Masaryk University Faculty of Arts Department of English and American Studies

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Masaryk University

Faculty of Arts
Department of English
and American Studies

English Language and Literature

Bc. Klára Danielová

Changing Images of the Police in Selected Texts by Agatha Christie and Phyllis Dorothy James
Master’s Diploma Thesis

Supervisor: PhDr. Lidia Kyzlinková, CSc., M.Litt.


I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently,
using only the primary and secondary sources listed in the bibliography.


Author’s signature

I would like to thank my supervisor, PhDr. Lidia Kyzlinková, CSc., M.Litt., for professional advice she gave me, and the care and kindness she showed when she guided me through writing this thesis.

I would also like to thank the employees of the Faculty of Arts Library in general and Ms. Eliška Mrázková, who is in charge of interlibrary loans, in particular. Their help with securing the materials for the thesis was priceless.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents 3

1 Introduction 1


2.1 From the Anglo-Saxons to the Royal Justices 4

2.2 Policing Officials: The Justices, Constables and Watchmen 6

2.3 Trading Justices: Magistrates, Thief-takers, and Bow Street Runners 10

2.4 From 1785 to 1829: Forty-four Years of Partial Reforms 12

2.5 Policing Victorian England: From Raw Lobsters to Beloved Bobbies 15

2.6 The Birth of the Detective 19

2.7 The Bobby in the Wars 21

2.8 Gender in the Police: Police Matrons and Women Police Constables 23

2.9 The Modern Bobby: The End of the Indulgent Tradition 26

2.10 The Police in Literature and Media: An Overview 31

2.11 The Policeman and the Detective in a Detective Story: A Brief History 35

3 Golden-Age Detective Fiction and Its Policemen 38

3.1 Golden-Age Detective Fiction and Its Principles 38

3.2 The Amateur and the Professional: An Uneasy Relationship 40

3.3 Battle, Japp and Co.: Christie’s Fictional Policemen 44

3.4 The Realities of Golden-Age Fictional Policing 48

4 Second-Wave Detective Fiction and the Police 54

4.1 A Move to Realism and the Disappearance of the Great Detective 54

4.2 The New Image: The Tough Copper and Ethnic and Sexual Minorities 59

4.3 The Myth of the Thick Policeman 65

4.4 Crime and Criticism and a Cry for the Bobby 68


6 Bibliography 80

7 résumé 87

8 resumé 88


The key feature of detective fiction is investigation of crime and the character of an investigating officer is thus necessary for the genre. Although most of the best known fictional detectives, for instance Sherlock Holmes, Hercule Poirot, or Peter Whimsey, are amateurs, the professional police add credibility to the detective story and provide it with legal background. Consequently, the police are given more attention in detective fiction than in any other genre.

The police were traditionally considered a male culture, a world inhabited and ruled by men. It is therefore of some interest how this world is pictured by Agatha Christie and P. D. James, female writers who are traditionally considered the British queens of detective fiction. Since their works span almost the whole twentieth century and also cover the first decade of the twenty-first century, they give the opportunity to analyse the changes in the image of the police and the development of the myth of the Great Bobby, which is the main aim of this thesis.

The thesis is divided into three main parts. The first part is further divided into eleven sub-chapters that deal with the history of the police and their image in media. First, the earliest forms of policing are described and a few related terms, for example kinship, frankpledge and tithing, are explained. Then the roles of the seventeenth-century justices of the peace, constables and watchmen are examined and after that, one sub-chapter is devoted to trading justices in general and thief-takers and Bow Street Runners in particular. The pros and cons of the system are presented and the first proposals for the reform are laid out. Then, the passage of the Metropolitan Police Act of 1829 and the first decades of the modern police are described, attention is paid to the changes in the perception of the police and their relationship with individual social classes, and the key features of the new force are emphasised. After that, the establishment of the detective branch and the roles of plain-clothes detectives are examined. The remaining sub-chapters are devoted to the police in the twentieth century. First of all, the challenges faced by the policemen during the world wars are analysed, secondly social history of woman police officers is discussed and finally, the role of the police after the Second World War is examined. Most space is given to the changes in the image of the police and their relationship with ethnic minorities, both inside and outside the force. The image of the police in the media, literature and television is the subject of the last chapter.

The second main part opens with a brief discussion of the history of detective fiction and the role the police and detectives play there. The rest is devoted to the police as pictured by Agatha Christie in six of her novels and a few short stories. The texts were chosen according to the space they give to the professional police and according to the year when they were first published, so that more decades could be covered. Nevertheless, the majority of texts come from the 1920s and 1930s, the so-called Golden Age of detective fiction.

After a short introduction to the attitude of the Golden-Age detective-fiction writers to the police in general, the relationship between the professional and amateur detectives is described. Then the qualities of two Christie’s fictional policemen, Battle and Japp, are discussed, and the final part is devoted to the representation of the police as far as their intelligence, competence, manners and morality are concerned.

In the third main part the representation of the police in selected works by P. D. James is discussed. The novels were chosen again according to the year of their first publication so that they could cover the second half of the twentieth and the first decade of the twenty-first centuries. At the beginning of the chapter, the key concepts of the second wave of detective fiction are explained and contrasted with Golden-Age detective fiction. P. D. James’s approach to detective fiction is explained then and it is followed by the examination of the new representation of the realities of policing and the character of the detective.

The new approach to sexuality in general and in detective fiction in particular is briefly discussed and developed in connection with the police in detective fiction. The representation of ethnic and sexual minorities in the police is examined and the position of female police officers is analysed in detail. The focus of the next chapter is the stereotypical image of the police as simpletons and the reasons for joining the force. Finally, the modern image of the police and its consequences are presented.

In the conclusion it is shown that the image of the police has developed in the last century and that the development is reflected in detective fiction. It is proved there that representation of the police in detective fiction reflects contemporary feelings and that the growing criticism of the modern police leads to calls for return to more traditional ways of policing.

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