The importance of being cosy: Agatha Christie and golden age British detective fiction
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What started me thinking about this dissertation topic is a question touched upon by critics. The question is: why is it that produced in an age when there were thousands of deaths out there in the real world, golden age British detective fiction only concerns itself with the one death on stage? Examining golden age British detective fiction, I found many such works have some other inconsistencies including but not limited to: (a) clinging desperately to the power of reasoning, golden age British detective fiction yet abounds with primitive elements such as rituals and sacrifices on the level of story telling and that of story content, (b) though it is essential for a golden age British detective story to have a corpse, it is imperative that the atmosphere in which the corpse is presented is "cosy," (c) written in an age in which the world was expanding and connecting nations to one other, golden age British detective fiction reveals a mentality that was retreating into the familiar and the intimate. Owing to the inconsistencies listed above, golden age British detective fiction seems to be based on rationality but is irrational in several respects; it is bent on descriptions of violent but cosy death; it is faced with the expanding world but retiring into oblivion regarding that world. With those inconsistencies in mind, I have attempted a Freudian reading of golden age British detective fiction. I have come up with solutions to these inconsistencies by applying Freud's idea of something beyond the pleasure principle. The compulsion to repeat answered all of the fundamental questions I have raised here: (a) feelings of the uncanny that arise from the conflict between realistic settings and description of the supernatural are an expression of the compulsion to repeat, (b) the removal, diminution or keeping constant of energy that the cosiness of golden age British detective fiction serves in spite of (and in cooperation with) anxiety in turn serves that which lies beyond the pleasure principle, (c) the retreat into the familiar and the intimate is regression from frustration in the external world into fantasy, which is less disturbing than the external world. For Freud, the principle beyond the pleasure principle works for every individual organism, and therefore should not be limited to people of a certain age or of a certain location. My idea is that in the historical background of golden age Britain the mass death in the external world heightened the craving for death and this in turn contributed to the popularity of golden age British detective fiction by giving it a favorable start. Ultimately, this was the agony hidden behind the playful treatment of death in the golden age and that caused so many inconsistencies in the texts.