Victorian Popular Fictions 5.1 6 Hart


Criminal Bodies in Popular Victorian and Modernist Detective Fiction

Kevin Hart

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This paper will examine the representation of the criminal body in detective fiction from the popular Victorian story magazine The Strand in its relationship to modernist experimental fiction which draws on the detective genre. Offering a broad survey of the Sherlock Holmes and other detective stories published in the first fourteen years of The Strand (1891-1904), the paper will argue that the period’s theories of criminal anthropology and hereditary criminality are consistently called into question in the popular magazine, suggesting that late-Victorian detective fiction was ambivalent toward theories of biologically determined criminality and was alive to problems of racial and class prejudice, corruption, and misidentification in criminal detection. Moving from the popular press to the canon, the paper will then make a claim for reading literary texts like G. K. Chesterton’s The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare and Joseph Conrad’s The Secret Agent: A Simple Tale alongside the classic detective fiction of the popular press. To understand these novels in their engagements with classic detective fiction is to reconceptualize the notion of a neat divide between the period’s genres of fiction and to reach for a broader frame of literary responses to early criminology.


criminal biology; detective fiction; The Strand; Conrad; Chesterton

Date of Acceptance: 27 June 2023

Date of Publication: 5 July 2023

Double Blind Peer Reviewed

Recommended Citation:

Hart, Kevin. 2023. “Criminal Bodies in Popular Victorian and Modernist Detective Fiction.” Victorian Popular Fictions, 5.1: 73-90. ISSN: 2632-4253 (online) DOI:

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