Certainty and Ambiguity: Essays on the Moral Imagination of Mystery Fiction

deadline for submissions: 
March 1, 2020
full name / name of organization: 
John J. Han, C. Clark Triplett, & Matthew Bardowell / Missouri Baptist University
contact email: 

The editors seek previously unpublished critical essays for a new volume tentatively entitled Certainty and Ambiguity: Essays on the Moral Imagination of Mystery Fiction.  Perhaps one reason for the enduring appeal of mystery fiction is that it speaks to a deep longing in readers for that which often gets lost in modern/postmodern culture: to know what is true and just.  In a society that often seems devoid of order, the reader desires, even demands, a clear verdict for wrongdoing and injustice and a vindication for innocent victims. This yearning in avid mystery readers points to the need for moral stories. The very notion of a solution in the context of mystery stems from a romantic view of the world in which all seemingly chaotic events can be brought into some order.

The morality of mystery fiction may be identified as the mechanism that holds the center together when all the streams of the narrative seem to unravel into unspeakable violence. Viewed in this way, detectives function as world-constructing characters. They embody the moral imagination as they confront chaotic happenings—murders, thefts—that will be put right in the end. Investigators in mystery fiction reconstitute the order of the world as they oppose those who seek to overthrow it. It is perhaps for this reason that Dorothy Sayers observes that crime stories are inherently moral stories that identify what is right and what is wrong in the world even when there is moral ambiguity in the actions of protagonists and antagonists. Indeed, there are limits to certainty in mystery fiction. Some detectives flout moral convention, have their own idiosyncratic moral code, or may even contribute to the chaos of the world through their single-minded focus. In a number of recent mystery novels, however, the moral trajectory of the story is more ambiguous; there is sometimes a more tenuous distinction between the actions and behaviors of the protagonist and the antagonist. We invite essays that explore the moral dimensions of certainty as well as essays that explore certainty’s limits. Contributors are invited to submit abstracts that engage with these issues in mystery fiction from the 1880s to the present. Primary texts should be either originally in English or available in English translation. 

Possible topics include but are not limited to:

 

  • Victorian morality and crime
  • Restorative justice
  • Ethics and the private eye
  • The moral landscape of the Scandinavian crime thriller
  • Feminist perspectives on the detective genre
  • Depictions of the law and its relationship to ethics/morality
  • The ethics of vigilantism
  • Structural analyses of mystery novel
  • Moral ambiguity in contemporary/postmodern mysteries

 

We welcome submissions from both literary scholars and nonliterary academics who have some background in literature and the humanities. To express interest and request more detailed information, please e-mail John J. Han at john.han@mobap.edu. Abstracts of proposed essays (500 words) and a brief professional vita should be submitted as Word attachments by March 1, 2020. Deadline for completed essays of 15-20 pages is September 1, 2020. We plan to finish editing accepted submissions by February 1, 2021.

 

John J. Han, Ph.D.
Co-Editor, Worlds Gone Awry: Essays on Dystopian Fiction (McFarland, 2018)
Co-Editor, The Final Crossing: Death and Dying in Literature (Peter Lang, 2015)
Professor of English and Creative Writing
Missouri Baptist University
St. Louis, MO 63141
john.han@mobap.edu

 

C. Clark Triplett, Ph.D.
Co-Editor, Worlds Gone Awry: Essays on Dystopian Fiction (McFarland, 2018)

Co-Editor, The Final Crossing: Death and Dying in Literature (Peter Lang, 2015)
Emeritus Dean of Graduate Studies and Professor of Psychology
Missouri Baptist University
St. Louis, MO 63141
clark.triplett@mobap.edu

 

Matthew Bardowell, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of English
Missouri Baptist University
St. Louis, MO 63141

matthew.bardowell@mobap.edu