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From Hermes to Holmes: manifestations of the trickster as culture-hero in early detective fiction

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posted on 2022-03-28, 22:47 authored by Nghi Chuong Van
This thesis aims to explore the relationship between two culture-heroes: the trickster and the detective. Like the trickster, the detective is often shrewd, cunning and resourceful. These qualities are often mirrored by the criminals whom the detectives confront, consequently, detection often becomes a contest between two tricksters. One of the clearest examples of this phenomenon can be found in the early British tradition of the detective as exemplified by the detective figures of four different periods in early detective fiction. Among the earliest examples of the detective figure, Poe’s Dupin, Dickens’ Inspector Bucket and Collins’ Sergeant Cuff (along with Marion Halcombe, Magdalen Vanstone and Captain Wragge) provide working models for later detective figures. Following from these traditions, Sherlock Holmes represents the apotheosis of the detective figure. Furthermore, the Holmes story also introduces two important criminal rivals: Professor Moriarty and Irene Adler. The untimely “demise” of Sherlock Holmes introduced the period collectively referred to as being that of “The Rivals of Sherlock Holmes.” The detectives of this period were innovative not least because they included detective figures such as the female detectives, Loveday Brooke and Lady Molly, as well as the Armchair Detective, The Old Man in the Corner. As one of the Rivals of Sherlock Holmes, Dr Thorndyke is not only credited as one of the earliest examples of the Forensic Detective figure but also bridges the Rivals period and the Golden Age of Detective Fiction period. Finally, as one of the most famous figures of the Golden Age period, Miss Marple is one of the most successful examples of both the female detective and the Armchair Detective. The mythic underpinning of the detective figure drawn from these periods provides an insight into a contemporary culture-hero figure, the detective, by framing it in the context of one of the oldest culture-hero figure, the trickster.


Table of Contents

1. The trickster reborn: Poe, Dickens, Collins and the invention of the modern detective -- 2. From Hermes to Holmes: the birth of a detective culture-hero -- 3. Out of the shadow: the rise of the female voice in the rivals of Sherlock Holmes -- 4. A scentific trickster: the forensic detections of Dr. Thorndyke -- 5. A tricky spinster: the professional amateur sleuth, Miss Marple.


Includes bibliographic references

Awarding Institution

Macquarie University

Degree Type

Thesis PhD


PhD, Macquarie University, Faculty of Arts, Department of English

Department, Centre or School

Department of English

Year of Award


Principal Supervisor

Tony Cousins


Copyright Nghi Chuong Van 2015. Copyright disclaimer:




1 online resource (iii, 239 pages)

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