The Reputation of English Classical Music in England and Europe

Essay, 2000

4 Pages, Grade: 2 (B)

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Defining Detective Fiction

3. Key Stages in the History of Detective Fiction
3.1 Origins of Detective Fiction
3.2 Development of Detective Fiction
3.3 Postmodern Detective Fiction

4. Comparing Detective Texts - The Purloined Letter by E. A. Poe and City of Glass by Paul Auster...
4.1 The Characteristics of the Detective
4.2 The Setting of the Detective Story and Ratiocination
4.3 The End of the Story

5. Conclusion

6. Limitations

Works Cited

1. Introduction

In the preface to his books on crime fiction Stephen Knight says, “No detective is needed to identify the vigorous life and remarkable diversity of crime fiction” (xi). This statement is certainly true. The pool of crime fiction literature, readers of the twenty-first century can choose from, is huge. Statistics show that, “In 2017, crime became the UK’s most popular adult fiction genre, outselling general and literary fiction for the first time” (Writers-online). To narrow this abundance of infor­mation down by a good chunk this paper only focuses of detective fiction, a sub-genre of crime fic­tion. More specifically, it takes a look at the works of two authors. One of these authors is Edgar Allan Poe who is often deemed the father of the detective genre, a claim that will be investigated later on in this paper. His influence on detective fiction can be traced throughout the centuries but is particularly strong in Paul Auster. Auster in turn epitomizes postmodern detective fiction, also called anti-detective fiction, which is a sub-genre of traditional detective fiction (see Peeples 145). He is the second author chosen here. The goal of this paper is to determine why postmodern detec­tive fiction is considered a sub-genre of traditional detective fiction, shining light on what sets it apart from the traditional detective fiction. Therefore, this paper will first define what detective fic­tion is. Then highlight the key stages of detective fiction, namely how it originated and developed over the past centuries up to postmodern detective fiction. And lastly, compare the two detective stories The Purloined Letter by Poe and City of Glass the first novel in Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy. This comparison explicitly takes look at how the detective himself is characterized, how the stories are set up, together with how ratiocination is used as the main tool throughout the inves­tigations, and finally how the mystery is resolved and both stories end.

2. Defining Detective Fiction

Important for this paper is to establish what crime fiction exactly is and what further distinctions have to be made for it to be considered detective fiction. Nusser states very clearly in his book Der Krimi­nalroman,

„Kriminalliteratur beschäftigt sich - wenn auch nur meist nur am Rande _ mit dem Verbrechen und mit der Strafe, die den Verbrecher ereilt. [...] [Sie stellt außerdem die] Anstrengungen [dar,] die zur Aufdeckung des Verbrechens und zur Überführung und Bestrafung des Täters notwendig sind. Erst die Fragen, wer diese Anstrengungen unternimmt und wie sie unternom­men und erzählt werden, führen dann zu weiteren Untergliederungen“ (1).

He then goes on to explain one of these sub-categories or genres, namely detective fiction. He says,

“Die tragenden inhaltlichen Elemente der Handlung des Detektivromans sind 1. Das rätselhafte Verbrechen (der Mord); 2. Die Fahndung nach dem Verbrecher (den Verbrechern), die Rekon­struktion des Tathergangs, die Klärung der Motive für die Tat; 3. Die Lösung des Falles und die Überführung des Täters (der Täter)“ (23).

The focus of the story lies on the second point. It makes up most of the novel and at the same time is the reason for the appeal of the detective genre. In most detective stories this second point, the hunt for the perpetrator, is again threefold. First, there is the action of the hunt itself, this means what the character does while trying to solve the case, the places he visits, the people he talks to, how something smells or what it is made of and many more (see Nusser 30). Second, there is the analysis, which is also the brainteaser for the audience. This part encompasses all the intellectual work of the detective, meaning how he works with the clues, which are the slightly abnormal things the detective discovers during the action, and what his train of though is when combining all of them. This act is also referred to as ratiocination (see Nusser 25-6, 30; Merriam Webster). Third is the mystery, which means that readers will not be able to tell from the start who the perpetrator is but keep guessing and invested in the story to find out in the end, mostly though a twist, what the solution to the crime is (see Nusser 31). Taking these points together one can say that the most successful detective stories combine a mystery which is, on one hand, easy enough for the reader to try some deduction himself or at least understand the ratiocination path of the detective, but on the other, hard enough so he cannot solve it much earlier than the detective in the story (see Nusser 84). These stories “[...] satisfy the people’s interest in the mysterious and unknown, especially when this involves a situation full of disorder that should be put back into order” (Al Umari 77). What further narrows down the genre is that “Notably absent [from the detective genre] in most cases are humor and romance” (Knight 87). Because even though some stories might be sprinkled with these elements they rarely contribute to the solution of the crime and are therefore at most mentioned to make the story more relatable to the reader.

3. Key Stages in the History of Detective Fiction

As already mentioned in the introduction, “Quantitativ übertrifft die Kriminalliteratur wahrscheinlich alle anderen Zweige der Literatur. Jedoch bleiben die Angaben über ihre Verbreitung wenig exakt und sind auch kaum überprüfbar“ (Nusser 7). There are sources though that agree on at least some facts about the origin and the dispersiveness of detective fiction in particular. Knight says that the words Detection, Death and Diversity describe the evolution of crime fiction quite well and this also applies to the following three chapters (see xv). First, the history of detection as a genre is specified, after that how detective fiction changed over time and why death became a main element of detective fiction, and lastly how it diversified up to a point where a sub-genre arouse, namely postmodern detective fiction.

3.1 Origins of Detective Fiction

Detective fiction can be traced all the way back to the antique and several hundred years B.C. as Sophocles already seemed to have a protagonist in his story Oedipus the King which uses ratiocina­tion to solve a mystery (see Al Umari 71). Since then the detective seems to have appeared in many more stories throughout the world. As Malti-Douglas explains, even medieval Arabs, the Chinese as well as the people from the West had detective figures who used the methods of ratiocination to solve a crime, [.] (see 91). They lead up to one of the most discussed sources when it comes to the origins of detective fiction which is the work Zadig, written by Voltaire. Malte-Douglas uses Messac's ideas here by stating that “[...] Voltaire's tale was clearly influenced by the story presented in The Thou­sand and One Nights as the story of <<The Sultan of al-Yaman and His Sons.>>” (86), one of the medieval Arab stories mentioned above. He took the element of ratiocination and let his main pro­tagonist, Zadig, use it to solve a mystery. The famous part goes as follows,

“[...] I perceiv'd upon the sand the Footsteps of an Animal, and I easily inferr'd that it must be a little one. The several small, tho' long Ridges of Land between the Footsteps of the Crea­ture, gave me just Grounds to imagine it was a Bitch whose Teats hung down; and for that Reason, I concluded she had but lately pupp'd” (Voltaire 10).

But there is a significant difference between these stories and what we consider detective fic­tion nowadays. What was missing back then is that they are centered around the act of ratiocination. As chapter two established already, there is a reason why the stories nowadays are called detective stories and not murder victim stories, or criminal stories (see Evans 2).

So, this paper established that the figure of a detective was indeed not a recent invention but can be traced back through many centuries. Nevertheless, as mentioned in the introduction, people tend to see Edgar Allan Poe as the father of detective fiction. This is because, as defined in chapter two, there is more to a detective story than just a detective as a protagonist. Poe, for the first time, creates something which is considered modern detective fiction. The focus of his story The Purloined Letter lies entirely on the detective and how he uses ratiocination to solve the mystery. So even though these ancient authors and their stories for sure had an influence on Poe's writing, as it is for example known that he must have read at least some tales of The Thousand and One Nights and most likely knew Zadig as well, it is his own work that shaped the genre of detective fiction and made it widely popular (see Malti-Douglas 86). One of the reasons why detective fiction was so well liked from then on is that “[...] crime novels provide suspense and a sense of adventure that will enable the reader to escape for a while from the anxieties of his everyday life, especially in our present world which is changing quickly and drastically” (Al Umari 77). Next to that Poe managed to invent a character to which people can relate. “Readers can project themselves into Dupin: the values he brings against the bizarre and varied threats of the stories are imaginative and intellectual, even passive - [as he mostly just sits in his room and reports how he solved the crime through the use of his intellect.] [...]” (Knight 27). It is reassuring to have a hero who can see clearly though the chaos of the world and is still just another, even socially awkward, person like a lot of readers back then and nowadays.

3.2 Development of Detective Fiction

After Poe published his detective stories the genre of detective fiction became so popular that a huge number of other writers published their own versions of detective stories. Soon there was a whole jungle of detective fiction for readers to navigate through. Knight states in his book Crime Fiction since 1800 that

“Poe's impact was felt much sooner in France than England - Baudelaire translated him, [the writer] Gaboriau and others raided his stories for ideas. [...] but in England, [...] it was not until Gaboriau's reworking of Poe's idea that Doyle's creation of the ultimate hero-de­tective was sparked off and his brilliance began to have its deserved effect” (29).

Knight goes on explaining that Gaboriau's story L’Affair Lerouge, written in 1866, was ba­sically Poe's idea but developed in novel length (see 48). He describes it saying, “The aura of genius combines with the actuality of simple explanation, giving the story both a surface complication and an actual simplicity, which the audience can admire and also understand. Doyle would come to imitate this” (28). Around the same time that this was happening “[...] death [and murder] becomes a central theme of crime fiction; [...]” (68). In Poe's stories there was never a malicious murderer responsible for the crimes committed. Other circumstances were responsible, like an animal or no murder occurred at all like in The Scarlett Letter. Already in Gaboriau's work though, the reader finds a murder victim. One of the reasons why death and murder might have become so popular in crime fiction during those times is that “For the greater part of human history, and prior to moder­nity, declarations of blame did not require the allocation of responsibility, as we understand it today” (Evans 65). Many crimes were not solved, the wrong people were blamed for them or they just were not important enough to be investigated at that time. But “Where History fails, criminal detection succeeds [...]” (73). Suddenly there is a hero who cares and who finds the perpetrator no matter how well executed the crime is. So naturally death and murder mysteries become more interesting for the detective as they are the most horrible of crimes. Now turning to Doyle, Knight says about the Sherlock Holmes series, which are probably the most famous detective stories around the world,

“[...] Doyle's creation is unquestionably an apotheosis [...] that had slowly emerged through the nineteenth century: a detective who is highly intelligent, essentially moral, somewhat elit­ist, all knowing, disciplinary in knowledge and skills, energetic, eccentric, yet also in touch with the ordinary people who populate the stories” (55).

He also says that, “Holmes combines features of many detectives [...]” (56), and that “The essential power of Sherlock Holmes is that his substantial disciplinary authority is in fact enacted in a publicly accessible way: the ultimate methods of solving a crime are usually as simple as any used by the mid-century detective foot-soldiers” (57). This ties in even more with people’s needs to have crimes, especially murder, solved in a reliable way which the authorities of that time just could not provide. Now, all that sounds still remarkably similar to Poe's Dupin. What is interesting is that Doyle seems to be very aware of this fact, too. However, he stands up for his character Holmes. He explicitly mentions Poe in his first Sherlock Holmes novel and writes, “[Watson says,]” You remind me of Edgar Allan Poe's Dupin. [...]” Sherlock Holmes rose and lit his pipe. “No doubt you think that you are complimenting me in comparing me to Dupin,“ he observed. “Now, in my opinion, Dupin was a very inferior fellow. [...]”” (18). This shows the influence Poe had on the genre as well as the need of Doyle to be seen not as just another author who adapted Poe's story but as someone who improved the persona of the detective as well as the genre in general. Lastly, there is to say about the develop­ment of detective fiction through the nineteenth and twentieth century that

“[...] here we can start to detect a central characteristic which marks of detective fiction of the world before 1970 with the decades that follow: before 1970 the circumstances which matter in detective fiction are generally those of the local and the particular. After 1970 de­tective fiction goes global [...]” (Evans 38).

3.3 Postmodern Detective Fiction

The time after 1970 is not only when detective fiction goes global, but also when detective fiction is widely diversified. “[...] Many detective writers use the classical tradition of detective and crime stories to explore new techniques for the genre as whole” (Al Umari 77). One of these adaptions of detective fiction is postmodern detective fiction.

As Evans writes in Detecting the Social a book about post 1970s detective fiction, “in this particular context of detective fiction post 1970 there are a number of specific changes” (40). She goes on to explain this and firstly states that “[...] it becomes evident that the ‘enclosed plot' is no longer of interest. [.] more generally, the location of the plot, the village or the streets where the evil deeds take place becomes an enlarged space. There is, quite simply, in fiction as in reality, a world outside the local” (40), and therefore “characters start to live in more widely and easily connected worlds” (38). On top of that the theme of death is far from being done with in the late twentieth and twenty- first century. If anything, the death, or murder which happens in these detective stories is even more violent and cruel and authors are not afraid to focus on that violence either (see 51). What remains exactly the same is the inability of official authorities to solve the crime and bring the perpetrators to justice which is why the detective is still needed. He brings to light everything and everyone who has been wronged especially when the social infrastructure fails to do so (see 41, 43).

Secondly, Evans also states that “Amongst the most powerful beliefs of much of the west in the twenty-first century is the view that mentally ‘healthy’ and stable people live in—or aspire to—stable relationships with other human beings. As detective fiction has been energetic in proposing, particularly since 1970, this is very much easier said than done” (48).


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The Reputation of English Classical Music in England and Europe
Dresden Technical University
2 (B)
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Reputation, English, Classical, Music, England, Europe
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Thomas Eichmann (Author), 2000, The Reputation of English Classical Music in England and Europe, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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