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Dreams for Dead Bodies

Dreams for Dead Bodies: Blackness, Labor, and the Corpus of American Detective Fiction OPEN ACCESS

M. Michelle Robinson
Series: Class : Culture
Copyright Date: 2016
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    Dreams for Dead Bodies
    Book Description:

    Dreams for Dead Bodies: Blackness, Labor, and the Corpus of American Detective Fiction offers new arguments about the origins of detective fiction in the United States, tracing the lineage of the genre back to unexpected texts and uncovering how authors such as Edgar Allan Poe, Mark Twain, Pauline Hopkins, and Rudolph Fisher made use of the genre’s puzzle-elements to explore the shifting dynamics of race and labor in America. The author constructs an interracial genealogy of detective fiction to create a nuanced picture of the ways that black and white authors appropriated and cultivated literary conventions that coalesced in a recognizable genre at the turn of the twentieth century. These authors tinkered with detective fiction’s puzzle-elements to address a variety of historical contexts, including the exigencies of chattel slavery, the erosion of working-class solidarities by racial and ethnic competition, and accelerated mass production. Dreams for Dead Bodies demonstrates that nineteenth- and early twentieth-century American literature was broadly engaged with detective fiction, and that authors rehearsed and refined its formal elements in literary works typically relegated to the margins of the genre. By looking at these margins, the book argues, we can better understand the origins and cultural functions of American detective fiction.

    eISBN: 978-0-472-90060-2
    Subjects: Language & Literature, Sociology
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  1. In Chester Himes’s bookThe End of a Primitive, an African American author named Jesse Robinson dreams of reading a book titledHog Will Eat Hog, “a soft sweet lyrical and gently humorous account” of a cook who discovers one need not slaughter hogs to make sausage (193). Instead, he makes an arrangement with his pigs: each day they will volunteer some quantity of sausage “neatly stufed in their intestines,” which the man has merely to collect and turn over to his customers. his mutually agreeable bargain is botched, however, when a single hog among them claims he is all...

  2. Mark Twain’sMysterious Strangermanuscripts are a set of three distinct, unfinished novels Twain composed between 1897 and 1908.¹ The third text in this series of anarchic partial fictions on moral responsibility isNo. 44, The Mysterious Stranger(1902–8). With its references to the growth of the industrial workplace and a burgeoning labor movement that would attempt to sever workers’ “workaday selves” from those selves who must be aforded time for “what we will,” the third of theMysterious Strangermanuscripts takes modernity as its subject. It does not flinch from awful spectacles of human oppression and violence, some...

  3. The America that Edgar Allan Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne inhabited was on the move, deeply enmeshed in a process of self-creation and expansion restricted only by the plasticity of its populace. At the heart of this venture was the cultivation of republican virtue, an ambition succinctly outlined by the American Enlightenment thinker Dr. Benjamin Rush in his 1798 essay, “Of the Mode of Education Proper in a Republic.” Rush proposed to “convert men into republican machines,” an essential measure “if we expect them to perform their parts properly, in the great machine of the government of the state” (qtd. in...

  4. “You will say that man cannot hold property in man,” James Henry Hammond argued in his 1845 “ Letter to an English Abolitionist,” then pointed out that quite the opposite was true: “The answer is, that he can and actually does hold property in his fellow all the world over, in a variety of forms, and has always done so” (104). According to American advocates for the “peculiar institution,” slaves were indispensable acquisitions, assets that could not be properly relinquished. More importantly, if the slave might be read as a “sign and surrogate” of his or her proprietor, explains historian...

  5. This chapter explores narrative contiguity and temporal reconstruction in two texts on the periphery of the detective genre. Both of these novels enter into “whoizzit” mode—narrative situations in which characters who appear to be distinct persons are suddenly identfied as a single individual, whose crimes comprise a continuous, coherent set of acts, a “totality of a character’s being-and-doing over time” (Thompson and Thompson 55). The racial “passing” plots in Pauline Hopkins’s serialized mysteryHagar’s Daughter: A Story of Southern Caste Prejudice(1901–2) and William H. Holcombe’s little-knownA Mystery of New Orleans: Solved by New Methods(1890) advance...

  6. No ordinary physician, Rudolph Fisher earned a medical degree from Howard University in 1924 and completed postgraduate research at Columbia University. A clergyman’s son who received B.A. and M.A. degrees from Brown University, he toured the eastern seaboard accompanying Paul Robeson on the piano to raise funds for college. He was a roentgenologist who once held private practice on Long Island but had, since the onset of the Great Depression, worked as an X-ray technician at Harlem Hospital; he would die in 1934 at the age of thirty-seven from a stomach disorder caused by exposure to his own equipment. He...

  7. Like the “curious collection” of keepsakes Sherlock Holmes retains from “The Musgrave Ritual” (his first case of any significance as a consulting detective), detection’s narrative devices were put in safekeeping in conventional genre texts, in something like Holmes’s “small wooden box with a sliding lid such as children’s toys are kept in” (Doyle 605). In this study, I have argued that though the “relics” in this repository for narrative “playthings” collectively take the recognizable form we calldetective fiction, they were forged elsewhere, and of socioeconomic necessity: to address the historical conditions of production and processes of racial formation fundamentally...

Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International
This book is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International.
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