Robert Barr Analysis


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

In the character of Eugène Valmont, Robert Barr capitalized on the popularity of detective fiction and gentlemanly sleuths, whose antecedents were Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Allan Poe’s C. Auguste Dupin. His perspective, however, was distinctly ironic: Valmont’s investigations, when not completely trivial, are often failures. Barr satirized the school of literary masterminds through a firm control of the devices of the form. He was a master of burlesque narrative, in which a final reversal of the situation in point turns the suspicious events into innocent practices. Banal solutions put the supposed complications into a nonsinister perspective, offering comic resolutions within the normal complexities and deceptions of “serious” detective fiction. Barr’s consulting detective, who is anything but self-effacing, has been suggested as a model for Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot, first envisioned in 1916, and there are appreciable likenesses of character. Valmont’s continuing appearances in anthologies testify to the success of Barr’s inspired and offbeat creation.


(Masterpieces of Fiction, Detective and Mystery Edition)

Barzun, Jacques, and Wendell Hertig Taylor. A Catalogue of Crime. Rev. ed. New York: Harper & Row, 1989. Massive, nearly one-thousand-page critical bibliography of mystery, detective, and spy stories. Provides context for understanding Barr. Includes an index.

Kestner, Joseph A. The Edwardian Detective, 1901-1915. Brookfield, Vt.: Ashgate, 2000. Discusses Barr’s literary production within the context of the detective fiction being written in England in the first decade and a half of the twentieth century.

Klinck, Carl F., ed. Literary History of Canada. Vol 1. 2d ed. Buffalo, N.Y.: University of Toronto Press, 1976. Detailed four-volume history of Canadian literature and literary culture is a good source for understanding Barr’s background. Bibliographies and indexes.

MacGillivray, S. R. “Robert Barr.” In The Oxford Companion to Canadian Literature, edited by Eugene Benson and William Toye. 2d ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997. Examines Barr’s place, and the place of detective fiction as such, within the body of Canadian literature.

Parr, John. “The Measure of Robert Barr.” Journal of Canadian Fiction 3, no. 2 (1974): 21-31. Evaluates Barr as a Canadian author and a contributor to a properly Canadian literary culture.