and The Adventure of the Speckled Band. There is, however, another branch that developed from detective fiction called anti-detective fiction. Using texts taken from the stories Death and the Compass, and Settle Score, we will define anti-detective fiction.
To help differentiate some of the differences between detective fiction and anti-detective fiction we will also discuss The Doomed Detective by Stafano Tani. According to Tani in The Doomed Detective, the traditional classic detective fiction story developed during the nineteenth century and the anti-detective fiction story developed after World War II.
“We have seen that from the nineteenth century to World War II the detective novel developed in two parallel, sometimes interflowing currents: the Poesque (or British), which is rational, static, and intellectual, and the non-Poesque (hard-boiled American), which is nonintellectual, adventurous, and popular; and we have seen how the literary characteristics at the hands of authors of various nationalities and cultures (Borges, Robbe-Grillet, Nabokov, Gadda) as to stand out not only from the popular non-Poesque current but from its own nearer tradition, the Poesque intellectual detective novel as it had endured until World War II. It seems useful to call this kind of post-World War II literary detective novel ”the anti-detective novel” since its characteristics, although certainly more related to the Poesque tradition than to the hard-boiled one, deeply subverted the former and showed a great difference from the latter.” (Muir 50 Course Reader. Fall 1999. P.22)
What does this statement that Tani makes mean? One might think that it means that British writers are more intelligent and refined while American writers are basically less intelligent and more coarse. Classical detective fiction is only for the upper crust of intellectuals. One must have a certain I.Q. level to be able to comprehend its complex language and story. Hence, anti-detective fiction must be a “watered down” version with simple...
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