Full course description
Every year, Crime Fiction outsells all other types of fiction. Since the explosion of popularity of crime fiction in the 19th century, there has been a relentless appetite for it in all its forms, detective fiction, police procedural ‘cosy’ mysteries… However, it is still frequently regarded as a ‘lesser’ form than literary fiction, or as entertainment, or as a guilty pleasure. This course invites participants to explore the origins and history of crime fiction from the very first incarnation of the form to the bestselling crime novelists of today. We will begin with the first detective to appear in literature, Edgar Allen Poe’s Auguste Dupin, before moving to consider the works of major figures including Arthur Conan Doyle, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler and modern writers including Louise Penny and the Irish writer Benjamin Black (John Banville).
8 week programme, Tuesday, 7-9 pm, 27 September to 15 November
Location- Western Gateway Building Room G13, UCC
Week 1: What is the first Crime Novel?
The first week, we will explore the origins of Crime Fiction. This will include looking at the immense popularity of newspaper articles and literature about crime, which culminated in the development of Sensation Fiction in the mid-19th century. Victorian readers had an immense interest in stories about crime. We will consider the reasons for this and look at some popular examples including extracts from works by Charles Dickens and Wilkie Collins.
Week 2: The Arrival of the literary detective
The second week will look at a landmark moment in the history of Crime Fiction, the appearance of the first detective in literature, Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin. We will read some of the most famous short stories including ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’ and ‘The Purloined Letter’.
Week 3: The World’s Greatest Detective
This lecture considers and celebrates the achievement of Arthur Conan Doyle who, with the Sherlock Holmes stories, created the most recognisable character in Western literature. When he wanted to write ‘better things’ Doyle killed off Holmes in ‘The Final Problem’. Thousands of readers immediately cancelled their subscriptions to The Strand Magazine which published the stories, and Doyle received letters protesting the decision. Why was Holmes so popular? Why did Doyle kill him off and later bring him back? And why did he feel that the character kept him from writing great literature? These are the questions we will try to answer.
Week 4 The Queen of Crime
In the early 20th century, the Golden Age of Crime Fiction arrived in England with works by the likes of Margary Allingham, Ngaio Marsh, Dorothy Sayers, and arguably the greatest writer of crime fiction there as ever been – Agatha Christie. This week we will examine the works of a woman who has sold 2 billion books, making her the bestselling writer of fiction of all time.
Week 5 American Hard-Boiled Fiction
Following on from the Golden Age, crime fiction was dominated by great American writers like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler who pioneered a new ‘Hard-Boiled’ style of writing. This week we will explore this style of writing.
Week 6 Irish Crime Fiction
Modern Irish writers are among the best in the world at Crime Fiction. We will look at an example of a writer known for literary fiction, who turned to crime fiction, adopted a pseudonym and then dropped it. This is John Banville who began his Quirke series under the name Benjamin Black but published the latest instalment under his own name. We will read the first novel in the series, Christine Falls.
Week 7 Modern Crime Writing
Following on from Week 6, we will consider the work of one of the world’s leading crime novelists, Louise Penny. Penny is a multi-award winning and bestselling author of a series of novels set in Canada. Her novels blend a variety of styles and are currently being adapted to a TV series for Amazon with her detective, Inspector Gamache being played by Alfred Molina.
Week 8 Crime Fiction on TV and Film
It is not just in books where the appetite for crime is strong. The course concludes with an discussion around some of the most popular detectives in TV and Film.
Dr Mary O’Connell teaches 19th century literature in the School of English. Previously a Leverhulme Fellow at the School of English in the University of St. Andrews and the winner of the National University of Ireland Postdoctoral award, she is the author of Byron and John Murray: A Poet and His Publisher (Liverpool University Press, 2014).
Applicants must be at least 18 years old at course commencement.
Short courses are not assessed. Students will receive a UCC Certificate of Attendance upon completion.
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