Friday, 31 March 2023 to Sunday, 2 April 2023

Criminal Matters: Exploring Human Remains in Late Imperial Russian Detective Fiction

Fri31  Mar04:15pm(15 mins)
Main Building Room 132


Grace Docherty1
1 University of St Andrews, UK


This paper will analyse the depiction of human and nonhuman interactions in late Imperial Russian detective fiction using a new materialist approach. Scholarship has previously discussed the significance of materiality in detective fiction primarily in terms of how instruments aid detectives in solving crime. However, in merely highlighting the use of objects, such criticism operates under the assumption that the human detective sits atop a hierarchy. This paper challenges anthropocentric conceptions of authority actors in Russian detective narratives, thereby reshaping contemporary approaches to the genre and literary studies. This paper will first explore theoretical approaches that assert mutually constitutive agency between human and nonhuman actors. Then, it will explore human-nonhuman agency and entanglement in the genre by focusing on human remains, where decomposing bodies offer a unique opportunity to interrogate binary boundaries. The paper will make reference to works including N.P. Timofeev’s ‘Проститутка’ and ‘Преступление суеверия’ (1872); R.L. Antropov’s ‘Ритуальное убийство девочки’ (1908); and A.E. Zarin’s В поисках убийцы (1915). Acknowledging postmortem bodies as agential entities significantly challenges conceptualisations of victims as passive and subverts human-nonhuman as well as perpetrator-victim hierarchies.