13 October 2016

Review: Victorian Detective Fiction and the Nature of Evidence by Lawrence Frank

Hardcover, 249 pages
Published 2003
Borrowed from the library
Read January 2013
Victorian Detective Fiction and the Nature of Evidence: The Scientific Investigations of Poe, Dickens, and Doyle
by Lawrence Frank

Lawrence Frank discusses how the methods of detectives in Victorian fiction parallel actual scientific methodologies. For example, Holmes explicitly connects his methodology to science in “The Five Orange Pips,” where he compares himself to the paleontologist Georges Cuvier: “As Cuvier could correctly describe a whole animal by the contemplation of a single bone, so the observer who has thoroughly understood one link in a series of incidents, should be able to accurately state all the other ones, both before and after.” Like a scientist, Holmes’s eye of reason takes in sights unknown to the eye of the body. Frank points out that Doyle had Holmes refer to “the scientific use of the imagination,” a reference to an essay by John Tyndall “of which Doyle himself need not have been fully aware” (19), the idea being by then so ingrained in British culture. Frank’s discussion of the Holmes stories (133-201) emphasizes the way that Holmes “reads” the world around him in a similar way to natural historians such as Darwin; his chapter “Reading the Gravel Page: Lyell, Darwin, and Doyle” (154-75) is especially compelling and useful. Frank explores to what extent detectives like Holmes really were emulating the methods of science, and what kind of science it was-- even Holmes finds that some things are beyond the reach of the scientific method.

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