06/12/2009

The Age Before Golden Age

Henrique Valle, commenting on my initial post, asked an important question:
 
"Are Trent´s Last Case and the earlier Chesterton, Mason (of At The Villa Rose fame!), Freeman and Philpotts works, among others, outside the Golden Age?"
 
This raises once again the definition problems I highlighted in my article. Is Golden Age a period, a style, or both?
 
If we choose the first option and stick to the commonly accepted chronology (Golden Age beginning somewhere in the early Twenties and ending either before or shortly after WW2) then the issue looks settled once and for all: Trent's Last Case, being published in 1913 and probably written sooner, is not part of the Golden Age and neither are works by Chesterton, Mason, Freeman and others that were published prior to the Great War.
 
Things are less clear by the second option, as many of these works exhibit features associated with GA-style detective fiction and, indeed, exerted a decisive influence on it. As to the third option - regarding Golden Age as a certain period dominated by a certain model of detective stories - it leaves our candidates out of the picture once again since neither Trent's Last Case or The Eye of Osiris for instance are typical products of their era; one of the reasons of their enduring appeal is how ahead they were of their time.
 
Now even these apparently firm answers generate further interrogations: If it's not yet Golden Age, what is it then? How do we call the period that preceded, and led to, proper Golden Age?
 
Some scholars including Julian Symons have called it "the first Golden Age" and there is justification for this. The thirty or so years between the first publication of A Study in Scarlet and the outset of the World War I saw the genre coming to maturity - as I've written elsewhere, all of mystery fiction as we know it was either in germ or full-blown by the early 1910s - as well as conquering a vast audience. Most of all, it was marked by some of the earliest and most lasting triumphs of the genre - its relative novelty as well as the absence of firm rules (soon to be remedied to, alas) boosted authors' creativity. That it most often manifested in the guise of short stories rather than novels, something we've lost the habit of, makes it all the more impressive.
 
To call such a period a Golden Age would certainly not be an exaggeration, but it is somewhat confusing in my view, especially if you think like I do that GA in its traditional acception is already a plural entity. If we start numbering Golden Ages like we do with World Wars and French Republics we end up emptying the whole notion. Why not a third or a fourth Golden Age? Is not each period a Golden Age of sorts? Also, I like the that when I'm talking about GA in the broadest sense, I don't need to specify which one I'm referring to. It makes discussion and debate much easier. Silver Age then? This might do, but the appellation might apply just well to the period immediately following the standard GA and preceding the thriller boom of the early Sixties...
 
I welcome any suggestion.
 
 
 

2 commentaires:

Henrique Valle a dit…

Xavier,I'm getting to believe that the expression "Golden Age of Detection" is highly misleading, and therefore of little (or none) categorising value.
In this blog you've once made an important differentiation between writers mostly interested in demonstration and writers mostly interested in misdirection (I quote from memory, I'm not sure these were your exact words). As far as I remember, you associated this material distinction to a chronological one, equating the first group of writers with the so-called pre-GAD (or first GAD) period.
I believe this is quite a perceptive insight and certainly much more illuminating that the reference to first or second Golden Ages of Detection. In this light, answering to my own question, Poe, Gaboriau, Collins, Greene, Hume, Doyle, Orczy, Ottolengui, Jenkins, Morrison, Futrelle, Freeman and others belong mostly to the first group of writers. Bentley, Leroux, Chesterton, Phillpotts, Mason are, I believe, firmly in the second. There are some precursors (like Carr, I believe most of the best Holmes stories, and almost all of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, are fair-play puzzles with misdirection, although not reaching the same levels of sophistication of, say, Christie or Carr; Zangwill may also be a case in point) as well as some anachronisms (Freeman, essentially an Edwardian man, wrote well into the forties).
The main turning point, I believe, was the assumption of The Rules of the Game. These were made explicit by Zangwill, and were clearly adopted by the second group of writers I mentioned. Once the main point becomes beating the reader's wits, demonstration must give way to misdirection, to use your idea.

alfred a dit…

Like Henrique is implying, we must first discover where the concept of the golden age comes from. It is very likely that the concept has been borrowed from comic fandom where the Golden, Silver Ages do indeed refer to specific time periods. So yes, the term golden age is totally uninformative and misleading. Plus a value judgement on the quality of the books is implied by the term - implying quite wrongly that what came before was in fact inferior. Terms specifying what the given age was dominated by would be far, far more useful.