A Counter-History of Crime Fiction: Supernatural, Gothic, by Maurizio Ascari

By Maurizio Ascari

This publication takes a glance on the evolution of crime fiction. contemplating 'criminography' as a procedure of inter-related sub-genres, it explores the connections among modes of literature similar to revenge tragedies, the gothic and anarchist fiction, whereas taking into consideration the impression of pseudo-sciences akin to mesmerism and felony anthropology.

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This induces the main character to follow the instructions he received while asleep and when he sees the wagon he starts to shout, asking the passers-by and the guards to help him to empty it. The corpse of his friend comes to light, the driver and the innkeeper are both arrested and this moral is drawn from the story: Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, as Thou art just and true, Who never sufferest murder to be hid! ‘Murder will out’ – we see it every day. 8 In the absence of witnesses and clues, the victim himself was regarded as the first agent of detection.

In this anti-Semitic tale of martyrdom, divine detection is linked to a miracle, not to a premonitory dream, but the story reiterates the belief that the blood shed will condemn murder with a voice of its own, notably when the sin is particularly offensive to God, as is the case in these two stories, featuring a pilgrim and a pious child in the role of victim. The revelatory power of dreams also had a comic potential, which was exploited in the miracle play Secunda Pastorum. Having decided to steal a sheep while his companions sleep near their flock, Mak runs home with the sheep and conceals it in a cot, asking his wife to declare that she has given birth to a child.

This tract relates the story of a man who is killed by his wife with the help of her lover, but two years after their crime the widow and her accessory are overheard while they are quarrelling and thus unwittingly reveal their deed. 23 Here detection is the result neither of miraculous events nor of human ingenuity, but rather of an accident, yet the story is firmly framed within a Christian plot of guilt and punishment. We should not forget that according to a providential logic accidents are to be interpreted as signs of God’s will, although his ways may appear at times tortuous and his action may prove slow to produce the desired effects.

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