Title

A Mysterious Non-Mystery: Deconstructing Dickens’ “Hunted Down”

Presenter Information

William Chaddock

Document Type

Oral Presentation

Location

SURC Room 135

Start Date

15-5-2014

End Date

15-5-2014

Keywords

Charles Dickens, Detective and mystery stories, Deconstruction.

Abstract

What is a mystery? A mystery is a veiled truth that demands to be revealed. What is veiled is not truly hidden, and a mystery story creates the desire for the discovery of truth by presenting an event which demands explanation but which affords none, at least not yet . . . A non-mystery would be the opposite. There is no initial event, but there is already an unveiling of truth in anticipation of it. Charles Dicken’s short story “Hunted Down” begins by announcing that the story will prove the assertion that first impressions are invariably the correct ones. It then unveils the story’s culprit, Julius Slinkton, whom the narrator, Mr. Sampson, quickly identifies as no good and up to no good. Subsequent events show the narrator is right on both counts. Hence it appears to fail entirely as a mystery story, and seems to be trying to prove there is no such thing as a true mystery, that things are always what they seem and become mysterious only if you let them. However, this initial impression is wrong. “Hunted Down” is a non-mystery that is still nonetheless mysterious. Rather than conceal the culprit, it disguises the identity of the detective. The story accomplishes this by effectively disguising the detective, Mr. Meltham, giving the reader a false first impression. Ostensibly seeking to prove that there is no such thing as a mystery, “Hunted Down” succeeds as a story of that genre by turning its logic on its head and refusing its reassuring confines.

Faculty Mentor(s)

Sutphin, Christine

Additional Mentoring Department

English

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May 15th, 3:20 PM May 15th, 3:40 PM

A Mysterious Non-Mystery: Deconstructing Dickens’ “Hunted Down”

SURC Room 135

What is a mystery? A mystery is a veiled truth that demands to be revealed. What is veiled is not truly hidden, and a mystery story creates the desire for the discovery of truth by presenting an event which demands explanation but which affords none, at least not yet . . . A non-mystery would be the opposite. There is no initial event, but there is already an unveiling of truth in anticipation of it. Charles Dicken’s short story “Hunted Down” begins by announcing that the story will prove the assertion that first impressions are invariably the correct ones. It then unveils the story’s culprit, Julius Slinkton, whom the narrator, Mr. Sampson, quickly identifies as no good and up to no good. Subsequent events show the narrator is right on both counts. Hence it appears to fail entirely as a mystery story, and seems to be trying to prove there is no such thing as a true mystery, that things are always what they seem and become mysterious only if you let them. However, this initial impression is wrong. “Hunted Down” is a non-mystery that is still nonetheless mysterious. Rather than conceal the culprit, it disguises the identity of the detective. The story accomplishes this by effectively disguising the detective, Mr. Meltham, giving the reader a false first impression. Ostensibly seeking to prove that there is no such thing as a mystery, “Hunted Down” succeeds as a story of that genre by turning its logic on its head and refusing its reassuring confines.