This essay argues that by studying parodies of detective fiction from the turn of the twentieth century, one can envision a more complete history of the detective genre's development and the alternate paths it might have pursued. Mark Twain's A Double‐Barrelled Detective Story (1902), Melville Davisson Post's The Strange Schemes of Randolph Mason (1896), and Robert Louis Stevenson and Lloyd Osbourne's The Wrong Box (1889) instruct the reader to regard detective fiction as a genre about the production of the corpse and the transnational economic systems that generated it, rather than the ratiocinative mastery of the detective. These three parodies of detective fiction burlesque incipient genre texts from the nineteenth century by painstakingly regurgitating the global political and economic stakes that set the stage for local mysteries, even when they defer rather than advance the plot. They also foreground the corpse‐as‐spectacle by engineering human remains that resist forensic elucidation and are the product of bizarre and cataclysmic histories of violence. In emphasizing detective fiction's nineteenth‐century literary antecedents, Twain's, Post's, and Stevenson and Osbourne's detective parodies indicate that the genre might have pursued a different direction, one where its dominant element was the disturbing debasement of a body by a complex circuit of global political and economic relations.
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Research Article| December 01 2022
The Indispensable (and Strangely Disposable) Corpse in Early Parodies of Detective Fiction
Michelle Robinson is associate professor of American studies at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is the author of Dreams for Dead Bodies: Blackness, Labor, and the Corpus of American Detective Fiction (2016).
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Genre (2022) 55 (3): 179–203.
Michelle Robinson; The Indispensable (and Strangely Disposable) Corpse in Early Parodies of Detective Fiction. Genre 1 December 2022; 55 (3): 179–203. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00166928-10146738
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