<British Detective Fictions - between Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie>

 

Department of Pre-med

Kim Seo-hyun

  When I was young, one of the most exciting things in my everyday life was reading my favourite detective fiction, sitting on the sofa, with a cup of hot chocolate. I could get into detective stories by meeting with Sherlock Holmes, who was created by Arthur Conan Doyle. The private detective Holmes provided me with a guideline for a rational person, so that I even wanted to be a detective in the future. As I grew older, I became more interested in Agatha Christie ́́s stories. The characters I can meet in her stories are quite different from Sherlock Holmes. It is interesting and worthwhile to compare those two fictions to see how they are different.

  To analyze those two fictions, it is important to have some knowledge of the historical situation and social features of the period in which the fictions were written. The background of Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories was the Victorian age (1837-1901). In that age, the ruling class of Britain faced some challenges. One was the political demands from the labouring classes. Sherlock Holmes series show the intention of the ruling class to secure the preexisting system. In the stories, Sherlock Holmes is a white man from upper class. He considers crimes just as mystery to be solved by the detective, not as social and political problems. In Newgate fictions before, crimes were described from the viewpoint of the working class, which showed that they were formed by social discrimination. However, the voices of criminals or the working class do not appear in Sherlock Holmes stories. He communicates rarely with others during a criminal investigation. He just keeps the words in his mind and possesses the entire procedure by himself. At the end of the stories, the truth is described by Holmes, not by the criminal. It indicates the upper class's desire to rule the social order. Another one that challenged the ruling class was the national system which is symbolized by the police. Therefore, there are many policemen who lack the ability to solve the cases. The examples of them are Lestrade and Gregson in 『A Study in Scarlet』. They miss many clues and sometimes are not able to understand their meaning. In contrast, Holmes thinks logically and solves the problems by inductive reasoning.

  Britain had many colonies in the Victorian age. So there were national threats from outside. Detective fiction in this age reflects this situation. Many foreigners in Sherlock Holmes stories appear as criminals. For example, in 『A Study in Scarlet』, Drebber is a Mormon from North America. Beryl Stapleton in 『The hound of the Baskervilles』is from Costa Rica, and she represents the image of savage foreigner. Also, Sherlock Holmes' most dangerous enemy, professor Moriarty is from Ireland. It seems that there is a deep relation with the truth that Ireland was one of the most resistant countries against Britain.

  However, the characters and features in stories of A. Christie (1890-1976) are different. There are more varied characters in her fictions. For instance, we can contrast the positive human images between Doyle's stories and Christie's. As mentioned before, in the Sherlock Holmes series, dominant human images are of the white, upper class man who has scientific rationality, and of the British woman who is young, blond and noble lady like the one in 『The Sign of Four』. On the other hand, there are many different kinds of positive human images in Christie's fictions. Miss Maple is an old woman, and she is good at remembering daily information around her. She uses her ability of understanding psychological relations among people to solve the problems. Hercule Poirot is a private detective from Belgium, and he solves the cases by analyzing people's conversation and behaviour, rather than to observe or track scientific evidence. The most peculiar character of psychological inference is Harley Quin. He is very mysterious and gives clues based on psychological causes. Bundle Brent, in 『The Seven Dials Mystery』, is a new character of woman. She is not like British noble lady before, but is active, brave, positive and intelligent. Also, not every policeman lacks ability like in the Holmes stories. Superintendent Battle, in 『The Secret of Chimneys』 and 『The Seven Dials Mystery』, is very competent.

  In the period of Christie's fictions, British colonies like Albania, Egypt and Ireland were becoming independent. It was after World War Ⅰ, and worries were covering the air of Nazi movement. So the relationship between Britain and other countries became important. Diplomatic importance was reflected in 『The Secret of Chimneys』 and 『The Seven Dials Mystery』. Also, there were tensions of war, and the viewpoint toward foreigners had changed. They did not mean colonial people; instead, they had a significant role to preserve a good relationship with Britain, or they were spies to be punished. In 『The Secret of Chimneys』, Anthony Cade is the prince of Herzoslovakia, and becomes important because he has a positive attitude toward Britain. Otherwise, we can find out some tries to arrest foreigner spies in 『The Secret Adversary』, 『N or M』 and 『The Clocks』.

  Detective fictions have been devalued because of the insistence that those fictions are commercialized and just stimulate curiosity. However, they show distinctive social aspects. I think because it is very familiar to the public and close to their daily life. Even for me, detective fictions has been together with me since my childhood. Though these stories do not always show desirable attitude, we can see not only how society has changed, but also how the problem is solved with feeling genuine interest.

 

* Reference

Christie, Agatha. N or M. Seoul: 황금가지, 2008

Christie, Agatha. The Clocks. Seoul: 황금가지, 2008

Christie, Agatha. The Secret of Chimneys. Seoul: 황금가지, 2007

Christie, Agatha. The Secret Adversary. Seoul: 황금가지, 2007

Christie, Agatha. The Seven Dials Mystery. Seoul: 황금가지, 2007

Doyle, Arthur Conan. A Study in Scarlet. Seoul: 황금가지, 2002

Doyle, Arthur Conan. The hound of the Baskervilles. Seoul: 황금가지, 2002

Doyle, Arthur Conan. The Sign of Four. Seoul: 황금가지, 2002

Gye, Joengmeen. "Class, Race, and Crime: Detective Fiction in Victorian Britain." British and American Fiction 16.3(2009):5-22.

Park, Hyungji. "Empire, Women, and Epistemology in the Victorian Detective Plot." British and American Fiction 15.1(2008):133-156


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