Nineteenth-Century Detective Fiction: The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes.

This optional module is designed and convened by Dr Clare Clarke.

*The following schedule is subject to minor modifications*



The detective genre is generally taken to have been born in the USA of the 1840s, with Edgar Allan Poe’s short stories, “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841), “The Mystery of Marie Roget” (1842), and “The Purloined Letter” (1844), starring the investigative hero, Chevalier Auguste Dupin. British literature featuring detection by police constables, such as Charles Dickens’s Bleak House (1852), and Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone (1868), appeared later in the nineteenth century, following the 1842 formation of London’s Detective Department of the Metropolitan police. In the 1860s, the sensation and detective genres blurred in popular texts such as The Moonstone and Lady Audley’s Secret. Doubtless due in part to the success of Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes stories, first published in the Strand Magazine, the late-Victorian era constituted the period in which the British detective fiction short story firmly established itself as a genre and enjoyed huge popularity with the reading public.

This module introduces students to the development of crime and detective fiction in this fascinating and formative period in the history of the genre. The module studies the most popular and prominent 19th century precursors and rivals of Sherlock Holmes, looking in depth at the key themes and concerns of the genre as it grew and developed. Combining close reading of nineteenth century detective novels, short stories, and non-fiction articles with a range of contextual and theoretical materials, students will study the social and historical contexts and consequences of issues such as class and urban space, gender, race, and empire upon literary representations of crime and detection over the course of the 19th century. We will interrogate the development of the detective figure, the political and ideological effects of reading detective fiction, and examine the popularity of the genre, questioning how and why certain texts endure and others disappear.




Texts, contexts, theory

  • Week 1:
  • Christopher Pittard, “Victorian Detective Fiction: An Introduction.”;
  • Andrew Radford, “Victorian Detective Fiction.” Literature Compass 6 (2008): 1179-96 [copies on blackboard];
  • Ronald R. Thomas, “Detection in the Victorian Novel.” The Cambridge Companion to the Victorian Novel. Ed. Deirdre David. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001 (179-191) [copies on blackboard]



  • Week 2:
  • Edgar Allen Poe, The C. Auguste Dupin Stories (1841-5) – “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” (1841), “The Purloined Letter” (1844), “The Mystery of Marie Rogêt” (1842-3)
  • Week 3:
  • The Penny Dreadful: Anon., The String of Pearls, A Romance (1846-7)
  • Week 4:
  • The police and the press: Charles Dickens, “The Modern Science of Thief-Taking” Household Words (1850); “A Detective Police Party” Household Words (1850); and extracts from Bleak House (1852-3)
  • Week 5:
  • The first detective novel: Charles Warren Adams, The Notting Hill Mystery (1862-3)
  • Week 6:
  • Detective fever: Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone (1868)



 download (11)Mothers of the mystery genre

  • Week 8:
  • Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Lady Audley’s Secret (1862)
  • Week 9:
  • Anna Katherine Green, The Leavenworth Case (1878)





Sherlock and rivals.132482

  • Week 10:
  • Fergus Hume, The Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1887)
  • Week 11:
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1891-92)
  • Week 12:
  • Recap and/or assorted stories from Arthur Morrison, LT Meade, Guy Boothby, and Baroness Orczy




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