By Maurizio Ascari
This booklet takes a glance on the evolution of crime fiction. contemplating 'criminography' as a method of inter-related sub-genres, it explores the connections among modes of literature corresponding to revenge tragedies, the gothic and anarchist fiction, whereas taking into consideration the effect of pseudo-sciences similar to mesmerism and felony anthropology.
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Additional info for A Counter-History of Crime Fiction: Supernatural, Gothic, Sensational
The problem of repentance is central also to Defoe’s The Life, Adventures, and Pyracies of Captain Singleton (1720), where Singleton – part rogue, part hero – is allowed to make amends for his former life of crime. The climax of the novel coincides with the turning point in the life of the main character, whose conversion follows a natural event of supernatural import, so to speak. The boat on which Singleton is travelling (together with a devout Quaker, who will be instrumental in his salvation) is suddenly struck by lightning, whose heat and flash, and whose concomitant thunder, throw all the men into the utmost terror, while the Quaker preserves his calm and manages to save the boat.
After the conversion of the Germanic peoples to Christianity, revenge was increasingly stigmatised, partly because of the strengthening of centralised power which regarded the administration of justice as its own prerogative. The earthly and the heavenly systems of values supported one another, insofar as the injunction to leave retribution to God – whose justice was regarded in turn as a form of revenge – agreed with the objectives of sovereigns whose aim was to take the administration of justice into their own hands.
Given the fact that medieval culture was deeply imbued with this religious view, what role did detection play in it? We tend to associate detection with the rational search for clues and a culprit, that is, to regard it as a quintessential product of the Enlightenment and positivism. Yet, if we explore the medieval and early-modern cultures we realise that they expressed a common belief in the power of ‘supernatural entities’ not only to punish criminals in their afterlife, but also to ensure their detection on earth, notably when they were guilty of murder – the capital sin.