ENGL-235 Detective Fiction
Fall for 2014-2015
In the early twentieth century, a new American literary genre emerged that embodied the promise and threat of city streets and the social estrangement of the men and women who walked down them. This “gals, guts, and guns” school of detective fiction--otherwise known as “hard-boiled”--investigated much more than who killed Colonel Mustard in the library with a knife. This course will trace the evolution of this remarkable and distinctly American literary genre, as well as the topics it obsessively explores: masculinity, the dangers of female sexuality, the threat of “foreign” immigration into the U.S., work, social class, and the limits—geographical and metaphorical--of American possibility. We will also examine crucial twentieth-century debates over the literary value of detective fiction: Is it simply sociology dressed up in a trench coat? Is it a brilliant literary formula composed of two parts alienation and one part alcohol? Is it just too darn entertaining to be high art? Along the way, we will also consider a few selected film noirs (Double Indemnity, Mildred Pierce, Laura, DOA) that have been inspired by hard-boiled detective fiction.
The syllabus includes the works of American masters like Poe, Hammett, Chandler, and Macdonald, as well as the classic British mystery writers, such as Doyle and Christie, whose work represents an alternative literary tradition.
Requirements include a semester long research project and final presentation, a mid-semester research paper, and a final exam.
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