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Whodunit and Other Questions: Metaphysical Detective Stories in Post-War Fiction Author(s): Michael Holquist Source: New

Whodunit and Other Questions: Metaphysical Detective Stories in Post-War Fiction Author(s): Michael Holquist Source: New Literary History, Vol. 3, No. 1, Modernism and Postmodernism: Inquiries, Reflections, and Speculations (Autumn, 1971), pp. 135-156

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WhodunitandOther Questions:

Metaphysical DetectiveStoriesin Post-WarFiction

Michael Holquist

I

HIs paper seeksto make two points: first,what the structural

and philosophicalpresuppositions of myth and depth psychol-

ogy detective story is to

etc.); secondly, ifsuch is the case, we will

ship betweentwo levels of culture, kitschand the avant-garde, often

thought to be mutually exclusive.

were to Modernism

(Mann, Joyce, Woolfe, etc.),

the

Post-Modernism (Robbe-Grillet,Borges,Nabokov,

have establisheda relation-

II

Popular cultureis a skeletonin our academic closets. And like other

disturbingtopics

a polarity.

One and thesamecivilization producessimultaneously twosuchdifferent

things as a poemby T. S. Eliotand a Tin Pan Alleysong, or a paintingby

Braque and a SaturdayEvening

poem by

enableus to relatethemin an enlightening relationto each other?"1

it generates discoursewhichseems inevitably to end in

Greenberg statesthe dilemma veryclearly:

Post

a poem by Eliot and a

perspective of cultureis large enough to

Clement

Eddie Guest-what

Greenberg's uneasinessis shared by the majority of criticswho have

addressed

the problem at all.2 He and many othersfind disturbing

I "Avant-Garde and Kitsch," in Mass Culture: The

A brilliant (and occasionallyhysterical) case in point

Phantom World of TV,"

also

in Mass

Taste (London, 1969);

(Miinchen, 1962);

Hersteller (K61n und Opladen, 2-e Auflage,

essays:

Gerhard

Schmidt-Henkel, Horst

1964),

and Norman Jacobs, ed.,

Popular Arts in America,

would be GuntherAnders'

Culture, pp. 358-367.

Anthology of Bad

ed. Bernard Rosenberg and David Manning White, (Glencoe, Ill., 1958), p. 98.

2

essay, "The

Further evidence may be found in Gillo Dorfles' Kitsch, an

Karlheinz Deschner, Kitsch, Konvention und Kunst

Walter Nutz, Der Trivialroman: seine Formen und seine

1966); and two rich collections of

Enders, et al, eds. Trivialliteratur (Berlin,

Culture for the Millions: Mass Media in Modern

Society (Boston, 1964).

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136

NEW LITERARY HISTORY

what appears to be an absolute cut offbetweentheirown traditions

and responses,

glued

and the sit-com, the museumand the dime-storeseemsimmeasurable.

And it no doubt is if seen as so

chronic relationship. But the culturalhistorian perceives

a different,

more dynamic and ultimately a more hopeful

popular and high

been and

poles. In order for our argument to

advance new definitionsfortermswe are

using, history. Rather we shall appeal to the cliches which have

around each. Kitsch and the

relationship to the main stream traditionof

perhaps most economically defined by the curriculaof our universities.

A collegecatalogue

In the area of literaturethumb-nail descriptions of culture may be

begin and the Bible. These models are to

college graduates traditionis to the savage. Not included in such listswill be works

defined by thosewho

or beyond it (avant-garde).

origin, a point

Both phenomena are of relatively recent

and those of the millionswho sit beer can in hand,

thisview thedistancebetween Sophocles

manysociologistsdo,

as a static syn-

connectionbetween

to thetelevisionset. In

culture. Viewed historically it is clear thattherehas

continuesto be a dialectical apposition between the two

proceed it is not necessary to

each of which has a

grownup

avant-garde are both in a problematic

high culture, which is

is a kindof telephone book forthe city of

culture.

the firstsemesterwith Homer what the oral

found in all thosecourseswhich

compile

themas being below thecanon (kitsch)

whichhas been made forkitsch by Gillo Dorfles3and

exceedinglycomplex question. But

springs not from

culture. At the same time it

represents a new As has so oftenbeen pointed out, newly

rapid and widespread

transmissionof ideas

forthe

forthe avant garde by Renato Poggioli.4

have not developed earlieris an

certainly mass industrialization might be adduced as a cause in both

artistsor craftsmen, but from the

increasinglysophisticatedtechnologyrepresents new

possibilities for mass

threatto the avant-garde.

machine. Our

cases. Kitsch

Why both tendenciesshould

developed means

have relentlessly closed the distance between what is known to the

3 in everyage

In ages otherthan our own, particularly in antiquity, art had a completely different

function compared to modern times; it was connected with religious, ethical or

political subject

beforeour own, therewas no such

thing

as

kitsch

matter, which made it in a

way 'absolute,' unchanging, eternal

Dorfles, op. cit., pp. 9-1o.

(always of course within a

given cultural milieu)."

P.

and concerns, such as those cited by Dorfles,

of the 17th,beginning of the I8th

"The Modern and the Arts

4 it is

quarter Theory of the Avant-Garde, tr. Gerald Fitzgerald (New

art reach no furtherback in time than the last

O. Kristeller argues that the interdependence

System

of art and other human activities

broke down somewhere at the end

century, in his magisterialsurvey of the problem:

Papers on Humanism

concept of avant-garde

of the Arts." Renaissance Studies II:

(New York, 1965), pp. 163-227.

by

now an undoubted fact that the termand

of the past century." The

York, 1971),

p. 13.

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WHODUNIT

AND OTHER QUESTIONS

I37

to theman in thestreet. Today's experiment becomes

cognoscenti and

tomorrow'shabit:

be foundin motelroomsall acrossthe country. The more uniformmass culture becomes, the more violently the

avant-garde strainsafter idiosyncrasy,creating a situationin whichthe

truthof an old dichotomy becomes daily more apparent:

cult, kitschis easy. The difficulty of experimental art in

hundred years hardly needs demonstrating.

massculturethat everythingis, or should

quickly accessible,

appropriate art by robbing it of the demonic, not just

Even if you assume

thatartis therapeutic,you mustfirst experience the pity and terrorof

a

in its

urge

reception. It gives not pain, but bromides, not deep questions, but easy

answers. It opposes to Hamlet's dilemna the advice of the gum

huckster: "Chew your littletroubles away." GuntherAndershas suggested thatthebest metaphor forkitsch may be modem travel:

travelling because of any

interestin the

Walter Benjamin has

Reproductions of Jackson

Pollock paintings are to

art is diffi- the last one

But

the assumption of

be, understandable,easily and

bears some furtherreflection. Kitsch seems to

argued,5 but its dangers.

its "aura" as

the catharsisit may then provide. Such

operates against

tragedy before winning

unsettling emotionsare precisely what kitsch

to avoid all

difficulties, whether of perception,execution, or

For modernman does not attachvalue to his

regions he visits,actually or

as

A

vicariously; he does nottravel

hunger for omnipresence and for

a well-known airline,

to become experienced but to stillhis

rapid change

utterlyconfusingprovincialism and globalism,appeals

withthesewords: "When

home."6

publicityposter of

to its customers

you use our services,you are everywhere at

Touriststravelfromthe IstanbulHiltonto theAthens Hilton, the

differences being in the

the hotelrestaurants.There is no

ports are all the same; theycollectively constitutea country all their

own, have morein commonwitheach otherthan they have withthe

countriesin which they are actually located. And

that is what kitsch

is-a country all its own, unlike any

reassuring sameness. It is not real,but it is familiar. If so much is assumed, we may differentiatebetweenvarious

of literary kitsch by focusing on the particularpattern of reassurance

only

quality of the plumbing

strangeness.

and the "motif"of

Our internationalair-

other, but giving the sense of

genres

5 In:

ed. Hannah Arendt, tr. Harry Zohn

6 Mass Culture,p. 364.

"The Work of Art in the

Age of Mechanical Reproduction," Illuminations,

(New York, I969), pp. 217-252.

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138

NEW LITERARY HISTORY

each provides. For instance, it is clear that much recent spy fiction

is aimed at

to have got out of human control, science on the one hand and

diplomacy on the other. The pattern of spy thrillers changes quite

markedly afterHiroshima. Instead of the

E. PhillipsOppenheim, who merelyprevent one or two countriesfrom

going

ous),

atomic destruction-the

be fullof mad scientistsand

keep us all from being

is in the hands of the adventuresof a

and resourcefulnesswhich have always characterizedthe

offsetthe ineffectivenessof government as well as the irresponsibility

of the scientists.

allaying

fearsaroused by two human activitieswhichseem

elegant,patriotic heroesof

innocu-

to war

(by stealing naval secrets, or somethingequally

we now have amoral supermen who

suggestionbeing

save the entire planet from

that while the world may

bumblingstatesmen, a lone hero can still

blown up. At a timewhenenormousdestruction

reassuring indeed to follow

faceless committees, it is

single man who, by exploiting the gifts of courage

hero, can

The same pattern of easy reassuranceis to be foundin the increas-

the

brutality of

Other

pictures,constantly

ingly less comic comic strips,where, as in Dick Tracy,

crime is always overcome by the brutality of ChesterGould.

for those novels which

really are dead:

engaging issuesof currentconcern (the generationgap, women's lib,

etc.) merely to provideeasy

than the equally formulaic "they all lived

So much for generalities.What, then, is the particularpattern of reassurance provided by detectivefiction? In order to answer this

question story, and in orderto do thata

strips have become the elephant'sgraveyard

On Stage

is a Frauenromanin

answers

onlyslightly more sophisticated

happily

ever after."

detective

we must firstof all

by brieflook at its history willbe necessary.

determinewhat is meant

III

Very little crime fictionis of the classical detective storyvariety.

Crimeis veryold, detectivefiction very new. There have

critics ready to see crimefiction everywhere, such as Peter

who

"History ofSussanah" fromthe

examples

Haworth,7

always been

puts

forwardas

of the

genre

such ancienttales as the

Rhamp-

Apocrypha, the story of King

sinitus'treasurehouse from Herodotus, tales fromthe

norum, etc. Regis Messac8 begins

medes' discovery ofhisfamous principle of

Gesta Roma-

his study of the genre withArchi-

hydrostatics. A.

E. Murch's

7 In: Classic Crimesin History and Fiction (New York,

8 Le "Detective Novel" et l'influence de la pensee scientifique(Paris, 1929), p. 54.

1927).

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WHODUNIT

AND OTHER QUESTIONS

139

standard

as Dekker's The Belman of London (16o8).

favoritetrickof classiciststo teach Oedipus Rex as a detective story.

Such eclecticdefinitionsofthe genre createobviousdifficulties.

What is meant in this paper by detective story is ratherthe tale of pure puzzle, pure ratiocination, associated with Poe, Conan Doyle,

Agatha Christie.As Jacques Barzun and W. H. Taylor have recently

written: "A detective story should be mainlyoccupied with detect-

ing,"

criminals, and hard-boiledthrillers. The paradox thatthereis neverthelessno detectivefictionbeforethe

gothicromances,psychological studiesof

history9opens with I7th century British rogue tales, such

And it has long been a

10whichwould exclude

19th century can be explained in manyways, all too complicated to go

into here, except

have detectivefictionbefore

metropolitanpolice knowit did not existbeforethe 19th century. It was the

of that century which saw the almostsimultaneousfoundationof the Suret6in Paris and the precursors of Scotland Yard, the Bow Street

Runners, in London. But thefoundationoftheseforceswas not enough in itselfto inspire

the creation of the fictionaldetective. For one immediatelyinspire confidencein theirmethodsor of the foundersof the Surete was

1857), a notoriousthiefand adventurerwhose early successesin the

bureau were made possibleby his intimate-indeed

edge

which contain

greater history of detectivestoriesthan his actual career with the historical Suret6. As fortheBow Street Runners, we have the wordsof Dickens

himself, that they

and wereto be foundin thelowestand most degradedgin mills, where

they were quite at home.11

for adducing the obvious reason that you cannot

have detectives.It is a curiousfact

you thattheinstitutionof themodern

forceas we now

early

decades

thing

they did not

theirmorals. One

Vidocq (1775-

Eugene Fran?ois

personal-knowl-

of the Frenchunderworld.In 1828 he published his Mimoires,

improbable

and hyperbolic accountsof his double life.

effecton the

."

It is a fact that this fictiveaccount has had a

"kept company with thievesand such like

It took some timebefore people believedin the police as forcesfor

good. And this bit of historical sociologyexplains, in a small way,

why

tales and novelsabout him. Because the emphasis was stillon crime;

theriseofthe practicing detectivedid not coincidewiththeriseof

9

Io

I

"The Omnibus of Crime," The

(New York, 1946), p. 75.

The Development of theDetective Novel (New York, 1958).

A Catalogue of Crime (New York, I97I), p. 5.

In an I862

letter to W.

Thornbury,quoted by Dorothy Sayers in her essay

Art of the MysteryStory, ed. Howard Haycraft

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140

NEW LITERARY HISTORY

the forcesof law had not yet become

It had always been

true, of course, thatwhileevilwas reprehensible, it was also

in a way virtue simply was not. Thus the few

claim to the titleof criminal-but not detective-fictionbeforethe

genres which may lay

glamorous.

fascinating

19th century, have as theirheroesthe villains

who were hanged at

The degree

to

gleaned

role they

Tyburn, in such romancesas FrancisKirkman'sThe CounterfeitLady

Unveiled (1673) or Elkanah Settle'sThe Complete Memoires of the

Life of thatNotorious Imposter Will Morrell (1694).

which theseand othersuch I7th

fromthe

fact that such tales are today remembered mainly for the

played in establishing thetraditionof the realistic novel.12

fromthe traditionof thetruedetective storymay be

century criminal biographiesdepart

seeminglytardydevelopment

of detectivefiction: We said it had to wait forthe historicaladventof

the institutionof the detective. We mustnow add that the detective

who made detectivefiction possible was himselfa fiction: Detective

other real life

storieshave theirtrue

detective.The fatherof them

valier Dupin.

No, we

mustrestatethe reasonforthe

genesis not in Vidocq or any

all, is, rather,Edgar

Allan Poe's Che-

We may argue about the birthof tragedy, whence arose comedy,

the

detective story therecan be no such

time and place of its origin.

antiquity of

the lyric or the riseof the novel. But about the first

uncertainty. We knowthe precise

It was in Graham's

Magazine of April,

Murdersin the

Morgue appeared, and the character which there made his

1841, in Philadelphia,Pennsylvania, U.S.A. that The

Rue

entrance,sprung fullblown fromthe

different aliases, been withus eversince.

bulging brow of Poe, has, under

Why is Poe the creatorof the classical detective story? A clue may

mad." 13

be foundin Joseph Wood Krutch'sstatementto the effectthat "Poe

go forthat of the romantic

by foster parents, a 17

year old drop-out fromthe University of Virginia, then a drop-out

artist: 14 a precociously brilliant child, raised

inventedthe detective story thathe might not

Poe's biography, of course, is a paradigm

12 See, for instance,Spiro Peterson,"Foreword,"

The CounterfeitLady Unveiled

and Other CriminalFiction of Seventeenth CenturyEngland (New York, i96i), p.

Xi1.

13 Quoted in Howard Haycraft, Murder for Pleasure:

the Detective Story (New

York, I94I),

R~itsel

14 Richard Alewyn ("Das

p. 9.

product

The Life and Times of

Essays

136).

des Detektivromans" in Definitionen:

(p.

zur Literatur, ed. Adolf Fris6 [Frankfurt a. M., 1963]) has argued that the detective

novel is a As support

charged with a sense of the everyday world as only a thin layer of deception over

an abyss of dark symbols which the artist seeks to penetrate. Alewyn then asks

"Could one betterdescribethe talentand the profession of the detective?" (p. 135).

for this he outlines the biography of an archetypal romantic artist,

not of Rationalism or Realism, but of Romanticism

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WHODUNIT

AND OTHER QUESTIONS

141

fromhis father's business, dismissalfromWest Pointin a scandal-his

beloved child bride

voted to art, but threatened by

on an

of Baltimorein a

Poe,

timeshe

haunted amidstits weird

labyrinthine canals of Renaissance Venice, or the great whirlpool of

the Maelstrom. But it is in the verydepths to which he

experienced,

and was able to capture in words, thechaos

searchforthe key to the ordered, ultra-rationalworld of the detective

story. It was to this

opposed the therefore necessarilypotent sense of reason which finds

its

loined Letter. tales, he sets, in thedetective.

to triumph because Scholastic principle

wastingaway

of an incurable disease, a life de-

He died

heavy drinking and drugs.

found

wandering

uncompletedjourney, after being

raving

the streets

of chaos for

delirium. The worldwas

a place unspeakablehorrors; some-

crumblingmansion,

a vale not only of tears, but also of

caught

thisworld in the metaphor of a

landscape;

at othertimesit was the black

ofthe world, thatwe must

toward the irrational that he

and The Pur-

found in his other

powerfulimpulse

highestexpression in The Murders in Rue Morgue

Against the metaphors for chaos,

The detective, theinstrumentof

worldof credulous men, holdsto the

the Dupin stories, the essential metaphor fororder:

pure logic,

able

things,

the

he alone in a

of adequatio rei et intellectus, the adequation of mind to

beliefthat the mind,

There are no mysteries, thereis only incorrect reasoning.

enabling discovery Poe makes forlater authors;

who

have livedeversince. Considersome oftheother specific conventionswhichPoe firstuses:

thefirstif exceedingly awkwarduse of theleast

firstinstanceof the scattering offalseclues firstextortionof a confession by means of gree .15

Poe created

thetranscendentand eccentric detective; the

foil; thewell-intentioned floundering and

guardians of the law; the locked room convention;

putting oneselfin another's position

ultra

expansive and condescendingexplanation when the

These are the basic conventionsof the classical detective story, and so

16

given enough time, can understand everything.

This is the

he is the Columbus

laysopen

theworldofradical rationality whichis wheredetectives

likelypersontheme;

the

by thereal criminal; and the

the psychological thirdde-

admiring and slightlystupid oftheofficial

deduction by

concealment by means of the

culprit'shand; even the

unimaginativeness

.

.

chase is

.; ruse to force the

obvious; the staged

15

Haycraft, Murder forPleasure, p. Io.

I6

Ibid., p. 12.

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142

NEW LITERARY HISTORY

fixedare they thatsomeofthemorehallowed

included in an oath which must be taken by new membersof the Britishassociationof detective storywriters, the DetectionClub. Con- sider, for example, the following two articleswhichmustbe swornto:

Do yousolemnly swearneverto conceala vitalclue fromtheReader?-

Do

promise to observea seemly moderationin the use of Gangs,

among themare actually

you

Conspiracies, Death Rays,Ghosts,Hypnotism,trap-doors,Chinamen, and utterly and foreverto forswear Mysterious Poisons Unknownto

Science?17

The vow not to use ghosts and death

raysmay seem amusing-cer-

intendedit to

tainly in their elephantineway, the foundersof the club

be so; but it contains great wisdomtoo. For theseelementsare

to theworldofthedetective story-theybelong to otherworldsofsheer

convention,pure fiction, the ghoststory and

do not

existin isolation; to do theirwork they must determinewhole land-

scapes, conjure up specificplots which are peculiar to them alone. Conventionsmustbe

an importantpoint to be learnedabout

foreign

sciencefiction.There is

They

conventionshere.

familiar. Each fictiveworld has its own

magic, its own formof reassuring

heartand patience in the face

heart

committed amorality

omnipotence. In the fairytale, a good

ofmisfortunewill

and a quick gun. In spy storiesa peculiar

coupled

again.

In the Tarzan novels

savages. He is,

it willbe remembered, a memberof theHouse of Lords.)

sub-genres of popular literature, each

of which is defined by its own

assuringmagic. should now be clear. assurein a way other

in the case of Poe, the power of reason, mindif you will. It is not, as

magic is, as we saw

alwaysavail; so, in cowboystories, will a good

kindof

with an ability to surviveunusual amounts (and kinds) of

destruction again and

physical punishment overcome atomic

conquers all. (Tarzan is, in a sense,

We have spoken of several

The

system of

greatphysicalstrength and intimacy withnature

thelastofthenoble

conventionsand its own re-

storyespecially

does it re-

basic clich6s of the detective

But what is its peculiar magic, how modes do not? Its

popular

is so often said, the characterof great detectiveswhich accounts for

anything, we must admit that

example.

drugs

mostofthemhave very littleofit. Take Sherlock Holmes, for

He does not really existwhenhe is noton a case. The violin, the

their popularity.18 If charactermeans

17 Haycraft, The Art of the MysteryStory,p. 198.

I8 As, for instance, William S.

Baring-Gould: "What we may ask, inspires the

by three generations of readers?

grips us

great devotion to [Sherlock] Holmes displayed

it is the character of Holmes that

Adventures of the Speckled Band and otherStories of Sherlock Holmes (New York,

.", in his Introduction to The

1965), p. xi.

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WHODUNIT

AND OTHER QUESTIONS

143

merelykeep him in knock on the door

a new problem. He does not

solve crimes, he solves puzzles.

the statementof riddles. You will rememberthat famous bit of

"I would call your attentionto the

curious incidentof the

dog

curiousincident." This is a metaphor forwhat happens in all

happens, but it is

a mathematician; he is his

not people forhim. Watson is

unguardedmoment, as merely "the whetstonefor [Sherlock's] mind."

The

all thereforecurious. Holmes is less a detectivethan

a stateof suspended animationuntilthe inevitable

comes, announcing

There is no death

in his world-only

begins,

dog in the nighttime." Watson says, "The

Holmes

replies, "That

was the

thestories. Nothingreally

"Sherlockismus"which

did

nothing in the nighttime." And

function.Thereforeother people simply are

regarded,

as he himselfadmitsin an

degree

to which Holmes is pure mind may also be seen in the

popularity

official iconography of him; in the laterillustrationshe is all nose and

bulging brow.19 It is this supremely rational quality whichaccountsforthe

of such stories-the magic of mindin a worldthatall too oftenseems

impervious to reason. Popular-but withwhom? Detective stories, at

with, are not popular in the

of

what we've said about their emphasis on mind-it

lectuals who

keep

indecentold age.20 Not only do intellectualsread

is significant that in such tales the body is usually discoveredin the

ofthem

are scholarsof real note, such as Michael Innes, in real life,J. I. M.

Stewart, a well known

editorsof the Oxford History of

in real lifeC.

intel-

least of the sortwe are here concerned

sense everyone reads them. Who does? Not

surprisingly-inlight

is

largely

Agatha Christieand Rex Stout writing into an

detective stories,they

writethem. It

oppressively bookish. Many

library, fortheirauthorstendtobe

expert

on the modern novel and one of the EnglishLiterature, or Nicholas Blake,

Day Lewis, Oxford professor of Poetry from 1951-1956,

and translatorof

degree and a ranking Dante translator

and critic.The listcould be extendedto includeAmerican academics,21

women to receivean Oxford

Virgil'sAeneid; or DorothySayers, one of the first

19 He begins to look something like Edgar Allan Poe, as a matter of fact.

20 This is difficultto

of the

and the Detective," in Haycraft's Art of the MysteryStory, pp.

clear, at any rate, that detective fictionis the one aspect of

mostexercisesthe imagination of intellectuals.

21

several books on psychology, as well as at least six detective novels, all writtenin

the I930's, or Alfred

popular culture which

prove, of course, but it is taken for granted by

most students "The Professor 11o-127. It is

subject. See, for instance,Marjorie Nicolson's delightfulessay,

For example, chosen at random: C. Daly King,

Yale Ph.D. and author of

Harbage, the Elizabethan scholar and professor at Harvard;

Walter Blair, expert on American humor, professor at Chicago.

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144

NEW LITERARY HISTORY

who, forsome reason,cling muchmore tenaciously to their pseudonyms. But for every intellectualwho writesdetective fiction, there are several more who write about it.22 And when theydo, some very

strangethingshappen.

Consider what W. H. Auden has to say on

purga-

the

subject.

tion:

tion:

Such tales are an occasion to writeabout sin and

I suspect thatthe typical readerofdetectivestories is, like myself, a

who suffersfroma senseof sin. Fromthe

and acts are good

bad, buttheI whichmakesthischoiceis

good or bad in itschoice. To have a senseof sinmeansto feel guilty at

there being an ethicalchoice to make, a guilt whichhowever 'good' I

maybecome, remains unchanged.23

is froman essay on the detective story, and one can't help

This quote

suspecting itsaim of rationalization; the product not ofthe guilt about

which Auden is here so eloquent, but ratherof the guilt of detectivestories.

friend, C. Day Lewis, perhaps because he writes them, has

even more extravagant claimsto make fordetectivestories.

year 2042 discoursing on

We

good and reject the

person

point and bad, and I mustchoosethe

ofviewof

ethics, desires

ethicallyneutral; it only becomes

reading

Auden's

may imagine

some James Frazierof the

'The DetectiveNovel-the

fancy, connecttheriseofcrimefictionwiththedeclineof

Folk-Myth of the 20th Century.'

He

will, I

religion at the

men's

[the

end of the Victorian era

When a religion has lost its hold upon

guilt .

.

hearts they musthave someotheroutletforthe senseof

future anthropologist] will

novel, as highly formalizedas thatof a

necessary sin (themurder), its victim, its highpriest(

will

the detectiveand the

nature.He willnotea significantparallel betweentheformalizeddenoue-

mentof the detectivenoveland the

Judgement, whenwitha flourishof trumpets, the mystery is made plain

and

withits initial

call attentionto the pattern of the detective

religiousritual,

the

detective). He

conjecture-and

rightly--that thedevoteeidentifiedhimselfbothwith

murderer,representing the dark sidesof his own

Christian conception of the Day of

the goats are separated fromthe sheep.24

22

We have

essay

Lacan's

already mentioned JacquesBarzun;

on "The PurloinedLetter"

("Le

one

might

also cite

Jacques

s6minairesur 'La

lettre vol6e,' "

Wimsatt's critique ofPoe's workon the

Ecrits, I [Paris,1966]pp. 19-78); or W. K.

mystery of Mary Rogers(PMLA,

Americanhard boiledfictionis well known.As George Grellahas written, "the

LVI

[1941],230-248).

Gide's fascinationwith

intellectual

gifts above

[197o],

detective story, unlikemostkinds of

all." ("Murder and Manners: The

popular literature,prizes

Formal Detective Novel,"Novel, IV

36).

23 "The GuiltyVicarage," in The Dyer's Hand and Other Essays (New York,

1968), p. 158.

24

399.

"The Detective Story-Why," in Haycraft, The Art of the MysteryStory,p.

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WHODUNIT

AND OTHER QUESTIONS

I45

C. Day Lewis, like Matthew Arnold, fearsthat religion has declined.25

Arnold hopes literature-high culture-will take its place. Lewis sug-

gests detectivestorieshave takenits place.

sense, Arnoldwas right; literaturein the modern period did try, con-

sciously or unconsciously, to substitutefor religion.

stories,particularly the

completely missed oneshe has in mind.

The mouldersof the Modernist tradition,however,sensed, as did

Arnold, that Christianity was to flood a hostileworld with

Such mastersas Joyce and

Mann sought to fillthis religious

oftenthan not taken from

Mann is exceedingly self-consciousabout his own

Christmastree of

how Dr. Faustus grew intoa novel, and in

he had with Karoly

appends learned footnotesto The

on the basis of work done

Yeats' whole lifeis a searchfora

way or another-Freud,

who whenconfronted by thedeathofGod in the universe, discovereda

new cosmos insideman himself.The Freudian

and profound-dimension to all symbols,independentof,

lying,

mightnot) stillhave. Modernism had dual roots in

ground his poetry. And they

mythicalsystem on which he could

Frazer and Jesse L. Weston.

It can be shownthat in a

But Lewis has

the point about detective

losing its power to console and explain,

meaning.

void with different symbols, more

mythicalsystems older than Christianity.

attempts to light

the

as can be seen in his account of

the publishedcorrespondence

the world again,

Ker6nyi.2 The case of Ulysses is obvious. Eliot

Wasteland,explaining his symbols

by Sir James

all used-in one

systemgave

a new-

or under-

whatever

religiousmeaning theymight (or more importantly,

presided

psychology and myth, Freud and muse-likeat the creation

of The Waves or Ulysses. The emphasis was on the innermostinner

life,resulting in a

relational-constantlyexposing

sism. Nineteenth century novels had unfolded in an extreme

ificity of time and

historicalnovels. They took place in Paris or London, whereasMod-

ernistnovels essentially take

To this degree they are ahistorical, their time is Bergsonian, not

chronological. Thus theseworksare marked by an emphasis on re-

Frazer were the Siamese twinswho

psychologicalimpulse that was lyrical,non-societal,

itselfto the danger of aesthetic solip-

spec-

place-there is a sense in which they are all

place in a country of the mind, inside.

25 It is significant that so many authors of detective storieswere in

another deeply

for

studentand author of detective fiction, was also a

G. K. Chesterton'sCatholicism is as present in his Father Brown storiesas in his

essays.

26 Gespriich in Briefen(ZiUrich,I96o).

one way or

apologist

involved with religious

issues. Lewis is also a well known

Anglican Christianity, as was Dorothy Sayers in her later years. Ronald Knox, a

theologian, indeed a monsignor.

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146

NEW LITERARY HISTORY

curringpatterns of experience, those paradigmatic

that seem to

happen the world in birth, the sorrowsof travel, the

mystery of death. These are thematterofall art, but in theModernist

period therewas a conscious attempt to get

meaning of such events, and the most

was to dramatize subtly-and sometimesnot so

tween archetypal occurrencesof ancient myth and modern

muchas Freud was to seeka

unlockcertainsecrets of 20othcentury behaviour.

preciselyduring the 20o's and 30's of this century, when

Modernismwas in its

realized per