Protomysteries: Precursors of Detective Fiction

This post contains extracts from proto-mysteries, predating Edgar Alan Poe’s Auguste Dupin stories, which popularized the genre. For an analysis of some of these sources (“The Three Princes of Serendip” and Zadig), tied into a history of story-telling and reading, see my essay “The Reading of Mystery and the Mystery of Reading.”

Susanna and the Elders

Susanna and the Elders by Artemisia Gentileschi

The Book of Daniel, Chapter 13

As the story goes, a fair Hebrew wife named Susanna was falsely accused by lecherous voyeurs. As she bathes in her garden, having sent her attendants away, two lustful elders secretly observe the lovely Susanna. When she makes her way back to her house, they accost her, threatening to claim that she was meeting a young man in the garden unless she agrees to have sex with them.

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Books I’ve Never Read Whose Titles Have Influenced Me

Even though I have not read these books, their titles have impacted my life, altering my values, my understanding, and my experience with their titles alone.

The Wisdom of Insecurity: A Message for an Age of Anxiety by Alan Wilson Watts

The Virtue of Selfishness by Ayn Rand

Because It is Bitter and Because It is My Heart by Joyce Carol Oates

What to Say When You Talk to Yourself by Shad Helmstetter

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Acting Stereotypes Out: Herman Melville’s Benito Cereno and Charles Dicken’s Our Mutual Friend

When Al Jolson put on black face in the first talkie, he turned himself white, according to the article “Blackface, White Noise: The Jazz Singer Finds His Voice” by Michael Rogin. Wasn’t Al Jolson white to begin with? Well, he was Jewish. The plot of The Jazz Singer (1927) revolves around the young performer’s decision to become a cantor for the synagogue, like his father, or pursue a career in Vaudeville. Jakie Rabinowitz chooses Vaudeville and changes his name to Jack Robin, just as Asa Yoelson had changed his name to Al Jolson. The movie, like the play it was based on, was a thinly veiled biography of its star.

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The Cereal Narrative

A cereal narrative: Just as the milk fills the bowl, the doorbell rings. The milk slowly warms up and the Honey Bunches of Oats turns soggy. Swelling and disintegrating, the cereal becomes a kind of brownish mush that yellows over and sours, attracting flies. Late one night, the kitchen window opens slowly, scattering the flies. (To be continued.)

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