In this week’s Dispatches from The Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle investigates the fascinating facts behind some of the greatest detective novels
The rise of detective fiction is a fascinating topic (previously, I’ve chosen 10 of the greatest examples of the genre), and it’s no surprise that a book telling the story of classic crime fiction in 100 books should yield many surprising and interesting facts. This is certainly the case with Martin Edwards’ The Story of Classic Crime in 100 Books (British Library Crime Classics), a beautifully produced book from the British Library which charts the rise of crime fiction during the genre’s ‘Golden Age’ of the first half of the twentieth century.
Over the course of 24 entertaining and accessible chapters, which are based around various themes (including London-based crime fiction, crime fiction in the countryside, the seemingly ‘impossible crime’ of the locked-room mystery, parodies and humorous examples of the genre), Martin Edwards considers some of the most emblematic and readable examples of crime and detective fiction written between 1900 and 1950 (loosely).
As well as telling the story of crime fiction as an overall genre, Edwards also offers mini-histories of not only his 100 chosen novels but also the authors who wrote them. The Story of Classic Crime is packed full of curious biographical trivia, which delve into the alternative lives Read the rest of this entry
A commentary on one of Hopkins’s ‘Terrible Sonnets’
The mid-1880s was not a good time for Gerard Manley Hopkins. Lonely in Ireland, the poet fell into a black pit of depression, out of which came the ‘Terrible Sonnets’ which represent, after his flurry of creativity in 1876-77, the most productive time of his poetic career. ‘Carrion Comfort’ is perhaps the most famous of these sonnets. Before we proceed to a commentary on the poem, here’s a reminder of it.
Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist — slack they may be — these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee? Read the rest of this entry
The best villanelles everyone should read
As its name suggests, the villanelle is a French verse form, yet English has become its natural home. The villanelle is the greatest immigrant verse form. This intriguing verse form comprises 19 lines made up of five tercets (three-line stanzas) and a concluding quatrain. As the Oxford English Dictionary summarises it, ‘The first and third lines of the first stanza are repeated alternately in the succeeding stanzas as a refrain, and form a final couplet in the quatrain.’ Although the form dates back to a late sixteenth-century poem ‘Villanelle (J’ay perdu ma Tourterelle)’ by Jean Passerat, it was in the twentieth century that it became a great English verse form. (Indeed, it appears that Passerat invented the form himself with this poem). As the following eight poems suggest, this poetic form has been tried out by some of the major poets of the twentieth century, with memorable results.
Edwin Arlington Robinson, ‘The House on the Hill’. One of the first great examples of the villanelle in English, this poem is a fine exercise in nostalgia, but also a wonderful example of how the villanelle’s built-in repetition can be put to effective use: ‘there is nothing more to say’, yet he will keep on saying it, that ‘they are all gone away’, because when we dwell on the past we are slaves to the same repeated statements and thoughts that the villanelle allows the poet to express. Read the rest of this entry