The Implosion of the English Murder: Clue-Puzzle Crime Fiction and World War II.
The clue-puzzle detective story, which rose to peak popularity in Britain in the 1920s and 30s, offered inter-war readers an outlet for processing the trauma of The Great War by presenting death within the context of a ratio-centric parlour game . With the outbreak of World War II this generic function was undermined as a new reality of mass-killing proved uncontainable within the formulaic constraints of the genre.
Throughout the 1940s, therefore, the ostensibly defunct whodunnit model can be seen to give way to the bloodier, grittier influence of the hard-boiled American style. Meanwhile, writers such as J.B. Priestley in An Inspector Calls and Georgette Heyer, with Penhallow self-consciously reshape the Golden Age Mystery format with a view to capturing the war-weary zeitgeist.
This paper analyses the evolving identity of Crime Fiction during the 1940s, examining how fantasies of self-annihilation prevalent in the public psyche of the day modified the structure and character of the detective genre, leading to what Orwell termed “the decline of the English murder.”
Vampires, Mesmerists and Other Demons: The Fiction of the Gothic Indies
Perhaps two thousand years hence … some black Governor-General of England will be marching through [England’s] southern provinces, and will go and look at some ruins, and doubt whether London ever was a large town, and will feed some white-looking skeletons, and say what distress the poor creatures must be in.
Emily Eden, ‘Up the Country’ (1866).
In the late-1830s Emily Eden toured parts of northern India with her brother George, recently appointed Governor-General of India, during a period of severe famine which she described in letters later published as a travelogue. In the excerpt cited above, Eden extrapolates from the immediate Indian scenes of devastation to a far-distant future of death and ruin in England in which the imperial roles are reversed. What is particularly noteworthy in Eden’s apocalyptic vision is not just the image of ruined England or its Indian ruler, but the presence of ‘white skeletons’ – India’s starving English subjects. These highlight a proximity between Eden’s exposure to the unconscionable realities of existence for Indians under British imperial rule and her fantasy of imperial inversion, and signal a link that was to recur with far greater force in the gothic fiction of the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries as imperial territorial aggrandisement entered its most aggressive phase. Eden’s incongruous famine fantasy reads as a gothic disruption of the travelogue form, a tendency confirmed in Roger Luckhurst’s observation of ‘this structural principle: wherever there is imperial occupation, there is a reserve of supernaturalism, an occult supplement to an allegedly enlightened rule that becomes a currency for acknowledging and even negotiating the consequences of this colonial violence’ (The Mummy’s Curse (2013)). This paper will investigate how this supernaturalism and the related fears of inversion coalesced around the popular fictional figure of the Gothic invader, focusing on little-known fictions arising out of the Indian and West Indian experiences of empire. These include Florence Marryat’s The Blood of the Vampire (1897), with its West-Indian psychic vampire; Arthur Conan Doyle’s tales of baleful foreign female mesmerists, ‘John Barrington Cowles’ (1888) and The Parasite (1894), and tales of malevolent Indian agency Our Lady of Death (1887) and The Mystery of Cloomber (1889); and Grant Allen’s early ‘shilling shocker’ Kalee’s Shrine (1886); all of which are read against some of Rudyard Kipling’s better-known Indian Gothic, including ‘The Mark of The Beast’ (1890). In its reading of these texts, the paper highlights the ways in which they were impacted by the colonial connections of their authors, and offers discrete generic redefinitions of several areas of the fin-de-siècle Gothic, showing how seemingly disparate texts are linked by a unifying concern with invasion.