The Detective Story Historical Background

Historical Background

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Though Edgar Allan Poe generally is considered the father of detective fiction, some historians of the genre go as far back as ancient Greece and Herodotus’s tale of King Rhampsinitus or to the biblical story of Susanna and the Elders for the origins of this popular literary form. These putative sources share elements with mystery fiction—natural cunning, the cross-examination of witnesses, false clues—but lack major essentials. The same can be said about many other claimants, such as the popular crime narratives and rogue pseudomemoirs of eighteenth century England and also Voltaire’s Zadig: Ou, La Destinée, Histoire orientale (1748; originally as Memnon: Histoire orientale, 1747; Zadig: Or, The Book of Fate, 1749), in a chapter in which the hero uses analytical deduction to reach conclusions about things he has not seen. François-Eugène Vidocq’s Mémoires de Vidocq, chef de la police de sûreté jusqu’en 1827 (1828-1829; Memoirs of Vidocq, Principal Agent of the French Police Until 1827, 1828-1829; revised as Histoire de Vidocq, chef de la police de sûreté: Écrite d’après lui-même, 1829), however, is a forerunner that was a direct influence on Poe and his successors. A former criminal who became the first head of the French police, Vidocq later set himself up as a private detective.