Purdue University Graduate School
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posted on 2021-04-30, 00:42 authored by Viseslava Rasajski SasicViseslava Rasajski Sasic

In this master’s thesis, I write about different representations of crime and criminal literature in the German-speaking world of the 19th century, a genre that was mainly attributed to an entertainment function at the time, but which nevertheless, as I shall show, allows insights into social ills and problematic characters in context. Here, there are interesting developments from late Romanticism or Biedermeier to Realism or even to the roots of Expressionism. Guilt and punishment are regarded as primary moments for this genre. In my master’s thesis, I would like to try to show that not enough attention has been paid to this genre by literary studies, but also by law. I will look into the question of where the tension of this genre lies in the aforementioned environment, and I will point out why this was the case and what this literature has lacked in detail.

In the first chapter, I start with the beginnings and their historical development, covering a period from the beginning to almost the end of the 19th century and divide its differentiations into phases. My observations are based on Jorg Schönert’s “historical sketch” (ca. 1770 – 1920) (Schönert, “Zur Ausdifferzierung des Genres Kriminalgeschichten“, 97). In addition, I mention various important crime stories that preceded my selection. The selected works are arranged in each of the relevant literary epochs (Romanticism/Biedermeier and Poetic Realism), with which I attempt to highlight their specific characteristics and their detective elements. Due to the moral and psychological embodiment, as well as the social circumstances, the crimes are in some phases of the history of the genres more and in others less emphasized, and I attempt to analyze in each exemplary work by comparing these texts and according to certain criteria.

The second chapter deals with theoretical approaches, in particular with hermeneutics or how to “read” facts. I also investigate the literary sociological question of which prototype of perpetrators the authors create in their works and examine them for their psychological features. My text, which is classified in the context of the genre, examines the developments of the crime novel and clarifies the changing criminological aspects, as well as analyzes the positions of different research approaches to the criminal justice system, which can be identified or explored from different angles of these literary examples.

The third chapter begins with a brief overview of the six books in question. The main characters are then discussed further, which I have divided into criminals, victims, and accomplices. Because of this centrality in the books, most emphasis is placed on the criminals, with a close look at their motives, the way they plan and carry out the crime, how they endure the investigation, and finally, whether and to what extent they feel remorse for their actions. “Die Judenbuche” is treated separately here because of the much stronger social component and the environment, as well as the open-ended description of the crimes and the perpetrators. Victims and accomplices tend to be marginalized in the books studied here, with women being the only accomplices whose consciences suffer because of their role. Finally, the moral compass and guilt of the perpetrators are examined in relation to their social and material situation, their family, and their religion.

The final chapter focuses on the differences between the modern crime stories and their precursors, which have been studied here. I try to define and carefully delineate the main components of a successful and appealing crime story through the lens of several internationally known examples of world literature. There are parallels to the older German authors treated in this thesis, who also have implications for the artistic elements of the books in comparison to simple entertainment. My main focus is on the plot, the length of the books, the investigations and the detectives, and their methods of solving the crime. These German authors tended to write short works, short stories or novellas that allowed little space for complex stories or lengthy novels. They must be unraveled even more powerfully or efficiently by brilliant detectives and very attentive readers due to the brevity of the works. As the texts are structured stringently, the actions are simple and rather uncomplicated. The detectives practically do not exist as a kind of institution, but rather on the periphery. Crimes that are always solved seem to serve both legal and moral justice and ultimately satisfy the expectations of readers. Finally, I discuss the stylistic characteristics of those early crime novels compared to what readers are used to seeing or expecting today.


Degree Type

  • Master of Arts


  • Languages and Cultures

Campus location

  • West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Beate Allert

Additional Committee Member 2

Jennifer William

Additional Committee Member 3

Jeffrey Turco