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Discovering Diversity: The Subversive Detective in Late Victorian and Edwardian Detective Fiction




Watson, Buchanan

Type of Degree

PhD Dissertation



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This dissertation examines the ways British detective fiction at the turn of the twentieth century undermined dominant ideological systems through the presentation of culturally, ideologically, and formally subversive detective figures. These characters represent a trend in late Victorian and Edwardian crime and detective literature that counters the critical image of the culturally conservative fictional investigator popularized by Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes stories and later works from the Golden Age of detective fiction. To illustrate the early genre’s application as a method of ideological critique rather than support, my dissertation identifies and analyzes detective figures whose cultural identities were criminalized by Victorian and Edwardian society. Characters such as Arthur Morrison’s Horace Dorrington, Marie Belloc Lowndes’ Ellen Bunting, Headon Hill’s Kala Persad, and Ernest Bramah’s Max Carrados are examined for how they embody—and subvert—ideological principles of class, gender, race, and disability within their positions as professional and amateur detective figures. Their investigative methods, storylines, and social commentary are examined and contrasted against narrative archetypes of the more conventional Holmesian model of detective fiction, highlighting the variety of investigative figures who operated during a literary period that has been scholastically dominated by the study of Sherlock Holmes and detectives like him. In offering a critical review of these subversive detective figures, this dissertation presents a more complete depiction of turn of the twentieth century detective fiction by widening the canon to include marginalized characters and texts that diversify and supplement the incomplete conversation surrounding the genre in late Victorian and Edwardian Britain.