The Case of the Purloined Child: Detective Fiction and Criticism
By Dr Evdokia Michalopoulou
Abstract PhD Thesis Dr Kia (Evdokia) Michalopoulou
Congratulations to CIRCL PhD student Evdokia (Kia) Michalopoulou on passing her viva on 29-04-2013 with her thesis on ‘The Case of the Purloined Child: Detective Fiction and Criticism’. External Examiner: Dr Jenny Bavidge from the University of Cambridge and Internal Examiner Dr Sue Walsh, supervisor Professor Karin Lesnik-Oberstein.
Abstract of thesis
This thesis examines ideas of the child in detective fiction in both adult and children’s literature criticism drawing mainly on the theoretical work of Jacqueline Rose in The Case of Peter Pan Or the Impossibility of Children’s Fiction (1984) as well as on the work of Jacques Derrida included in The Purloined Poe: Lacan, Derrida and Psychoanalytic Reading (eds. Muller and Richardson, 1989). Rose argues that the child is a construction rather than having a reality which is then brought into the text to stabilise and secure meaning in language. Derrida argues that the application of the truth of psychoanalysis (that Lacan claims to have found in ‘The Purloined Letter’) limits the play of written word and stabilises and fixes meaning in language. Both critics argue for a reading that reads implications rather than a reading that applies some pre-discursive truth whichis either the child or psychoanalysis.
The thesis focuses its questioning of essentialist assumptions about childhood and reading through a close focus on children’s detective fiction criticism, including Adrienne E. Gavin and Christopher Routledge’s edited volume Mystery in Children’s Literature: From the Rational to the Supernatural (2001); and the Special Issue of Children’s Literature Association Quarterly(vol. 10, 2010) at the 25th anniversary of the publication of Jacqueline Rose’s The Case of Peter Pan. A questioning of wider essentialist assumptions about reading and detective fiction basing its case on ‘The Yellow Face’ is pursued through a close analysis of Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes story ‘The Yellow Face’ and its criticism, including Henry Cunningham’s ‘Sherlock Holmes and the case of race’, Jinny Huh’s ‘Whispers of Norbury: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and the Modernist Crisis of Racial (Un)Detection’, and Thomas L. Stix’s ‘The Yellow Face’.
Through these close analyses the thesis argues that childhood, detective fiction, and ‘popular’ fiction more widely are usually assumed as ‘(un)readable’ in relying on a simple reality and language which does not need to be interpreted, but is, as Rose argues, seen as transparently accessible. The thesis traces the implication of such assumptions in the criticism offering readings of what is invested in such claims, as well as demonstrating how we might read, as Shoshana Felman puts it, otherwise.
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