Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy
Dr. Nicolas Witschi
Dr. Leonard Cassuto
Dr. Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock
Dr. Philip Egan
American Gothic, Edgar Allan Poe, Dashiell Hammett, detective fiction, Mark Twain
The period from 1799 through 1929 marks a remarkable era of development for gothic themes in American mystery and investigative fiction. From early “mysteries of detection” through more structurally formalized detective stories, this project examines the differences in the gothic modes and devices employed by Charles Brockden Brown, Edgar Allan Poe, Anna Katharine Green, Mark Twain, and Dashiell Hammett, and their significant contributions to the progression of the popular gothic detective genre. Through the study of each author’s specific style and focus, there is much to learn about literary development and cultural influence. All of the authors mentioned here address the unique insecurities of their time period, as well as the transgressions its people both committed and feared.
This study draws upon the critical work of Teresa Goddu, John Cawelti, Dennis Porter, Karen Halttunen, and Jeffrey Weinstock, among others, to understand the tremendous impact and cultural significance of gothic detective fiction and its importance to American literary culture. The gothic detective genre provides criticism of social issues such as classism and racism, explores inseparable connections to the past, and offers an engagement with outliers of human psychology. These stories follow the development of the United States’ culture during each period, reflecting the nation’s societal concerns and aspirations of imposing order where only chaos reigns. The pervasive use of gothic themes and devices contributes to the evolution of the detective genre by drawing attention to societal anxieties and indiscretions, and serving as a kind of living cultural record of human imperfection and aberration in the guise of an engaging mystery story.
This study adds to the understanding of gothic detective fiction as an important cultural registry of social concerns through a close examination of key texts to engage with each author’s stylistic contributions and cultural concerns and illustrate a continuous arc of development over time. By isolating the individual connection between each author and their own version of the gothic detective form, this project shows why this particular mode of genre fiction represents an engagement not only with stories, but with ideologies connected back to the society which has produced it. Greater understanding of these ideas gives us a stronger connection with the literature and forges a closer relationship between readers and culture.
Masten, Keli, "“Called Forth by Imminent Dangers”: The American Gothic in Mysteries of Detection and Detective Fiction (1799-1929)" (2019). Dissertations. 3522.