X477 • 3 semester units in English
Explore the fictional English detective from his first appearances in the compelling "sensation novels" of Victorian England (including Wilkie Collins' Moonstone and Mary Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret), through the fin-de-siècle casebooks of Sherlock Holmes, and into the so-called Golden Age between the world wars, when Agatha Christie, the Queen of Crime, flourished alongside a host of other superb writers. Detective fiction reveals much about the values and practices of society, then and now, and you debate perennial questions about the prope' role of women, the impact of advances in technology and the powers of the police with other seminar participants.
Oxford is the ideal location for this course, because the city and university has provided inspiration (and settings) for many authors over the years (from Dorothy Sayers' genre-busting Gaudy Night through to Colin Dexter's Inspector Morse series). Throughout, you keep a close eye on the Oxford detective. At the same time, you study the English tradition, and contrast it with that of other nations, in particular the United States—from Edgar Allan Poe to Raymond Chandler and beyond. A final strand to the course is the analysis (and enjoyment) of some of the iconic film and television adaptations of classic detective fiction over the years.
Studying the English detective not only reveals a great deal about how good fiction is constructed, but also offers significant insights into English society, in the past and present. Our writers ask serious questions about crime, punishment, law and morality, and you get the opportunity to do the same.
The following books should be read before you arrive in Oxford.
Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone, 1868
Mary Braddon, Lady Audley's Secret, 1862
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1891–1893, from A Scandal in Bohemia to The Adventure of the Final Problem)
Dorothy Sayers, Gaudy Night, 1935
Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye, 1954
If you have time, do read two further 19th century novels and an entertaining book about a real-life Victorian detective.
Wilkie Collins, The Woman in White, 1859
Charles Dickens, Bleak House, 1853
Kate Summerscale, The Suspicions of Mr Whicher: or the Murder at Road Hill House, 2008
We plan to discuss the following authors and texts during the course. Reading ahead makes the seminars more enjoyable, but is not required.Edgar Allan Poe, The Murders in the Rue Morgue
At the start of the course, the tutor provides you with further reading material (short stories or critical essays) that are used in the seminars.
Do bear in mind that the curriculum includes film and television portrayals of the English (and American) detective, including Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes and Philip Marlowe, so you have a perfect excuse to spend hours in vintage viewing ahead of your time in Oxford. And, remember that one of the themes is the Oxford detective: if you don't know them already, sample the work of Michael Innes (Death at the President's Lodging, 1936) and Edmund Crispin (The Case of the Gilded Fly, 1944 and The Moving Toyshop, 1946).
Above all, however, detective fiction is entertaining to read, so discover, or rediscover, some classics of the genre.
Visit 221b Baker Street (The Sherlock Holmes Museum) followed by theatre visit to see Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap. Take a walking tour of Oxford (Oxford and Its Detectives) and then lunch at an appropriate venue, perhaps one of the pubs associated with Inspector Morse. Then, participate in An Actual Murder Mystery!
You are expected to write one paper of 1,500 to 2,000 words and to deliver one oral presentation.
15% course participation
25% in-class presentation
60% final paper
Anna Beer, Ph.D., has taught at the University of Oxford for nearly 15 years and has worked extensively with adult learners. A Fulbright Distinguished Scholar in 2010, she is currently a Visiting Fellow at Kellogg College, Oxford, and was university lecturer in Literature at the University of Oxford 2003–2010. Her published works include John Milton: Poet, Pamphleteer, Patriot (Bloomsbury, 2008).