Re: RARA-AVIS: Re: 165 years ago today

From: Jess Nevins (
Date: 20 Apr 2006

-----Original Message-----
>From: Stewart Wilson <>
>Do you know of an alternative?� Looking around the net, I can't find
>any sites that say Dupin isn't the first fictional detective, merely
>sites that corroborate the claim.� It would be nice to know who the
>first really is.

In my ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FANTASTIC VICTORIANA I spent some time describing both the history of detective fiction in the 19th century as well as the pre-Poe Proto-Mysteries and detective characters.

I don't mean to slight Poe; there's a reason he's been given as much credit as he has over the years. He added a great deal to detective fiction. But too much of what he has been given credit for was created by other hands, and he only synthesized diverse elements into one package. The Great Detective figure was established by Eugene Francois Vidocq in his "autobiography," MEMOIRES DE VIDOCQ (1828); the much-maligned (and unfairly so) Bulwer-Lytton made a fictional version of Vidocq, Monsieur Favart, for his novel NIGHT AND MORNING (1841), which Poe read before writing "Murders in the Rue Morgue." (Poe's review of NIGHT AND MORNING appeared in the same issue of GRAHAM'S LADY AND GENTLEMAN'S MAGAZINE as "Rue Morgue").

Other proto-detectives can include Caleb Williams, in William Godwin's THE ADVENTURES OF CALEB WILLIAMS (1794); E.T.A. Hoffmann's Mme. de Scudery, from "Mademoiselle de Scudery" (1819); Tom Richmond in RICHMOND: SCENES IN THE LIFE OF A BOW STREET RUNNER (1828); various protagonists in the Newgate novels of the 1820s and 1830s; and a number of characters from the German kriminalgeschichte, including Herr von L., from Adolph Mulliner's
"Der Kaliber" (1828).

Poe, as I said, synthesized a lot of what came before. He also introduced a number of motifs and genre conventions, and so I suppose it's not inaccurate to call him one of the fathers of the mystery genre. But he's not the only one. As with most literary genres and character types, it's difficult to say when the first one is--at the edges of genres, things get fuzzy, literary history not least.


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