Dorothy L. Sayers, whose satirical jabs at advertising are as fresh today as when she published Murder Must Advertise
in 1933, was just as lively an observer in 1929. That's when she wrote the following in the introduction to The Omnibus of Crime
, which she also edited:
That may speak even more to the current obsession with sudoku than it does to the almost 170-year-old Western thirst for crime stories. Sayers' definition of crime is perhaps wider than we would define it today. The book's stories are divided into two major sections, for example: Detection and mystery, and mystery and horror.
"The art of self-tormenting is an ancient one, with a long and honourable literary tradition. Man, not satisfied with the mental confusion and unhappiness to be derived from contemplating the cruelties of life and the riddle of the universe, delights to occupy his leisure moments with puzzles and bugaboos. The pages of every magazine and newspaper swarm with cross-words, mathematical tricks, puzzle-pictures, enigmas, acrostics, and detective-stories, as also with stories of the kind called `powerful' (which means unpleasant), and those which make him afraid to go to bed."
Few commentators today would include horror stories in an omnibus of crime. Sayers, however, sees Edgar Allan Poe's early achievement as creating mystery stories "as distinct from pure detection on the one hand and pure horror on the other."
"In this fused genre," she writes, "the reader's blood is first curdled by some horrible and apparently inexplicable murder or portent; the machinery of detection is then brought in to solve the mystery and punish the murderer."
And here's your question, readers: Sayers' 79-year-old observation may provide fresh insight into contemporary crime stories and why we read them. Does it? To what extent do her observations still hold? (And here's a bonus question: Does anyone else find it interesting that Sayers was looking at crime fiction in historical terms as early as 1929?)
Labels: Dorothy L. Sayers