Twentieth-Century Genre: The Case of the Detective, Spring 2024

Detective fiction, probably the single most-read and best-selling category of fiction across the whole of the last century, nonetheless occupies a marginal place in standard literary-historical accounts. What does fiction since 1900 look like from the perspective of this commercial genre? What does genre—usually considered from the heights of “the lyric” and “the novel”—look like from the perspective of this genre? This course proposes a literary history of the Anglo-American detective story, with a special emphasis on the evolving institutions of genre fiction and the changing forms of cultural capital. At the same time we will reconsider the theory of genre, focusing on the challenge to classic accounts from the sociology of culture. The goal is less to unlock the mysteries of mystery than to explore the methodological demands of an mass-cultural literary phenomenon: not only its texts but its readers, writers, and publishers.

Detailed syllabus: syllabus.pdf.

This page last updated: February 22, 2024.