I should also note that Sussex's newest book Blockbuster! Fergus Hume & The Mystery of a Hansom Cab: The Story of the Crime Novel That Became a Publishing Phenomenon is being released in paperback in the United States in June (it is already out elsewhere). It's a fascinating book, engagingly written with appeal to a broad audience and beautifully put together by Text, and I will have more to say about it next week, as well as more on some of the detective fiction by that intriguing individual Fergus Hume.
The first chapter of Sussex's Mothers surveys "the beginnings of crime fiction" in the picaresque novel (Moll Flanders), true crime texts (the Newgate Calendar and newspaper reportage) and, last but definitely not least, the Gothic novel (The Mysteries of Udolpho).
In his survey Bloody Murder, Julian Symons (1972) specifically excludes the Gothic novel from his consideration of the origins of the detective novel, arguing that "Gothic novelists wanted to arouse in their readers feelings of terror and delight at the horrific plight of the central character, and they used mysterious events to enhance these feelings. The solution of a puzzle was not for them the main interest of the book."
Douglas G. Greene, the esteemed biographer of John Dickson Carr, similarly has noted that some Gothic novels, like The Mysteries of Udolpho (1794), "conclude with natural explanations of the terrors, and these novels, when combined with other influences, eventually lead to the detective story."
Sussex comes down with Murch and Greene, declaring that the "Gothic is a Pangaea of genre literatures, containing within it the future continents of horror, science fiction...and crime writing....perhaps most crucial is what mystery is involved in the Gothic context: the depiction of a sensational motif or incident, with its explanation being delayed until much later in the narrative."
Connections between the Gothic novel and Victorian sensation novel and, even later, the Golden Age so-called "Had I But Known" mystery suspense narratives are especially clear. Female authors associated with these mystery forms--Radcliffe, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Ellen Wood, Mary Roberts Rinehart, Mignon Eberhart--received especially short shrift from Symons, their work getting either ignored or, frankly, denigrated when even acknowledged.
In her second chapter, "Mrs Radcliffe as Conan Doyle?", Sussex looks at very early examples of women writers incorporating crime into their texts, as well as female investigators.
The Mysteries of Udolpho, Sussex notes "made Mrs. Radcliffe "the most popular and best paid English writer of the eighteenth century"; and the author became "the most successful exponent of what is generally termed Female Gothic," a mode of fiction wherein typically a young heroine "finds herself imprisoned in a sinister castle, usually by a wicked male tyrant, but emerges at the end triumphant to marry her hero."
|Something devilish behind it all!|
arguably comprises the major 'system' in the creation of the new crime fiction genre, contributing the mystery, rationalism and also the role of the protagonist....Emily in Udolpho is a woman of reason, elucidating the mysteries of the castle....Emily and other Radcliffe heroines walk the mean passages of their various Gothic castles very much by themselves....With the Radcliffe heroine can be seen a narrative model emerging, of women versus crime, women conquering and explicating crime--even if only briefly on the way to matrimony.
Male Gothic, in contrast, focuses on, as exemplified by Matthew Lewis' The Monk (1796)
"the dangerous male, the tyrant or rake" and "represents the beginning of the psychothriller, with the excesses of Hannibal Lecter being (almost) equalled by those of Ambrosio the Monk, whose tastes run to black magic, rape, incest and murder. Yet, while bad boy Gothic contains crime, mystery and suspense, it is no place for the detective, for the villain is privileged....Male Gothic partakes of the supernatural, something at odds with the emerging detective genre....the logical, ratiocinative search for a criminal has no place in the Male Gothic.
However, in domesticating the Gothic novel Austen and other women novelists who followed her imported a trope from the domestic novel, making the heroine "naive and thoughtless, needing a sharp lesson." Repeatedly in these novels the heroine is thwarted.
Austen's Catherine, writes Sussex, merely
suffers embarrassment; her successors were lucky to escape with a nervous breakdown, if not permanent incapacity....After some effective work the heroine-sleuth usually collapses with stress or brain fever, reverting to passive femininity, and a happy marriage with the man she has saved."
For the rest of Chapter Two, Sussex looks at this female sleuth figure, first in Elizabeth Gaskell's Mary Barton (1848), which "includes a murder mystery in its plot structure," and then in several works from this era by Frances Trollope. However she argues the person most successful at this time in combining "murder, the mystery narrative and the sleuth...in novel form" was a writer whose "first novel appeared in 1841 and arguably was the first substantial work of crime writing by a woman." Who was this woman? She gets all of Sussex's third chapter to herself and I will discuss this part, and more, in the next installment.