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Sherlock's Methods: An Investigation of the Detective Novel

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Course Description

You know my methods, Watson! In Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories, the detective frequently draws attention to his methods of detection and investigation. These methods are precise forms of close readings that focus on details as well as structures or patterns and require logical reasoning. In this seminar, the detective as a reader, as well as the reader as a detective, will be put into question. We will trace the footsteps of literature's most famous detectives through the misty, poorly lit streets of 19th century London into the crime-ridden underground of Los Angeles during the beginning of the 20th century. We will become familiar with the multifaceted genre of the detective novel through analysis and interpretation of literary aesthetics, as well as their sociological implications. We will not merely ask how the detective has become a literary motif, but how his and her unique methods influence and shape the texts of the genre.

In addition to analyzing Edgar Allen Poe's Dupin, Conan Doyle's Sherlock, and Raymond Chandler's hard-boiled Marlowe, we will consider one of the genre's most important structural aspects "seriality" as a series of crimes becomes a series of texts and vice versa. In order to do so, we will consider the recent television adaptions of Sherlock, as well as True Detective.

Keeping Agatha Christie's Miss Marple in mind, we will trace one of the detective novel's roots back to German Romanticism, where we find E. T. A. Hoffmann's Mademoiselle de Scuderi (1819), another female detective and a literary writer, who allows us to ask about the detective's relation to art and thus also about the specific aesthetics of the genre.

In this course, students will be introduced to the genre of detective fiction and its strategies and aesthetics, while also becoming familiar with critical approaches to literary texts, such as close reading. This course will require daily readings, in-class participation, brief writing assignments, and an oral presentation. Students will have the chance to train their critical reading and analytical skills, while becoming familiar with academic debates. Students will, therefore, develop skills that will prepare them for college-level work.

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