Mystery and Detective Fiction
Welcome to English 200: a community of readers, writers, thinkers, and individuals. This class will be organized around a study of detective, mystery, and suspense fiction and film produced between the mid-19th and mid-20th Century. Our course texts will provide a way into many of the inquiries motivating Modernist literatures as they consider narrative as a technology for knowing and representing the unknown. Departing from the tradition of the American gothic in the short stories of Edgar Allan Poe and moving from “hard-boiled” detective and Noir crime stories to suspense-thriller novels like Rebecca and The Turn of the Screw, through to the films of Alfred Hitchcock to Roman Polansky, we will be continually analyzing different modes for telling stories about that which we do not know or understand.
This class will emphasize and practice the methods of close reading and formal analysis as well as theorizing these genres under the valence of questions about Modernism and Modernity. Working to both establish these texts within their historical, genealogical, and cross-genre traditions and to rigorously consider the formal principles of these texts will allow us to organize our readings into conversations about epistemology, reader-reception theories, problems of representation and realism, and the possibilities these texts might have in directing us to the cultural and historical paradigms and anxieties that motivate their composition and reception.
Throughout the quarter, we will constantly address questions about comparative methodologies of reading through the lenses of form, history, culture, and language. We will ask questions about the role of literary tradition, formula, and genre as it shapes what is possible to say in narrative fiction and film and what these texts make possible for us to say about problems of forms—especially as it relates to categories like dynamics of power, diversity, inclusion, and representation. It will be our task to consider how our study of the way these texts make knowledge, question evidence, unsettle the scientific, and position readers to tell us new things about how language empowers us as readers and critics to continue to make and become fuller participants of our world.
This course meets the University of Washington’s writing requirement (a "W" course) and consequently you will be asked to write multiple 300-400 word paragraph commentaries in addition to a midterm (3-4pgs.) and final project of 4-6 pages. The shorter writing assignments are designed to lead into the longer papers and afford opportunities to practice the skills of slow, deliberate, and focused reading and writing that will be essential to successful longer papers.