Are these the greatest ever detective novels?
It’s impossible to boil down such a rich and fertile genre as detective fiction to just ten definitive classic novels, so the following list should not be viewed as the ten best detective novels ever written so much as ten classic detective novels to act as great ‘ways in’ to this popular genre of fiction. We’ve tried to allow due coverage to the golden age of detective fiction in the early- to mid-twentieth century, but have also thrown in some earlier, formative classics as well. We’ve avoided spoilers in the summaries of the novels we’ve provided, and have instead chosen to focus on the most curious or interesting aspects of those novels.
Wilkie Collins, The Moonstone. T. S. Eliot called Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone (1868) the first and greatest of the detective novels. It wasn’t technically the first – that honour should probably go to Mary Elizabeth Braddon’s The Trail of the Serpent (1860) – but The Moonstone, which focuses on the theft of the titular gemstone, was one of the most popular and influential detective novels of the Victorian era. All of the ingredients are there: the country house, the handful of likely suspects, the seeming impossibility of the crime, and the sleuth in search of the answer (Sergeant Cuff, although the actual investigation of the crime is something of a team effort). Read the rest of this entry
The best sun poems
Previously, we’ve offered up some classic summer poems, but in this post we’re specifically interested in classic poems about the sun, that wonderful ball of hydrogen and helium that makes life on Earth possible and allows us to get a decent suntan for six days of the year. Each of the ten following poems describes or uses the sun in some way – sometimes to explore other themes, sometimes simply to praise the sun for its warmth and light.
Henry Howard, ‘Set Me Whereas the Sun Doth Parch the Green’. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (1517-47) invented the English sonnet form, adapting the Italian form and rhyme scheme to create the blueprint that Shakespeare, among many others, would later use. In this sonnet, Surrey adapts an Italian poem written by Petrarch, and essentially says, ‘Put me wherever you like, in the warmest sun, in youth or in old age, in earth, heaven, or hell, but I’ll still love you the same’. The poem earns its place on this list for its opening four lines, describing the sun’s ‘temperate heat’. Read the rest of this entry
A summary of a classic modernist poem
‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ has been called, by the critic Christopher Ricks, the best first poem in a first volume of poems: it opened Eliot’s debut collection, Prufrock and Other Observations, in 1917. ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’ had been written by T. S. Eliot, though, back in 1910-11, and made its debut in print in June 1915, when it was published in Poetry magazine. Previously, one poetry bookseller had rejected the poem on the grounds that it was ‘absolutely insane’: Harold Monro, an influential publisher and owner of the Poetry Bookshop in London, was offered the chance to publish ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’. He flung it back, labelling it ‘insane’, as Peter Ackroyd records in his lucid and informative biography T.S.Eliot. This ground-breaking modernist poem has attracted many interpretations, involving everything from psychoanalysis to biographical readings, but it remains an elusive poem. Read the rest of this entry