Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

Carl Freedman


This dissertation has two main concerns. The first is to see fictions of crime--a general term which I use to signify those genres concerned with crime, including detective fiction, spy thrillers, and crime fiction proper--as attempts to mediate and contain the anxieties brought about by the experience of modernity. Modernity is theorized as having three primary moments: the nineteenth, early twentieth-century experience of imperialism; the post World War I period, the high water mark of urban capitalism; and the post World War II period, which I theorize as postmodernism. I attempt to situate crime fiction within these social contexts, and to read crime fiction as a generic form which responds to these formations by looking at the texts in question as parts of lived cultures, cultures which co-exist with dominant ideologies in various modes of opposition, resistance and incorporation. The second aspect of my study consists of my examination of crime fiction in relation to canonical or "high" literature. My thesis here is that this analysis of "high" and "low" cultural relations inevitably leads to a problematizing or re-evaluation of many received categories within literary criticism and theory. In arguing that "high" and "popular" culture are overlapping formations, I try to throw into question some accepted notions about both, as well as the ways in which they are usually understood. So, for example, if modernism cannot be defined by its difference from a genre, or genres, is it productive to stigmatize popular literature as generic and canonical literature as not generic? If canonical or "high" literature shares many of the same conventions and responses to society as "popular" literature, is not the "high"/"low" distinction a misleading one? Finally, if modernism is not essentially different from mass culture, how then are realism and postmodernism to be understood? These are some of the questions this dissertation seeks to answer.