Instructor: Dr. Pamela Bedore

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ENGL 2411: Popular Literature—American Detective Fiction

Instructor: Dr. Pamela Bedore

Course Description
Detective fiction has become one of the most popular types of genre fiction today. It originated in America in the early nineteenth century as a fairly literary genre, with Edgar Allan Poe often considered its founding father. This course examines a number of detective narratives in an attempt to answer the following questions and others: what is the appeal of popular literature? Is it worth studying in a scholarly manner? Why or why not? What is the appeal of detective fiction? How has it developed as a genre over the past 150+ years? What are the limitations and potentials of the detective genre? What, if anything, can a study of popular fiction in general and detective fiction more particularly reveal about sociocultural anxieties, gender relations, epistemology, and interactions of fiction and reality?
Required Texts
Poe, Edgar Allan. Great Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe.

Doyle, Sir Arthur Conan. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. 1892.

Hammett, Dashiell. The Maltese Falcon. 1930.

Keene, Carolyn. The Clue in the Diary. 1932.

Parker, Robert B. Pale Kings and Princes. 1987.

Auster, Paul. The New York Trilogy. 1987.

Cornwell, Patricia. Postmortem. 1990.

King, Laurie R. A Grave Talent. 1993.

McBain, Ed. The Frumious Bandersnatch. 2003.

Rzepka, Charles J. Detective Fiction. 2008.

You must bring your book to class every day. The Co-op has all books in stock in paperback editions, and many are available used. You may choose to use a different edition, although pagination may vary by edition, so using a different edition may be a little frustrating during class.
Assignments (Overview)
Online Quizzes (15%): You will have open-book online quizzes due before most of the readings in the class; these quizzes will be available at least 24 hours before class, and will become unavailable at 12:55 PM on the day of class in which the reading is due. These are intended to help you understand the key points of the readings and will be graded on a curve. The length of quizzes varies and the time allotted will be two minutes per question. Please work alone to complete these quizzes.

Discussion Postings (10%): Because we only meet twice a week and we encounter detective fiction in our lives much more often than that, we will conduct out-of-class discussions through our HuskyCT page. Every week your contributions to online discussions will be graded out of 3. One long (200+ words) and insightful posting will earn you 3 points, as will two or three shorter and yet still insightful postings. You should post every week, but you may post on readings from the past, present or future. You may earn up to 8 additional points by doing additional postings throughout the semester for a maximum of 50 points (14 weeks * 3 + 8 unassigned points). For the purposes of discussion, the week ends Sundays at 11:59PM.
Class Participation (10%): Your participation grade will be based on the quality of your contributions to class discussion.
Paper 1—Article Evaluation (10%): Choose from among the four critical articles about Poe’s detective fiction that we discussed (Crisman, Irwin, Saltz, or Van Leer). Write an analysis of the article’s effectiveness in 3-4 pages. Begin by summarizing the article’s main argument in a paragraph or two. Your analysis should include an evaluation of the effectiveness of the argument (are you persuaded by the argument? Is the argument amply supported by evidence from the text? Does it take into account other possible readings of the short stories?). This should be a clearly written, argumentative paper that shows that you have read and understood the article and that you can engage its ideas in your own writing and thinking.
Paper 2—Argumentative Paper (30%): Write an argumentative paper in 5-6 pages that examines a moment of intertextuality in one of the novels we’ve studied (this will probably focus you on either Parker, Auster, or McBain). Follow up on one of the texts that is referenced in this novel and make an insightful argument about how accounting for the intertextuality changes our reading of the novel and/or the genre of detective fiction.
The Red Notebook (15%): You will receive a red notebook on the first day of class. Your Red Notebook will serve as a place for you to do some speculative, informal, and—if you wish it—creative writing throughout the semester. Your weekly Red Notebook assignments will be in two parts: a writing task (one or two paragraphs) and a reflection (one or two sentences). In fact, there is no limit to the length of these pieces. Drawing is allowed and even encouraged. You should also feel free to write any other pieces influenced by your reading and thinking for this class in your Red Notebook. Should you need it, a second Red Notebook will be provided.
I will collect your Red Notebook three times throughout the semester to check out what you’re doing (5% on a complete/incomplete system—I will ask you to mark places you want feedback on and places you’d rather I not read). You will also submit about 4-5 pages of polished material that comes from your Red Notebook (10%, formally graded).
Final Exam (10%): The final exam for this class will consist of two broad essays allowing you to show me that you’ve understood the main concepts of this class.
Class Schedule

8/31 Introductions and Welcome

  • Syllabus information, including a perusal of the weighty course readings

  • Class Activity: Detecting ourselves

  • Red Notebook presentation sign-up sheet

  • In-class Writing: Write a brief introduction to yourself as a consumer of popular culture and as a writer/reader. What do you like to read/watch? Anything you’d like me to know about you? What do you hope to gain from this course?

9/2 Foundations of Detective Fiction: Poe's Short Stories

  • Read: “Introduction to the Writing of Edgar Allan Poe” (pp. ix-xx)

  • Read: Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Murders in the Rue Morgue" (1841) (pp. 90-136)

  • Read: “What is Detective Fiction?” (Rzepka pp. 9-31)

  • Discussion: What features stand out to you about Poe’s life and writing? In what ways is he ideally suited/not suited to becoming the “father” of detective fiction? Are there any features in “Rue Morgue” that remind you of contemporary detective fiction? How would you describe Poe's detective, C. Auguste Dupin? Where does reader identification lie in this story?

  • Remember that online reading quizzes are due by 12:55 PM today and before all classes. [If you haven’t used HuskyCT quizzes before, you may want to do the Practice Quiz just to get some practice with the mechanics of online quiz-taking.]

  • Red Notebook 1: Look very carefully at how the narrator describes Dupin in “Rue Morgue.” In a paragraph or more, write a description of the narrator from the perspective of one of his friends, trying to capture the same features as in the description of Dupin. In a sentence or two, list the features you tried to mimic.

9/7 Poe and Epistemology

  • Read: Edgar Allan Poe’s "The Purloined Letter" (1845) (pp. 137-162)

  • Read: “Detection and the Historical Sciences” (Rzepka pp. 32-48)

  • Discussion: What does the word "epistemology" mean? Why do you think I'm bringing it up in terms of this story? Which of the Poe stories did you prefer and why? In what ways, if any, has Dupin changed between “Rue Morgue” and “Purloined Letter”? How would you describe the relationship between Dupin and the Prefect of Police? In what ways, if any, are the Poe detective stories a product of their time?

9/9 Poe and Doubling

  • Read: Edgar Allan Poe’s “William Wilson” (1839) (pp. 271-298)

  • Read: “The Ape and the Aristocrat” (Rzepka pp. 72-89)

  • Read: one of the critical articles available on our HuskyCT page (Crisman, Irwin, Saltz, or Van Leer)

  • Discussion: What further insights have you gleaned from the critical article you read by Poe? “William Wilson” isn’t a detective story at all, but does it offer any possible insights into the relationship between detective and criminal?

  • Red Notebook 2: In a paragraph or more, write (as an analysis or a story) a description of how Dupin might face down his double. In a sentence or two, identify any insights you might have gained from thinking about Dupin and doubling.

9/12 Due electronically: Optional first draft of Paper 1 (if you’d like feedback from me)
9/14 Dime Novels

  • Read: Allen Arnold's The Diamond Ear-ring (1883) (get pdf on our HuskyCT site)

  • Discussion: How does this text compare to Poe's stories? What are the features of this detective? Does this novel draw upon any familiar generic conventions? To what degree would you consider this a detective novel?

  • Red Notebook 3: Make up a situation for a 21-year-old woman named Nina where it looks certain that she will die. Stop telling the story moments before she’s about to die. In a sentence or two, answer this: do you think it’s possible to get her out of the situation without dying? Why or why not?

9/16 The Most Famous Detective of All

  • Pre-Reading: What do you know (or think you know) about Sherlock Holmes?

  • Read: Introduction to The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (pp. xi-xxxv)

  • Read: The first six stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (pp. 5-148)

  • Discussion: To what degree do the stories meet (or not meet) your expectations for a Sherlock Holmes text? How does Holmes compare to Dupin? How important is Watson to the construction of a Sherlock Holmes story? Which is your favorite story and why? Do any of these stories represent America? If so, how? Did the scholarly introduction offer any useful insights into either the legend of Holmes or the substance of the stories?

9/18 Due electronically: Paper 1 Final Version
9/21: More Sherlock Holmes Adventures

  • Read: The last six stories in The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (pp. 149-296)

  • Read: “The Scientific Detective’s Bohemian Soul” (Rzepka pp. 114-136)

  • Discussion: Now that you’ve read the first twelve Holmes stories, what do you think of the way he has changed from his initial appearance to more recent representations (like the 2009 movie, if you’ve seen it)? Does Rzepka provide any useful insights into the Bohemian soul of Sherlock Holmes?

  • Red Notebook 4: Go somewhere and sit for a few minutes observing someone or something very carefully (but not so carefully that police are likely to be called on a stalking/casing case). Make detailed notes about what you saw. In a sentence or two, explain whether the place/person was particularly boring, pretty normal, or particularly interesting.

  • Due in class: The Red Notebook

9/23 Mark Twain’s Foray into Detective Fiction

  • Read: “From Holmes to the Golden Age” (Rzepka pp. 137-160)

  • Read: Mark Twain’s “A Double-Barrelled Detective Story” (1902) (get pdf on our HuskyCT site)

  • Discussion: In your opinion, does this story count as detective fiction? Why or why not? What is its relationship with the Doyle stories we’ve read? What two (or more) models of detective work do we see in this novel? Have you read anything else by Twain? How does this story compare to other Twain writings?

9/28 Back to Childhood

  • Pre-reading: Did you read Nancy Drew and/or the Hardy Boys as a child? If so, what do you remember? If not, why not? Did you have a sense that these texts existed as a child? Do you think they are still read today?

  • Read: Carolyn Keene's The Clue in the Diary (1932)

  • Discussion: How does (re)reading this book change your impression of Nancy Drew? How would you characterize the detective(s) in this novel? "Carolyn Keene" is a housename of the Stratemeyer Syndicate. What are the consequences of knowing that there is no person named "Carolyn Keene"? The Stratemeyer Syndicate was a major publisher in the dime novel industry, and went on to publish juvenile series after the death of the dime novel. In what way(s) does this Nancy Drew book resemble (or not) the dime novel we read?

  • Red Notebook 5: In a paragraph or more, explain or narrate a mystery appropriate for children under the age of 10. You don’t need to detail or solve it. In a sentence or two, reflect on how mysteries for children are different than those for adults.

9/30 A New Sherlock Holmes?

  • In Class: view an episode of Psych

  • Discussion: In what way(s) do Shawn and Gus resemble Sherlock and Watson? Have you ever watched Psych on television? It’s now well into its fifth season and garners excellent ratings. How do you explain its appeal?

10/5 Introduction to the Hardboiled

  • Read: Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon (1930)

  • Discussion: This novel came out the same year as the first Nancy Drew novel. How do these texts compare? What audience do you think The Maltese Falcon is geared at? To what degree do you see Sam as a detective hero?

10/7 Back to Epistemology

  • Read: “Hard-Boiled Detection” (Rzepka pp. 179-200)

  • Discussion: The Maltese Falcon is one of the most written-about detective novels. Why do you think this is? Does this text say anything about epistemology? Does it have interesting representations of gender? How persuasive is Rzepka’s analysis of Hammett’s novel for you? Which portion(s) of his chapter do you find most interesting and why?

  • Red Notebook 6: In a paragraph or more, write a dramatic monologue in the voice of one of the characters from The Maltese Falcon at a horse race. In a sentence or two, identify the features of the character you were trying to capture. Did you capture them?

10/12 A More Recent Hardboiled Detective

  • Read: Robert B. Parker's Pale Kings and Princes (1987)

  • Discussion: How has the hard-boiled changed by the time it reaches Parker? What do you notice about Spenser's masculinity? How are gender relations portrayed? How would you describe the primary detective ethic at work here?

10/12 7PM Lecture: Melissa Anyiwo “Too Dark for the Moonlight: The Invisibility of the Black Vampire” (4 points will be added to your discussion grade for attending)
10/14 The Literary Hard-Boiled

  • Discussion: Parker tries to tap into literary tropes more than do many other hard-boiled writers by, for example, having Spenser be a big fan of Romantic poetry. Where does Spenser's name come from? What is the impact of his interest in the literary? How would you describe Spenser and why? How suited would this type of book be to TV?

  • Red Notebook 7: Choose a poem (or use William Blake’s “The Sick Rose” if you don’t have a specific poem in mind) and write a paragraph or more describing or narrating a detective story or situation that would intersect with the poem. In a sentence or two, explain your process in approaching this assignment.

  • Due in class: The Red Notebook

10/19 Meeting the Postmodern Detective

  • Read: Paul Auster’s City of Glass (1986)

  • Discussion: In what way(s) does this novel differ from others that we’ve read? Is what way(s) might this novel be considered postmodern? How does the novel deal with questions of identity? What is the real mystery of this novel?

10/21 Starting to Think about Intertextuality

  • Read: “Cold War, Cops, and Counterculture” (Rzepka pp. 218-242)

  • Discussion: How does thinking about intertextuality change the way you read City of Glass? What do you make of the fact that Daniel Quinn’s pseudonym is William Wilson? Why are there so many Peter Stillmans in the novel? Have you ever read another novel where one or more of the characters are named after the author? What’s the impact of Paul Auster showing up in his novel?

  • Red Notebook 8: Write a paragraph or more of what you think might be in Peter Stillman’s red notebook. In a sentence or two, cite or paraphrase the passage in the novel that prompted your approach.

10/26 Getting Black and Blue

  • Read: Paul Auster’s Ghosts (1987)

  • Discussion: What do you make of the character names? What (if anything) does this story have to do with City of Glass, the first novel of this trilogy? Does this remind you of any other genre of detective fiction we’ve read so far? If so, in what ways?

10/28 The Ghosts of American Literature?

  • Discussion: Which American writers and texts are referenced in Ghosts? It has been suggested that the ghosts of the title are the ghosts of American literature past. Do you buy that? How else might you account for the title of this novel?

  • Red Notebook 9: Write a paragraph or more of what you think might be in the pages Blue takes from Black’s room, the story that he already knows by heart. In a sentence or two, explain why you chose to write what you did.

11/2 A Different Kind of Locked Room

  • Read: Paul Auster’s The Locked Room (1987)

  • Discussion: What do you make of the title of this novel? Does the unnamed narrator remind you of anyone we’ve read before? If so, why? Were you surprised when the unnamed narrator claimed to be the author of the first two novels in the trilogy? What’s the impact of that claim?

11/4 Identity and Erasure

  • Read: Paul Auster’s “The Red Notebook” (pdf on our HuskyCT site)

  • Read: “Epilogue: The End of History?” (Rzepka pp. 243-246)

  • Discussion: Did you spot any inconsistencies in The New York Trilogy? What about inconsistencies between Auster’s account of creating Daniel Quinn in “The Red Notebook” and what actually happens in City of Glass? Why do you think Auster is so obsessed with red notebooks? Has keeping a red notebook for the semester taught you anything about writing, reading and/or detective fiction?

  • Red Notebook 10: Write a paragraph or more that might have appeared in Fanshawe’s red notebook (keeping in mind the description: “All the words were familiar to me, and yet they seemed to have been put together strangely, as though their final purpose was to cancel each other out. I can think of no other way to express it. Each sentence erased the sentence before it, each paragraph made the next paragraph impossible”). In a sentence or two, reflect on whether or not this writing task was possible.

11/9 Getting Frumious

  • Read: Ed McBain’s The Frumious Bandersnatch (2003)

  • Discussion: Starting in the 1950s, the police procedural became an extremely popular subgenre of American detective fiction, and McBain is often cited as its most influential craftsman. Why do you think the police procedural is so popular? How important is teamwork in the police procedural? To what degree do the relationships between police officers become the story in addition to (or in place of) the conflict between the detective and the criminal?

11/9 7 PM Lecture: Jean Murley “True Crime in American Popular Culture” (4 points will be added to your discussion grade for attending)
11/11 What Exactly is a Bandersnatch?

  • Discussion: How does reading Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem, “Jabberwocky,” impact your reading of The Frumious Bandersnatch? Why would McBain build a narrative of detective fiction (with its basis in rationality and empiricism) around a nonsense poem? What is the impact of such a move? To what degree does McBain’s novel perform social critique?

  • Red Notebook 11: Write a short scene (or description of a scene) from the criminal’s point of view. In a sentence or two, reflect on how writing from the criminal perspective is different from the approach you’ve taken writing from the detective point of view.

11/14 Optional draft of Paper 2 is due electronically
11/16 The Medical Examiner as Detective

  • Prereading: Have you ever read or seen any narratives in which a medical examiner acts as a detective? What, if anything, was the appeal of such a narrative? Why do you think this type of story and character has become so popular over the past decade or so?

  • Read: Patricia Cornwell's Postmortem (1990)

  • Discussion: How does this text differ from other detective texts we've read this semester? What features might you suggest as defining the "M.E. Detective" genre? How does this novel fit with television programs like the CSI series?

11/18 Feminist Medical Examiner?

  • Discussion: Would you consider Kay Scarpetta a feminist? Why or why not? What can you find out about Patricia Cornwell through a quick online search? Does knowing a little bit about her as an author add any insights into your reading of Postmortem?

  • Red Notebook 12: In a paragraph or more, write a description of Kay Scarpetta from the perspective of Marino. In a sentence or two, explain why you made the decisions you did in terms of capturing Marino’s voice and/or sentiments towards Kay.

11/21 Paper 2 is due electronically
11/30 And Back to California

  • Read: Laurie R. King’s A Grave Talent (1993)

  • Discussion: To what degree does locale (San Francisco, CA) impact how this novel is constructed? Does this novel remind you of any television programs? If so, which ones and why? If you’ve read other police procedurals, what features do you think they have that distinguish them from other detective genres?

12/2 Gender and the Police Procedural

  • Discussion: How does the relationship between Kate and Al develop throughout the novel? How does this novel address questions of identity, especially at sites of gender and sexuality? How does the character of Lee function in the novel?

  • Red Notebook 13: With a partner (whom I will assign), go to one of these places on campus--Finn’s, the Academic Center, or the Student Union—at a pre-chosen time and perform a stakeout for 20 minutes (again, not in a creepy way). In a paragraph or more, write about the experience in whatever way you’d like. What did you see? What did you talk about? What kind of dynamic developed between you? In a sentence or two, describe what insight, if any, you gained into the relationship between Kate and Al in A Grave Talent.

  • Due in class: The Red Notebook

12/7 An Unusual Television Detective

  • In-Class: view an episode of Pushing Daisies

  • Discussion: How would you describe the setting of Pushing Daisies? What clues do we have as to the setting? What do you think of the gimmick that underlies the brand of detection we see here? In what way(s) do the appeal of novelistic and TV detectives vary?

12/9 Wrap-Up

  • Closing Discussions

  • Final Exam Preparation

  • Due electronically: The Culminating Red Notebook Excerpt (4-5 pages of a polished and expanded Red Notebook entry)

12/16 Final Exam 1-3PM

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