Comparative Literature | Detective, Mystery, Horror Literature
C217 | 1213 | Jamie Ferguson
MWF 12:20-1:10 SE 140
This course satisfies A&H requirement.
Topic: Homicidal Renaissance: The Modern Historical Detective Novel
In this course, we will be reading novels by recognized scholars who
have turned their historical and literary knowledge to a "popular"
genre: the detective novel. The title of this course takes a cue from
Desiderius Erasmus, one of the heroes of the sixteenth-century
Renaissance in historical and literary studies; Erasmus advised
teachers to provide students with texts that "have a certain point or
charm…so that while they are concentrating on something else, they
will learn material relevant to higher studies." All of the novels
chosen for this course are what are called good reads: most of them in
fact have been national if not international bestsellers. At the same
time, these novels bring highly specialized knowledge to bear on the
tried-and-true form of the whodunit.
Our main reading for the course will consist of the following novels:
Umberto Eco, The Name of the Rose; Lindsey Davis, The Silver Pigs;
Arturo Pérez-Reverte, The Club Dumas; Richard Zimler, The Last
Kabbalist of Lisbon; Mathew Pearl, The Dante Club; Iain Pears, The
Dream of Scipio.
Early in the course, we will gather some tools for thinking about the
mystery genre from theoretical writings by Raymond Chandler, Frank
Kermode, Dorothy Sayers, Jorge Luis Borges, Vladimir Nabokov, and
others. Throughout the course, we will look at selections from the
primary materials on which the novels are based. Our aim will be to
cycle back and forth between the specific concerns of the novels and
their historical and literary contexts. Topics for discussion will
include: Vespasian's Rome, early Christianity in the declining Roman
empire, medieval Italy and France (with forays into Scholastic
philosophy and Troubadour poetry), the Jewish "converso" community in
sixteenth-century Portugal and kabbalistic literature, seventeenth-
century France, the Nazi occupation of Paris, and modern European book
collecting. All works will be read in English; no special background
Requirements: several short book reviews, two 3-5 page papers, a
midterm and a final.