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Durham University

Department of English Studies

Event Archive

This is an archive of past events within the Department of English Studies. Please see our current events for forthcoming activities.

Some of our public events are recorded and are available as podcasts via our Research English At Durham blog.

"What is your country, may I ask?": Displaced Persons, Holocaust Survivors, and the Persistence of Fascism in 1940s and 1950s British Detective Fiction

27th February 2020, 17:30 to 19:00, Seminar Room, Hallgarth House, Dr. Victoria Stewart (University of Leicester)

An Inventions of the Text seminar, followed by drinks and dinner. All welcome.

About this seminar

The refugee, the displaced person and the former concentration camp inmate can all be caught sight of in British detective fiction during the 1940s and 1950s, and their presence prompts consideration of kinds of criminality that extend beyond the more usual domestic focus of the form. Such figures also provide scope for an assessment of how new understandings of Britain and its relation to Europe were being broached in popular writing at this period. Although the Holocaust survivor is a very particular type of incomer to Britain, this figure can be contextualised in relation to pre-war refugees who make an appearance in detective fiction throughout the later 1930s. These depictions are rarely nuanced, and the reasons why individuals have left their homelands are not always specified, so that an Austrian refugee, who may have fled anti-communist action in the early 1930s, may not be explicitly distinguished from a German-Jewish escapee from Nazi persecution, and the different experiences of pre- and post-war refugees are not always elaborated upon. This blurring is relevant to a broader consideration of mid-century understandings of Nazi war crimes. The economy with which characterisation and setting are typically evoked in detective fiction can lead to a reliance on stereotypes of either a positive or negative kind, but some authors do successfully use the detective form, with all its supposed limitations, to raise wider questions about justice, guilt and responsibility. I’ll consider a range of examples from authors including Agatha Christie, G. D. H. and Margaret Cole, and Cyril Hare.

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