Wed
Jul 6 2016 12:00pm

Classic Mysteries and Mysterious Classics

Read this exclusive guest post from Katherine Bolger Hyde, author of Arsenic with Austen, about the importance of reading the classics, and then, make sure you're signed in and comment for a chance to win a copy of the 1st book in the new Crime with the Classics series!

Nowadays, it’s generally assumed that crime fiction lies on one side of the Great Literary Divide and literary fiction lies on the other. Occasionally, a book manages to cross over, but this is always regarded as something of an anomaly. Writers and critics on each side of the divide tend to hold those on the other side in some degree of contempt.

But, it wasn’t always so. Some of the first writers to attempt what we today would call a detective story were among the greatest writers of their time—Edgar Allan Poe, Fyodor Dostoevsky, Charles Dickens, William Wilkie Collins. The terms “crime fiction” and “literary fiction” did not exist back then; novels were novels, and readers were left to their own judgment to discern what had lasting value and what did not. Detective stories written by great writers had as much value as anything else they wrote. Detective stories written by hacks—and I assure you there were some; I’ve read them—perished as ignominiously as they deserved.

In the crime writers of the early twentieth century, we often see an active consciousness of the literary heritage on which their work was based. Dorothy L. Sayers is a prime example of this. Her detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, and his eventual wife, mystery writer Harriet Vane, are extremely well read and pepper even their most intimate conversations with literary references that would stump almost anyone who lacks an Oxford education. And, of course, the debt to classic literature goes deeper than that, informing characters and motivations as well. Among contemporary writers, this consciousness of literary heritage has certainly not vanished, but it has become more difficult to find.

When I chose to base a contemporary traditional mystery series on connections to the classics, I wasn’t thinking primarily of the classics of crime. My first thought was of the kind of writers whose works made it into high school English curricula when I was young—writers like Jane Austen, Charlotte and Emily Brontë, Charles Dickens, George Eliot. Writers whose work is becoming increasingly undervalued in this age of distraction, when few people have the attention span necessary to read, with pleasure, long passages of backstory or description. Today’s thoughtful readers still value the great stories and characters created by these authors, but most prefer to partake of them through the more accessible medium of film.

In creating Crime with the Classics, I wanted to nudge readers back toward the original written word, to show them how the characters and themes treated, so often at great length, by classic authors are still highly relevant today. Look at the common emotions and motivations employed in contemporary crime fiction: thwarted love, sex, envy, greed, ambition, vanity, pride, hatred, mental imbalance, and even simple selfishness carried to extremes.

And, look at the works of the authors I mentioned above. Most of these writers rarely focus on murder. And yet, we see the same emotions and motivations come into play. You won’t see sex crimes or serial killers in Victorian novels, because such subjects were taboo. But, in Jane Austen, you see villains motivated by ambition, greed, and vanity. In the Brontës, we find jealousy and obsessive love. Dickens creates villains who, though usually stopping short of murder, destroy people’s lives with their twisted minds focused on greed and love of power. Dostoevsky presents us with all the convoluted self-justifications of minds contorted by passion and pride. Eliot, in Daniel Deronda, paints a terrifying picture of a man bent on breaking his wife’s independent spirit, merely to prove that he can.

In the classic writers, all these darker elements of human nature are portrayed with a depth and detail less often found in contemporary fiction of any stripe. And, the more uplifting human qualities, such as love, courage, and self-sacrifice, are treated with equal insight. For the student of human nature, which I believe many crime fiction readers are, the effort of reading the classics will be well repaid.

Read an excerpt of Arsenic with Austen here!
 

Comment below for a chance to win a copy of Arsenic with Austen by Katherine Bolger Hyde!

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Arsenic with Austen Comment Sweepstakes: NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN.  A purchase does not improve your chances of winning.  Sweepstakes open to legal residents of 50 United States, D.C., and Canada (excluding Quebec), who are 18 years or older as of the date of entry.  To enter, complete the “Post a Comment” entry at https://www.criminalelement.com/blogs/2016/07/classic-mysteries-and-mysterious-classics-katherine-bolger-hyde-comment-sweepstakes beginning at 12:00 p.m. Eastern Time (ET) July 6, 2016. Sweepstakes ends 11:59 a.m. ET July 13, 2016. Void outside the United States and Canada and where prohibited by law. Please see full details and official rules here. Sponsor: Macmillan, 175 Fifth Ave., New York, NY 10010.

 

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Katherine Bolger Hyde has lived her life surrounded by books, from teaching herself to read at age four to majoring in Russian literature to making her career as an editor. She lives in California with her husband. Arsenic with Austen is her first novel.

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74 comments
James Kerns
2. jkerns70
Visited the Poe Museum in Richmond, Va recently. A must do stop if in the area. Love the classic mysteries.
ellie lewis
3. italia
I enjoyed this informative and extremely interesting post about the classics which I read, appreciate and enjoy greatly. The classics are memorable, important and they are what I read many years ago, starting with Daphne Du Maurier and then on to Dickens.
pearl berger
5. beach
Wonderful feature and great giveaway. Classics are unforgettable.
Sharon Haas
6. kazul
It has been one of my greatest pleasures to read classics for no other reason than to enjoy them. I seldom had the inclination or time when I was younger but in the last few years have read so many authors that led the way in just about any genre that exists!
7. Buckeye Clio
Seems like a great read!
Susan Robinette
9. susanrob
It looks like a good read -- I'd love to win a copy
Vernon Luckert
11. vl4095
Love a good crime classic. Would love to win!
Sue Farrell
12. Suekey12
What an interesting concept for a mystery series!
Joanie Hinton
13. joanie13b@outlook.com
sounds like a great new series look forward to reading this book and the rest of the series as well....
Russ Cross
14. Inertia-Lad
A very interesting article. I would love to read the book.
Joanne
16. joanne19541
I love many of the authors you mentioned, of course, being introduced to them because of required reading in school. I hate being told what to read, but am glad now that I read many of those authors. I am excitedly awaiting your new series!
Nancy Chapin
17. Ninnithin
I agree with Katherine Bolger Hyde, in that, classical literature has all the elements of crime fiction as we know it today!
Barbara Khan
18. leftyonkey
I love classics with a twist. Thanks for the chance!!
pat murphy
19. pwhitby
I love the opportunity to win , classic mysteries are the best !
Bill Jankun
20. classyjudge
Looks like the beginning of a good series!!
21. hgeng63
I love the connections between contemporary times & Jane Austen's Persuasion!
22. Blackmamba886
I'd love to win!
Carl
23. Carl Scott
I'm so glad that I read so many of the classics when I was younger. I don't know if I have the same patience these days. Looking forward to the whole series, thanks for the chance to win Arsenic with Austen.
Michael Carter
24. rubydog
Sounds great!
Yes, please enter me in this sweepstakes.
Thanks ---
Rita Spratlen
25. rj77777
I love the sound of this topic and thanks for the chance to win it!!
Beverly Price
26. bocababe
I would love to be picked to read this book. I am always up to reading new authors.
Allison Moyer
27. The Loopy Librarian
Love Jane Austen. Can't wait until she gets to the Bronte sisters. What a clever idea to combine the classics with mysteries.
susan beamon
28. susanbeamon
Read the "classics" back in school, partly because they were available in school and the library as I had little money for books as a child and partly because they were stories with beginnings and middles and endings. Have to admit, I had most of Agatha Christy read before I was out of high school. Still enjoy a rip-roaring tale by Kipling or Hemmingway on the rare times I find one I haven't read. Love the doorway in the books graphic topping this column.
30. Elena R Thumma
Great idea! Love Jane Austen and other classics. Would be great to win a copy of this!
Linda Armstrong
31. kugel
Intriguing idea, mysteries based on classics. Well-written stories are always welcome!
Deb Philippon
32. DebP
I'd like to read this book. I read a lot of the genre classics when visiting friends at their cabin when I was young, because these were the books that were stockpiled as light summer reading.
Lana Hood
33. ManitobaPearl
I love a good classic and I love a good mystery even more. If I can find a book that combines the best of the 2 genres then I am a fan of that author for life.
34. browsermix
I do enjoy reading the classics. Enjoyed your article. Thank you for the opportunity to win such an interesting book.
Cecile Fleetwood
35. ladydragon
Sounds like just my kind of book! I love Austen, Dickens, Alcott, Sayers & am always open to new classics! Can't wait to read ARSENIC WITH AUSTEN!
Ronald Roseborough
37. Ronrose1
I'd love to read a good classic mystery. Count me in.
Rebecca Brothers
38. RileyC
Really, if you think about it, there's some kind of mystery at the heart of any story. Why else would we read if not to find out the whys and hows of any literary journey?

Anyway, love the description and preview--a heroine who (so it sounds) has some life experience under her belt, a generous nod to Persuasion, and what sounds like a wonderful setting. I'll be reading this one!
Catherine Myers
39. ktpotat
I have always loved literature.I took literature every semester of college even though it wasn't my major.
L Peters
40. leepcat
really enjoyed the introduction to Ms. Bolger Hyde. can't wait to read Arsenic with Austen. thanks.
L
41. LStirling
Love classics and crime novels. Wonderful idea to combined them. Can't wait to read it!
Patricia Hill
42. plhill2000
I would love to win. I always return to Agatha.
Beth Mills
43. bethmills
Wouldn't want to do without my favorite classics--Pride & Prejudice and Jane Eyre are ones I own and reread. Interesting article and the series sounds most intriguing; am looking forward to reading them.
Saundra K. Warren
44. shortiew
They don't even read in school anymore do they?? I'd be lost without it!
J. M. Steele
45. J.M.
Read the excerpt, it hooked me and made me want to keep reading.
Look forward to reading an author who appreciates how Dorothy Sayers' characters were so well read.
Kyle Johnson
46. kylecar94
It's always important to keep in mind the context of when classics where written, and by whom they were written.
Mary Tilman
47. mewtilman
Modern zeal for categorization can be an obstacle on the road to enjoyable and worthwhile reading experiences. A curious reader will discover some wonderful books by worrying less about the "label" on a book and more about the contents. Dorothy Sayers is one of my favorites.
Sally Schmidt
48. bigcootie
Love this, thanks for the chance to win.
49. Rhobar
This is an excellent article. I am looking forward to reading this book.
Rhonda Barkhouse
50. Rhobar
This is an excellent article. I am looking forward to reading this book.
Lisa Ahlstedt
51. Lisanne624
Love anything to do with British mysteries, and the cat on the cover clinches it! A must read!
Bonnie Karoly
52. grobiemum
Read the excerpt. Looks good. I love how today's authors are tying in the classics into their books. I'd love to read Arsenic With Austen.
Jane Schwarz
53. Janeschwarz
Jane Austin was one of the authors that I read for pleasure and couldn't get enough of. Jasper Fforde's Tuesday Next series I also find pleasing even though I don't understand some of the references. Best of luck with your new series. Great giveaway, thanks.
Andrew Beck
56. queerbec
It is always exciting to discover a new mystery series at the very start of it. I wish the author well as she progresses beyond Arsenic with Austen to Battling with Balzac, Easting with Eliot, Vying with Voltaire, Wandering with Wolff, and whatever titles she has in mind for her Literature and Mystery series.
Laurent Latulippe
57. krag48
I've read some of the classics. Something else to add to my "to read list"
Mecca Archuleta
58. MLynette
Austen and Oregon, two of my favorite things :)
Melissa Keith
59. melly801
Love classics. Enjoy Poe, Dickens, and want to read Collins. The cover of AWA is purrrfectly wonderful. Would love to win! Thanks.
Carol Turner
61. cjpturner
Austen, the Brontes, what could be better?
64. Arf2-D2
What a cool concept. Sounds like a great book
Tracee Imai
65. Arf2-D2
Trying again. I logged in, posted a comment and got logged out again. I don't think I should have to login every few minutes. Hmmmm.
Amy Hageman
69. AmyH
Sounds interesting - would love to win!
Robert Grieco
70. RobG
Dang! I'd love to win these winners! :)
Rina Horenian
71. RDgirl
Would love to win these classics!
Jean Dickinson
72. justjean
53yrs ago in high school I wrote a Book Report on "Crime and Punishment" and I've been "hooked" on great mysteries ever since. I'd love to win This new "classic"!!!
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