Date of Degree
Nancy K. Miller
American Studies | English Language and Literature | Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies | History of Art, Architecture, and Archaeology | Modern Literature | Theory and Criticism
privacy, photography, mystery fiction, detective fiction, domestic detective novel
This dissertation is a meditation on the mutable boundaries that define interior life in the age of photography. I probe these boundaries through selected readings in two literary genres that share conceptual links with photography—detective fiction and mystery fiction. Photography plays an important role in a radical reconsideration of the boundaries between public and private, engaging two dominant and often conflicting cultural values that shape American life at the turn of the twentieth century—the mandate to define and protect privacy and the simultaneous call for greater transparency in public and personal life. Photography, through its perceived transgressions against private life, helps initiate a demand to define and protect privacy as well as satisfying the desire for candid exposure of the personal. Likewise, detective and mystery fiction, which I align with photography as cultural vectors, both promote and interrogate the conflicting values of privacy and transparency.
I show that the detective and mystery fiction genres, which enjoyed enormous popularity at the end of the nineteenth century, activate the same cultural fault lines between public and private as photography. These genres confront questions similar to those photography raises about permeability, legibility, and transparency—themes that anchor the three core chapters of this dissertation. Like photography, detective and mystery fiction challenge the unstable relations between interior and exterior, surface and depth, transparency and opacity, conscious and unconscious, knowable and unknowable. While not an exhaustive study of these genres, I argue that Anglophone detective and mystery fiction of the late-nineteenth and early twentieth centuries engage the conflicting impulses between the values of privacy and transparency—or concealing and revealing—that shape the late Victorian period in the age of photography. Likewise, the conflicts around privacy and transparency that drive the plots of the stories and novels discussed herein frame the concerns and contradictions around privacy in the modern era. While the detective genre most often resolves the conflict between public and private in favor of greater transparency, the mystery genre brings resolution while retaining some opacity.
Dunn, Melissa D., "Transparent Interiors: Detective and Mystery Fiction in the Age of Photography" (2016). CUNY Academic Works.