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The Musgrave Ritual meets The Keepers of the House

By Vegard-Voll Apr 19, 2015 2814 Words

Part A: Close reading and analysis3
Sherlock meets Abigail3
Works cited6
Part B: Literary criticism7
Literary criticism7
Works cited8
Part C: Form and genre 
Crossing fictional borders9
Works Cited11

Part A: Close reading and analysis

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle authored some of the earliest detective fiction, and we still recognize the formula he and Poe presented in the development of the genre. Use the background you have been given in the genre to consider how Shirley Ann Grau’s The Keepers of the House might be classified as detective fiction. Use this question to craft an essay which considers how both “The Musgrave Ritual” and The Keepers of the House fit—or do not fit—within the genre. What characteristics of the genre do we find that they share in common? What aspects of the genre do we find in The Keepers of the House, and how do those traits contribute to the development and impact of the story? You will want to be certain to provide examples and specifics to support your discussion. Your essay should be roughly 1000 words. 

Sherlock meets Abigail
The author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, wrote some of the earliest detective fiction and his formula of narrative is still recognised today. This formula has aspects that appear not only in detective novels, but also in other types of fiction. Sir A. C. Doyle is famous for his remarkable mystery-solving character Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr Watson. In one of his classical short stories, The Musgrave Ritual, we find several familiar aspects to the detective fiction formula. In the Southern Gothic novel, Keepers Of the House by Shirley Ann Grau, we get introduced to a complicated story of a family from the south of the United States. This novel is different from the mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, still the novel has common aspects to the formula associated with Sir A. C. Doyle.

Musgrave Ritual is one of many stories about the famous character Sherlock Holmes. The readers already know about him and his incredible skill set from earlier publications. They expect, even before opening the book, that they will read about some kind of mystery that in the end Holmes will solve. This knowledge and the expectations of the audience give the author new opportunities to explore other aspects than those in the detective fiction formula. In Musgrave Ritual Sir A. C. Doyle shows the audience a different approach. Most often detective fiction starts with presenting a crime, followed by the crime being solved by our hero investigator. The process is different in the The Musgrave Ritual. The story begins with Dr. Watson giving us a short introduction of Holmes and their flat. Holmes discovers an old case of his and starts telling Watson about the events that occurred, also know as “the exposition”. Even though Watson being the main voice of the story and Holmes becomes the voice and concludes the mystery to Watson at the end – this is a “frame story”. Normally when using the formula we follow our mystery solver from start to finish in real time, the readers discovering clues and solutions at same time as the main character. In this novel, on the other hand, we know that the mystery is solved and Holmes is telling us how he did it.

Though this novel deviates some from the classical detective fiction mentioned in the introduction, we find more similarities than differences. (Robbins-Sponaas, 2014) The “complication” or “rising action” starts when Holmes’ friend, Reginald Musgrave, visits him and tells his story. “The climax” is reached when Holmes fully understand the piece of paper, known as the Musgrave ritual, and finds the butler dead in the hidden chamber. “The falling action” or “resolution” is meant to tie up all ends of the mystery and leave the reader satisfied. Even though we do not know for sure what happened to the butler’s accomplice, the maid, we as readers are satisfied with the ending. (Robbins-Sponaas, 2014) In Keepers Of the House, which is categorised as Southern Gothic, the opening sequence starts in medias res with the voice of Abigail. Some information is shared to the audience, leaving the reader wondering what has happened and why. This is somewhat of a mystery beginning or an exposition, similar to the detective fiction formula. Unlike the classical detective novels, the audience does not have the same expectations as when a detective is investigating a mystery. The predictability lies in the fact that we will return to the start after reading about the earlier events leading up to the opening of the novel.

When we talk about the stages in detective fiction, it is common to most fiction. In all fiction we get introduced to a conflict of some sort, and this conflict reaches a climax and a resolution in the end – just the same as in classical detective fiction. Keepers Of the House is no exception. The chapters between the first chapter and the epilogue teach us about the background and reasons why, similar to the complication or rising action in the detective formula. The author also shows us who is worthy of sympathy and who is not in this part of the story. In my opinion the climax of the novel can be when the story breaks in the newspapers or when the townsmen set fire to the barn. When Abigail experiences her revenge at the end, the audience get their wishes fulfilled when their heroine gets her justice. Both stories are clear in their portrayal of the society the story springs out from. Robbins-Sponaas elaborates: “Detective fiction, however, not only presents the society of its setting, but the concerns, fears, anxieties, and problems within a society. However, detective fiction must also must portray a resolution that can reassure the reader that all is right--relatively speaking--with his world. In other words, detective fiction is a way for society to verbalize its fears and concerns, and then resolve those concerns so that the reader can be reassured that society can indeed work the way it should. Justice wins in one form or another, the criminal is captured or at least identified, and life goes on, so to speak” (2014)

Both The Musgrave Ritual and Keepers Of the House share common aspects with the detective genre. As Rhonna Robbins-Sponaas (2014) mentions in her Lesson 2 Arthur Conan Doyle, these aspects of narrative is found in almost all fiction. In The Musgrave Ritual we follow the famous Sherlock Holmes in his mystery solving. Though we are dealing with a “frame story” the similarities to the detective genre is imperative. The Southern Gothic novel, Keepers Of the House, is not close to a classical detective novel in content. Even though the detective is missing and the crime or murder is not presented to us in the traditional way, several traits from the detective storytelling is found in this historical drama. These aspects help in developing the story forward. The audience is led towards a climax, and meet the need of a satisfying end of it all. The reader experiences that justice is done, and everything is all right with the world.

Works cited

Grau, Shirley Ann.  The Keepers of the House.  Vintage Books USA, 2003.  Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan:  “The Musgrave Ritual”
Robbins-Sponaas, Rhonna .Lessons 2 Arthur Conan Doyle. ENG6012 Literature I course website. NTNU: Dragvoll, Spring 2014. Web.

Part B: Literary criticism

For this part of the exam, you will write a short essay of roughly 500 words drawing on your introduction to literary criticism. Stop and consider the four different critical essays you read in connection to Wuthering Heights. Now consider Wharton’s “Souls Belated.” Which of the four critical approaches you read in connection with Wuthering Heights would you think would be most useful for an analysis of the short story? Why? Your answer should be a brief discussion of what you believe would be the salient points for such an examination, and why that particular approach would work best for this particular short story. 
 Literary criticism

In analysing literature there are several critical approaches to choose from. Finding out which approach is most useful is no easy task, and it is not rare that more than one approach makes sense. In the short story Souls Belated, written by Edith Wharton, the reader meets two lovers. The woman is in the middle of a divorce at the same time as she meets her new love. This story is written in a time and a society where divorce was something not to be associated with. In my opinion, the most useful critical approach to use in analysing this specific story is the feminist one. Souls Belated is a vivid description on how social norms and expectations force men and women to act in a certain way. Lydia, whom is the main character, thinks and acts like a free spirit. She wants to get out of the shackles put on her from the society surrounding her. This portray of a strong woman making her own choices, despite the expectations around her, is typical for a feminist thematic. Rhonna Robbins-Sponaas (2014) tells us that the sole purpose of “literary theory is a way for a reader to understand and therefore gain meaning from a text”. By using a set of glasses like this the analysis and interpretation become more clearly and with a certain edge. When Lydia and Gannet talk about their future and possible marriage Gannet admits that he feels obligated, as a gentleman, to marry her. Lydia reacts with disbelief, explaining what she thinks of the beliefs and prejudices that “force” a man and woman into marriage. This signifies Wharton’s focus on the gender roles in this period of time, and what was expected from a man and a woman. Gender issues are often a topic when using the feminist approach. (Brizee & Tompkins, 2014) “While biology determines our sex (male or female), culture determines our gender (masculine or feminine)” (Brizee & Tompkins, 2014)) Another aspect, which supports the use of the feminist approach, is the identity crisis that Lydia suffers from. She is pulled in all shorts of directions, her inner feeling versus the demands and thoughts from the people around her. The author invites the reader inside of Lydia’s mind and we as readers join her in search of what is right for her. Wharton’s Souls Belated portrays a woman’s struggle between her own inner feelings and wants on the one hand and the demands and expectations from the people around her on the other. By using the feminist approach to this short story, investigating Lydia’s inner and outer struggle, we will discover useful and valid founds in our analysis. There is no exact science to what the correct answer is when it comes to literature. “What lens we choose to use--what theory, in other words--very much depends upon who we are as individuals, and our own perception of the world at large” (Robbins-Sponaas, 2014)

Works cited

Wharton, Edith. “Souls Belated”, (n.d.) Web. 29 May 2014 <>. Robbins-Sponaas, Rhonna. Lessons 8 Literary criticisms. ENG6012 Literature I course website. NTNU: Dragvoll, Spring 2014. Web. Allen Brizee, J. Case Tompkins (2014, June 2) Feminist Criticism (1960s-present) Retrived from:

Part C: Form and genre 

Consider the Ehrlich excerpt in terms of nature writing versus personal essay. Does this example of creative nonfiction cross both borders? If so, how, and how does that crossing affect the resulting text? Does one definition fit more neatly than the other? Why or why not, and if so, in what way? You will want to identify the traits of the two genres and how we see or do not see those traits in the Ehrlich text. Be sure to support your response with specific details. This essay should be roughly 800 words long. Crossing fictional borders

When analysing non-fiction we often see aspects of different subgenres within the same text. Non-fiction uses many of the same narrative traits as fiction. The difference is that non-fiction is based on true experiences and observations. Creative non-fiction is non-fiction that does more than just delivers information to the reader. It is not a report or a power point presentation about a topic. It uses the same writing techniques found in fiction. “A nature essay, for instance, may make use of alliteration or strong imagery…A personal essay or biography could easily take advantage of techniques associated with character development in fiction” (Robbins-Sponaas, 2014, 9a) If the expectations of the text being realistic and true is not met, the text struggle with being categorised as non-fiction. (Robbins-Sponaas, 2014, 9a) If we look at an excerpt from Gretel Ehrlich’s book, The Solace Of Open Spaces, we find aspects from several subgenres in non-fiction. In this specific excerpt we find a mix of nature writing, personal essay, writing about place and memoir. If we focus on the two genres: nature writing and personal essay, we will discover that Ehrlich uses both techniques in a interesting way, creating an “unique balance”. (Robbins-Sponaas, 2014, 9b)

The opening line to the book is: “It's May and I've just awakened from a nap, curled against sagebrush the way my dog taught me to sleep--sheltered from wind” (Ehrlich) It is not a traditional starting point of a story, Ehrlich starts in medias res, and we meet her in the middle of the action. By telling us that “I’ve” woken up from a nap she has already written herself into the novel. She starts her observation being true to the nature genre. After getting familiar with Wyoming she adds more thoughts and associations to her observations making them overlap to a more personal view. This first chapter of the book describes the nature and landscape in detail, but also the towns and ranches that is Wyoming. This descriptive technique is essential to nature writing. The people or more specific the cowboys are described as well, from their appearance to their human qualities. Here Ehrlich is crossing going back and forth from nature writing to personal essay.

“At twenty, thirty, and forty degrees below zero, not only does your car not work, but neither do your mind and body. The landscape hardens into a dungeon of space. During the winter, while I was riding to find a new calf, my jeans froze to the saddle and in the silence that such cold creates I felt like the first person on earth, or the last” (Ehrlich) In this quotation she goes from being the eye or the observer to telling us about her jeans that froze to the saddle – making the reader feel the cold, and making it believable. This is another point of what feelings this two genres combined create among the readers. Ehrlich has not simply said that the weather is cold, she has “shown” us that is cold. (Robbins-Sponaas, 2014, 9b)

“We move from talking about the vastness and harshness of the landscape to discussing the people who dwell within it; our details are no longer large and semi-objective, but very human, and very personal” (Robbins-Sponaas, 2014, 9b) Ehrlich goes from being the eye and writing about her observations to the more personal approach sharing to the reader her feelings and interpretations. Personal essay is based on intimacy, interpretation and the author’s own feelings, while nature writing is based on observation. It is the “I” versus the “eye”. (Robbins-Sponaas, 2014, 9a) She creates this interesting balance with observing the places, nature and people in a denotative matter on the one hand and telling us how she experiences it on the other. This dynamic is what creates this holistic picture of Wyoming’s men and its nature.

She shifts between being objective and subjective throughout the excerpt, changing between the “I” and the “eye”. “Shifting in this way from the scenery and surrounding natural world to people does not simply create variety; it connects landscape and people” (Robbins-Sponaas, 2014, 9b) She paints a clear picture of the nature and landscape and at the same time makes us feel it. Ehrlich gives us a clear example of how non-fiction may contain more than one genre, and how it makes the story come alive. In my opinion the personal essay genre is more dominant than the nature-writing genre. Works Cited

Robbins-Sponaas, Rhonna .Lessons 9a An Introduction to creative non-fiction. ENG6012 Literature I course website. NTNU: Dragvoll, Spring 2014. Web.

Robbins-Sponaas, Rhonna .Lessons 9b Considering Ehrlich. ENG6012 Literature I course website. NTNU: Dragvoll, Spring 2014. Web.

Ehrlich, Gretel. Excerpt from The Solace of Open Spaces (n.d.) Web. 29 May 2014 <>

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