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Crime and the Development of Detective Fiction :: Crime, Scandal, Spectacle

Crime and the Development of Detective Fiction

The rise of detective fiction and the detective novel can be traced back to the extreme urbanization and industrialization that took place in London during the 19th century.  Along with these developments and rapid population growth came social change and its subsequent impact on the nature of popular culture.  People became increasingly fascinated with criminal behavior, the measurement of crime, and violent entertainments.  Before the 19th century, the problem of identification posed a serious threat to maintaining order in urban cities.  However, the emergence of scientific methods of detection as a means of solving crime ushered in popular detective fiction, a genre of literature meant to appeal to human reason while allowing readers to escape reality.  Through Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles and other secondary sources, I will analyze the role of the detective, specifically Sherlock Holmes, in this new genre.  Holmes is perhaps the most well known detective character, recognized for his vast knowledge and ability to solve crime.  He was not only a detective, but also a powerful intellectual and hero revered by all of society.  I believe that this topic is important because it represents the shift from society’s interest in the blood and gore of crime to its interest in the systematic methods of detection used to solve these crimes.  Does this shift signal a “civilizing” process in 19th century London, or is society still caught up in the spectacle of crime?

Readers should read the pages in the order that they are presented on the website.  I advise readers to take notice of the cause-and-effect relationship between urbanization and industrialization and the eventual development of detective fiction.  This relationship is best understood by first looking at the reasons behind society’s growing interest in crime.  This interest can be explained by the mere increase in criminal acts, new measurements of crime, and the publicity of crime.  Society reacted by becoming more interested in and concerned for human life, and detective fiction emerged as a literary genre devoted to exploring crime in-depth and discovering the methods and motives of criminals.  Readers should then note the use of science as a way to understand crime and the development of modern police forces around the same time.  Finally, it is crucial to examine the role of the detective in this new literary genre.  The character of Sherlock Holmes exemplifies the essential role that the detective played in literature and society in general.  I recommend that readers examine this cause-and-effect relationship through the lens of Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary work, The Hound of the Baskervilles, and recognize the methods he uses to create the mystery and the character of Sherlock Holmes.


By Leah Burton

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