Date of Award

Spring 2020

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Blair, Amy

Second Advisor

Canavan, Gerry

Third Advisor

South, James

Abstract

My project situates loss, rather than restoration, as the identifying trait of the detective fiction genre. I contend that instead of providing a problem-solution model that gives readers closure and reinforces simplified understandings of good and evil, detective fiction refuses to build comforting narratives that rehabilitate a corrupted world. Detective fiction, with its continual attempts to provide an unobtainable solution, ruminates on the impossibility of restoration.Genre and Loss: The Impossibility of Restoration in 20th Century Detective Fiction divides into four chapters, each addressing a perceived subdivision of the detective fiction genre in order to illuminate the unifying connections between them. In each chapter, I pair transatlantic texts in order to highlight the genre’s cohesive, continuing orientation, across nations and time periods, around different enactments of loss. Using Chandler’s The High Window and Sayers’s Busman’s Honeymoon, I begin by contradicting an oft-replicated division drawn between the supposed comfort and security of the British cosies and the corrupt world of the American hard-boileds. Next, I argue that the protagonists of Fleming’s Casino Royale and Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me experience internal loss that prevents them from operating as authoritative producers of solutions. La Bern’s Goodbye Picadilly, Farewell Leicester Square and Highsmith’s The Glass Cell parallel the detective’s loss of individual authority with the inability of the protagonists to prevent the attenuation of control over their own self-identity. Then, I analyze McIlvanney’s Laidlaw and Block’s The Sins of the Fathers to contend that the detectives use their vocation to acknowledge loss as an unavoidable element of life, and to embrace it by prioritizing a continual interrogation of certainty over false closure achieved through criminal convictions. Finally, I conclude the project with a brief exploration of Auster’s City of Glass and Miéville’s The City and The City. These more recent texts highlight the necessity of engaging in ongoing interpretation rather than the possibility of locating a stable answer. Even as the genre of detective fiction develops further, its trajectory continues to trace, and retrace, the steps around the same central theme, the inability to find closure, or an endpoint of restoration.

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