Masterworks of Detective Fiction: Lecture #1
Before Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, or Philip Marlowe captured the world’s imagination, writers had to invent the literary detective, whose eccentric personality and unpredictable actions have led to the genre’s remarkable popularity, adaptability, and longevity. In this course we explore the origins of detective fiction by examining three masterworks of the genre from the mid nineteenth century.
Lecture One: “The Purloined Letter”
We begin on February 8th with Edgar Allan Poe’s pioneering story “The Purloined Letter” (1844), which reveals that successful detectives, like C. Auguste Dupin, rely not on deductive, but rather abductive reasoning — which we will define in the classroom — to figure out “whodunit.”
Lecture Two: Crime and Punishment
We then turn on March 8th to Fyodor Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment (1866), which shifts our attention from “whodunit” to “whydunit,” revealing the psychological and philosophical potential of the genre through detective Porfiry Petrovich.
Lecture Three: The Moonstone
For our final class, we read Wilkie Collins’ The Moonstone (1868), whose Victorian-era plot and amateur detective Franklin Blake traverse not only the British Empire, but also the many paths that detective fiction has taken in years since.
Students are encouraged to read each masterwork of detective fiction ahead of time, so that they can participate actively in discussion after a short lecture at the start of class.
Registration is $18 per lecture or $45 for the series.
Julie Cassiday is the Willcox B. and Harriet M. Adsit Professor of Russian at Williams College, where she teaches Russian language and literature, as well as comparative literature. Her courses include seminars on the great Russian authors Dostoevsky and Tolstoy, as well as surveys of the nineteenth-century European novel of adultery and twentieth-century cults of personality. Her research focuses on performance–in the broadest sense of this word–in Russian culture, and she has published scholarship on Soviet show trials, Stalinist film, the Eurovision Song Contest, and the cult of personality surrounding Russian president Vladimir Putin.