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Golden age essay

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The crime-fiction genre is a longstanding genre which deals with the thrill and suspicion of ensnaring a villain, often by means of a fascinating process of thoughtful deduction. The perennial interest generated by villains and their associated crimes means that the genre is still very popular, though it has undergone development to make it more appealing to those familiar with popular culture. A form of the novel however, that is still widely read today is what is referred to “ Golden Age” crime fiction.

This term is used to identify crime fiction of the early part of the 20th Century, when the genre was dominated by British authors, and directed to the more literate middle and upper classes of the period. As a consequence, the crimes dealt with in these novels are often somewhat more sophisticated and genteel – featuring murders in country manors, while the villain is uncovered through a process of masterly deduction. Indeed, to better understand the general structure of a golden age piece of work, one must analyse a typical novel of the time.

Agatha Christie is a key proponent of Golden Age crime fiction – often referred to as the mother of the Golden Age crime-fiction. Her novel – “ The Big Four” contains many features of crime-fiction novels of that time. The novel features the protagonist Hercule Poirot, who appears in many of her novels, and details his endeavours to uncover and thwart the ambitions of a global criminal conspiracy, masterminded by four evil geniuses. We can learn from this text that the narrative, like many of the novels at the time, is of the first person, and in this case is narrated by Poirot’s companion and aide, Captain Hastings.

This first person style is characteristic of the Golden Age era, as it was what was the more common form of story-telling at that time, as well as being an excellent way to offer the tiny insights required for a reader to understand the subtleties of the situation, or impart hints, suspicions or other insinuations which could aid or mislead the reader. An example of this is when Hastings says “ the old woman… might have killed him… she would leave no prints” in order to raise false suspicions, and thus increase the reader’s surprise when the culprit is someone entirely different.

The first person narrative style is also helpful in endearing the characters to the reader, but, though their many idiosyncrasies, such as Poirot’s “ massive ego” and Hastings ‘ impatience’ are revealed through the narrative, it is somewhat formal and thus distant, and will not be as effective as a more modern style of narrative. The formal language is a persistent reminder of the class structures observed by the British in the early 1900’s, and the audience which this novel is directed at.

An example of this is the phrase “ one must not become obsessed by a certain idea,” which reflects the less direct way of conveying ideas, and thus placing more of an emphasis on the intrigue created by the plot rather than the pace of the plot itself. Christie’s class prejudices also come through in a subtle manner – the way the first murder we encounter is suspected to be have been perpetrated by the illiterate and “ not intelligent” common man. The unfortunate victim is an aristocrat, and we may infer that it is logical for the commoners to resent their place in society, and thus perpetrate the crime.

The logic and intelligence which guides the investigator through the entire case is faultless, though it lies heavily on assumptions which, inevitably prove to be correct. This coupled by strange coincidences which occur in time to give the protagonist clues, can make the storyline too plotted and in some places, predictable. The words ‘ by coincidence’ are seen, it would seem, too frequently to place much realism in the plot. However, the suspense created by the mysteries and puzzles of the case, as well as the final twist at the end continue to make the story thrilling.

Comparing the “ Big Four” to another text of the Golden Age era, one can see that those characteristics would seem typical. “ Silver Blaze” is a short story featuring Sherlock Holmes, pre-eminent of all criminal detectives. The similarities between this text and the previous one are quite striking. Again, there is the first person narration by Holmes’ indomitable colleague, Watson, which again aids the reader in understanding the plot, and serves to unravel the mystery in a singularly thrilling fashion.

The way in which Watson narrates offers many tiny insights into the character of Holmes, such as when he states “ Holmes looked pleased” or “ Holmes seemed bewildered,” which allows Conan-Doyle to make subtle insinuations – much like Christie did. Though “ Silver Blaze” is a short story, one can see that the plot is somewhat similar to “ The Big Four” as well in that it the murder is again of a member of the high class – a ‘ Colonel Ross’ – and the villain, is a manservant. The setting is ‘ around the country’ with descriptions of the ‘ moor’ and ‘ pure country air’ emphasising the more rural setting preferred by Golden Age authors.

The deductive process is again masterfully conducted, with hints and clues peppered throughout the story, and cleverly brought together to reveal the culprit. However, Holmes does seem to have a less physically active investigation, though his method of solving the mystery relies less on chance, coincidence and assumption than Christie’s Poirot. It is interesting to note the development of the genre to the modern-day type of fiction. As America grew in power and influence, and its population grew more literate, the American detective novel – known as hardboiled crime fiction became more common in the latter part of the 19th Century.

It has progressed much since then, and now modern-day hardboiled fiction incorporates many of the elements that existed in earlier times. The most striking change is that of language and setting – which can be clearly seen in Marele Day’s “ Harry Lavender. ” The short, sharp language at the beginning of the novel – “ a bottle of Jack Daniels. Empty” is characteristic of the type of hardboiled fiction that “ The Life and Crimes of Harry Lavender” is such a key proponent of.

Again it is interesting to note the first person narrative style, which does endear the narrator to the reader, especially given the less formal and more colloquial language used – with slang and invective being quite evident – such as when Valentine (the protagonist) says “ elections were won and lost on dog shit. ” The lack of formal language allows a brevity unimaginable in the previous texts, and the author is thus better able to employ language and other literary techniques to create the suspense which is such a key part of any crime-fiction story.

Hardboiled crime-fiction also has a very urban setting, which contrasts strongly with the more rural areas, or less developed cities in which the Golden Age novels were set. These novels tend to show the darker, subterranean world which exists in every city, and the setting of dark, dirty alleys emphasises the hardships faced by most people forced to crime and tend to be more realistic in it’s portrayal of people and events – though there is a tendency to melodrama.

The deductive process is also less intellectual – a puzzle or mystery can now be solved through liaisons with knowledgeable contacts and technology, rather than purely on the problem-solving aptitude of the detective. An example of this is when Valentine places a “ tracking device” which she describes as “ easily available… if you know where to look” on a car. In addition, the physical challenges faced by the protagonist are considerably more daunting – such as fighting, climbing and crawling through dangerous waterfront warehouses, which again reflect the more crowded, urban setting of the hardboiled genre.

Another text which can help one understand about crime-fiction is the ‘ Tell-Tale Heart” by Edgar Allen Poe – considered a very early piece of crime-fiction, though the genre was not clearly defined at the time. From this text we can see the gothic elements its author, Edgar Allen Poe, was renowned for, and the beginnings of the elements recognised as key features of crime-fiction. This text is again in the first person narrative, but the way it the plot is introduced draws the reader in straight away, with the use of powerful emotive words such as “ mad… estroyed, dulled. ” However, in this case, it is from the criminal’s perspective, and describes the way “ the idea entered (his) brain,” which is a refreshing concept, and holds a somewhat macabre fascination for the reader.

This creates a fast paced, thrilling short-story which compels the reader to keep turning the page and follow the gruesome plot which the main character carries through based on some irrational urge. Other Gothic elements, such as the description of how he ‘ slowly placed … ead’ through the door and the motif of the ‘ muffled sound of his heart’ build up the suspense associated with crime, which is what has made crime-fiction stories so popular. However, there seems to be a lack of development in relation to other aspects of stereotypical crime-fiction texts – such as a detailed setting, as well as some knowledge of the killer and victim. The abstract, insane nature of the act is also quite untypical of the crime-fiction genre – preferring to rely more on rational, logical thought to solve mysteries.

However, the ‘ secrets’ and the very macabre personification of ‘ Death – approaching him… his black shadow before him,’ all indicate a crime of evil We can see from all these texts how much the genre of crime-fiction has developed and changed since its formalised inception, and the different sub-genres which have evolved as a result. The characteristics which are so evident in all of these texts reveal distinct styles in the different sub-genres – such as the fast paced hardboiled detective thriller, and the slower, more intellectual and intriguing novels of Conan-Doyle and other Golden Age authors.

Each of the texts contributes immensely to the crime-fiction genre – whether it be by helping define the genre in its early beginnings in the “ Tell – Tale Heart,” or by helping to develop the genre to a more fast paced, witty thriller rather than a more complex murder mystery as was he case with ‘ Harry Lavender,’ and all are responsible for generating the interest in crime-fiction today.

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