From Sherlock Holmes to John Rebus: The British Detective

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Despite, or rather because of, its immense popularity, detective fiction often does not get as much critical attention as other genres of fiction. In this proseminar I will try to tackle this problem and prove that the genre in fact offers a lot for students of Literary and Cultural Studies. In terms of narratology, detective fiction is one of the most interesting genres because its huge success seems to rest on an unspoken cooperation between narrator and reader: we assume that there will be a fair trail of clues and the reader himself takes a detective's role in trying to solve the puzzle alongside the fictional detective. We do not mind being misled at first, but we certainly assume that in the end order will be restored and crime and criminal will be punished. Whether this order is always being observed, remains to be seen. Great Britain undoubtedly has one of the richest traditions of fictional detectives, not only because of Arthur Conan Doyle's larger-than-life creation Sherlock Holmes, but with characters like Miss Marple, Inspector Morse or Ian Rankin's DI John Rebus as well. Studying the development of the British detective can thus help us understand changing notions about national character or divergent attitudes towards law and order. In short, this fascinating genre helps us to understand culture from different angles.

Please note that, since we need a considerable corpus of detective fiction to become immersed in the topic, this is a reading-intensive seminar. However, most texts are "easy reads" and very entertaining. Among others, we will study texts by Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Ian Rankin, Alan Bradley and Mark Haddon. The seminar will also include a number of film screenings, mondays at 6 p.m. You do not have to attend the film screenings, but you need to watch the films in advance of our seminar discussion.

Course requirements will be discussed in the first session. A Reader will be made available by the start of the semester.