Whodunit? When the first stories about private detectives (and the first was not Sherlock Holmes, by the way) began circulating in the 1800s, they garnered a phenomenal response from the British and American public. Magazines clamored to publish them, authors scrambled to write them, readers devoured them, and a new genre — that of detective fiction — was born. So popular were these tales, in fact, that when Sir Arthur Conan Doyle grew weary of writing about Sherlock Holmes and decided to kill off the detective in one final story, the public outcry created such a backlash that Conan Doyle ended up bringing Holmes back to life again a few years later. Ever since, Sherlock Holmes has remained an iconic image in our cultural consciousness, and he has been joined by an eclectic — and fascinating — array of fictional detectives, many of whom we will encounter as we scrutinize this genre with a magnifying glass (deerstalker hats optional).
In this class, we will, of course, read works by some of the most famous detective fiction writers:
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (Sherlock Holmes)
Agatha Christie (Miss Marple, Monsieur Poirot)
Edgar Allan Poe (C. Auguste Dupin)
G.K. Chesterton (Father Brown)
Dorothy L. Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey)
To fully explore this genre, however, we will also read a number of modern stories from writers like Sue Grafton (Kinsey Millhone), Carolyn Keene (Nancy Drew), Franklin W. Dixon (The Hardy Boys), and Donald J. Sobol (Encyclopedia Brown), to name a few—as we examine how various whodunit authors effectively use tone, mood, setting, characterization, and other narrative techniques to create suspenseful plots and iconic characters.
The big question we will ask ourselves is why—and how—does this genre hold a special fascination for us even today? What is it about these characters that captivate us so?
Some seats in this section are reserved for sophomores.
Students will be expected to read and participate vigorously in class discussions. Written assignments include short reading responses, a brief analysis paper, and a longer term paper.