30/12/2011

Those Damn Amateurs

Michael Sims on amateur detectives:

"This tradition goes through Miss Marple and Murder She Wrote — that amateurs would have this arcane, genius talent as if they were musicians or mathematicians or something. It's a hilarious idea if you stop and think about it."

Well, not really. The amateur detective appeared at a time - the nineteenth century - which saw many instances of amateurs/outsiders outwitting the professionals. Darwin was not a biologist. Pasteur was not a doctor. Early egyptologists/archaelogists like Maspero or Schliemann were self-taught. The idea that an amateur detective could challenge and outperforming the coppers thus made sense, especially given everyone's low regard for the official police.

Romanticism was also a key influence, with its notion that the Poet as some kind of a superman who can feel and see things invisible to mere mortals. Dupin is as much an embodiment of that ideal (and maybe more so) than of reason. Same goes for Holmes who, for all his professed rationalism, looks and behaves much like your standard romantic.

Of course in our highly specialized and less than romantic times, the whole stuff sounds, in Sims's words, "hilarious". But looking absurd now doesn't mean it was absurd then.

2 commentaires:

The Passing Tramp a dit…

Julian Symons was an autodidact intellectual, a brilliant man, salf-taught, with without a college education. Hilarious?

Gumshoe a dit…

For a long time, British sport was split between 'Gentleman and Players' (there is a Raffles story of the same name). The idea was that the sort of sportsman who played sport as a job was inferior to the sportsman who did it for the love of the game alone. Holmes says more than once that he plays the game for the game's sake.

It should also be remembered that in the period in which the early Holmes stories were published, the standards of the police were incredibly low. Holmes ideas about crime scene investigation first shown in STUDY IN SCARLET (don't destroy clues, note down everything you see, deduce from what you find) predated actual police procedure by many years.