Foul & Fair Play: Reading Genre in Classic Detective Fiction

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University of Georgia Press, 1995 - Literary Criticism - 284 pages
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Foul and Fair Play is an examination of classic detective fiction as a genre--an attempt to read a wide variety of texts by different authors as variations on a common and relatively tight set of conventions. Marty Roth covers the period from the "prehistory" of detective fiction in Edgar Allan Poe, Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Robert Louis Stevenson, and H. G. Wells up to the 1960s, which marked the end, he says, of the classical period--"the end of an extremely conservative paradigm."

The detective fiction genre, as Roth defines it, includes analytic detective fiction, hard-boiled detective fiction, and the spy thriller. Roth insists on the structural common ground of these three types of writing and places them in the larger system of mystery fiction that preceded and surrounds them.

The first part of the book consists of a reading of conventions: conventions of character (the detective, the criminal), of gender and sexuality, of narrative style, of settings, and of the curious rules of exchange and coincidence that operate in the realm where detective stories take place. The second section deals with the convoluted epistemology of mystery and detective fiction, depending as it does on other major intellectual developments of the late nineteenth century, such as psychoanalysis.

An extremely original study, Foul and Fair Play offers many insights into the literary and cultural history of a popular genre.


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FOUL AND FAIR PLAY: Reading Genre in Classic Detective Fiction

User Review  - Jane Doe - Kirkus

A strangely equivocal morphology of detective fiction that reads every one of its considerable range of forms as a recurrence of a single, rigidly conventional formula. The structuralist approach that ... Read full review


Borderlines and Boundaries
The Constant Character
The Seal of Subjectivity
The Pleasures of Being Merely Male
The Texture of Femininity
The Crime the Criminal the Community
Detective Solutions and Their Fictions
Messages from the Underworld

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About the author (1995)

Marty Roth is a professor of English at the University of Minnesota. He is the author of Comedy and America: The Lost World of Washington Irving and the editor of Washington Irving's Contributions to "The Corrector". His last book is Drunk the Night Before, a cultural history of intoxication.

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