1 x 1-hour lecture weekly
1 x 1-hour seminar weekly
1 x 2-hour film screening weekly
9 units of first-year topics
Enrolment not permitted
ENGL2508 has been successfully completed
Assumed knowledge
A basic understanding of academic approaches to literature and the cinema. Basic literacy concepts and terminology.
Topic description

This topic examines one of the most provocative and fertile genres in contemporary literature and cinema: the crime fiction genre. As a literary genre, crime fiction is relatively young; from its beginnings in the 19th Century, and through its major development in the 20th, the genre has responded vigorously to changing social-political and cultural environments. In the process, crime fiction has also blossomed into a major genre within the film and television industries. By examining texts taken from different historical periods, this topic will explore, interrogate and contextualise the crime genre itself, and will consider the complex cultural materials at work within it. Students will study a series of texts dealing with the themes of crime and detection, and will ultimately position these texts within a number of historical, cultural and critical contexts. Issues we will be explicitly concerned with will include: the "rules" of genre fiction itself; catharsis and its place in crime fiction; representations of ideas of justice, good and evil within the genre; adaptation of texts from one medium to another; and representations of ratiocination (logic-wielding) and their effects upon readers with regard to diegetic engagement and suspense.

Educational aims

This topic aims to:

  • Expose students to a range of texts that deal with the themes of crime and detection, taken from a range of historical and critical contexts, and to encourage students to respond critically to these texts in terms of their prevailing ideologies
  • Contextualise the transformations that occur in the crime fiction genre as it develops and passes from literature to television and film
  • Help students develop an understanding of (a) the processes and debates that characterise popular culture, and (b) of popular culture's relation to 'high' culture in fiction, television and film
  • Consider the complexities inherent in the notion of adapting texts from this genre from one medium to another (with regard to both the conventions of narrative and the conventions and regulations governing the film and television industries)
  • Help students work to understand the narratological function of archetypal componentry that can be seen at work within the crime genre (i.e. characters, narrative forms, devices and tropes)
Expected learning outcomes
On completion of this topic you will be expected to be able to:

  1. Demonstrate an understanding of crime fiction's conventions and a number of its key texts, and of the enormous size and complexity of the genre and its sub-genres
  2. Use numerous critical and theoretical tools to produce well-reasoned and nuanced readings of the literary and filmic texts they have examined
  3. Give a critical account of the issues and debates surrounding questions of genre, identity and ideology represented across the crime fiction genre (and others)
  4. Demonstrate an understanding of the ways in which the devices, narratives and tropes of the genre(s) in their literary form have influenced the workings of related filmic and televisual genres, and how these have become popular-culture staples
  5. Discuss the ways in which the crime and detective genres have become internationalised, and understand the ways that the conditions of Postmodernism and Poststructuralism have affected the developments of the genre and its modern textual examples