English | Nineteenth-Century British Fiction
L348 | 13437 | Ivan Kreilkamp

Ivan Kreilkamp

13437 - 11:15a-12:30p TR (30 students) 3 cr.  A&H.

TOPIC:  “Suspense, Detection, Mystery”

Much of the best-known fiction of the Victorian period in Great
Britain operates within the mode of “realism” and focuses on the
representation of everyday middle-class life in a modernizing
industrial nation.   But if we cross over away from the sunny side
of the street, we can find a more shadowy fictional underworld in
this period, dedicated to the examination of criminal impulses,
disavowed desires, and frightening plot developments.  In these
tales populated by criminals, their victims, and the detectives who
track their movements, we see the literary techniques of realism
applied to material that is sensationalist, suspenseful, and
designed for addictive entertainment.  In this course we’ll track
the development of a historically new genre, that of the detective
novel or story, the British version of which was invented by Charles
Dickens and Wilkie Collins in the 1850s and developed by Arthur
Conan Doyle in his famous Sherlock Holmes stories at the end of the
century.  We’ll also consider so-called “sensation fiction,” with
its dark secrets, hidden motives, and fraudulent identities.  More
generally, we’ll work to develop a set of interpretive tools for
grappling with “suspense” and “mystery” as literary effects, with a
focus on questions of epistemology or knowledge: how does fiction
represent the known, the unknown, the mysterious, and the
unknowable?  Is “mystery” within fiction simply a lack of knowledge,
or a more positive form of cognitive uncertainty?  Other topics will
include urban geographies and the fascination with the
criminal “underworld;” crime and punishment as public spectacles;
interpretation as a form of detection, with the text as a puzzle;
the “clue” as a form of knowledge; sexuality, disguise, and

Possible texts will include: Thomas De Quincey, “On Murder,
Considered as one of the Fine Arts;” Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone
and “Who Killed Zebedee?”; Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s Lady Audley’s
Secret; William Thackeray, “Going to See a Man Hanged;” Elizabeth
Gaskell's "The Old Nurse's Story;" Sheridan Le Fanu’s Uncle Silas;
Charles Dickens, “The Detective Police” and “On Duty with Inspector
Field;” Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Strange Tale of Dr. Jekyll and
Mr. Hyde and “the Body-Snatcher”; Richard Marsh’s The Beetle; Arthur
Conan Doyle, Sherlock Holmes short stories and The Sign of the
Four.  We’ll also read critical/theoretical and historical essays on
detective fiction and mystery and Victorian crime (including Jack
the Ripper).

Course requirements will probably include two 6-8 page papers, a
midterm test and a take-home essay exam, as well as regular reading
quizzes, short response papers, and dedicated class participation.