Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Marc Dolan

Subject Categories

American Literature | American Studies | English Language and Literature | Literature in English, North America


American popular literature, Anna Katharine Green, detective fiction, Mark Twain, Metta Victor, Pauline Hopkins


This dissertation posits American detective fiction between 1841 and 1914 as a meaningful category and interrogates forms of knowledge used in this genre. The conventional wisdom on detective fiction creates a dichotomy of British and American production, with British detective fiction in a rational style dominating in importance into the 1920s, and American detective fiction dominating in importance with the "hard-boiled" style of the 1930s and '40s (as described by Raymond Chandler). This dissertation argues that American detective fiction is a meaningful category before and beyond the hard-boiled style.

Abductive reasoning, a form of logic based on observation, hypothesis, and confirmation, is the characteristic mode of detection in fiction. Abductive reasoning requires the use of background knowledge to draw conclusions. Therefore, cultural context and beliefs become part of the interpretive process. Works by Edgar Allan Poe, Metta Victor, Anna Katharine Green, Mark Twain, Pauline Hopkins, Edwin Balmer and William MacHarg, and Arthur B. Reeve are used in this study to demonstrate the wide variety of knowledge sources considered relevant in this period. The clearest unit of information in detective fiction is the clue: an object or occurrence that provides critical information toward solving the mystery. The detective figure is the master interpreter of clues, with the observational skills, knowledge base, and imagination to identify and interpret information that others do not.

The period of 1841 to 1914 saw extensive industrialization, geographic expansion, and racial turmoil in the United States. Forensic science advanced both technically and culturally as part of a larger movement toward scientific management. The transition to scientific thinking as depicted in detective fiction is, however, significantly complicated by continuing reliance on sentimental and sensational elements such as magic, religion, and intuition and on community-based ethics.