By Maurizio Ascari
This booklet takes a glance on the evolution of crime fiction. contemplating 'criminography' as a procedure of inter-related sub-genres, it explores the connections among modes of literature akin to revenge tragedies, the gothic and anarchist fiction, whereas bearing in mind the impression of pseudo-sciences resembling mesmerism and felony anthropology.
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Additional info for A Counter-History of Crime Fiction: Supernatural, Gothic, Sensational
As we know, the custom of revenge played an important role in ancient pagan societies, where primitive forms of revenge, exceeding the offence, were subsequently limited by applying a principle of reciprocity (the lex talionis) and were eventually superseded by the payment of an indemnity, which the Germans called wergild. After the conversion of the Germanic peoples to Christianity, revenge was increasingly stigmatised, partly because of the strengthening of centralised power which regarded the administration of justice as its own prerogative.
This shift from tragedy to comedy implies a different attitude both in the conception of the plot and in the world view the texts convey. As Hal Gladfelder puts it: Whereas fictions of providential intervention are complexly plotted and highly patterned in their effects – corresponding both to the elaborate machinations of the murderers they portray and to a view of the world as ordered, purposeful, watchfully governed – picaresque stories are episodic and arbitrary in their moral and emotional effects, just as the world they imagine is unstable, disintegrating, catalyzed by chance meetings and clashes.
The ensuing speech is a piece of rhetorical bravura. 51 The churchman, however, receives but a scant prize for his oratorical virtuosity, since he has been relieved of ten pounds and is handed back only ten shillings for his pains… This is not the only case where Smith dealt ironically with religion. 52 As we can see, when the comic treatment of crime (be it the prelude to life and salvation or to death and damnation) prevails over the tragic plot of murder and punishment, divine detection loses its centrality.
A Counter-History of Crime Fiction: Supernatural, Gothic, Sensational by Maurizio Ascari