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Sensation and Professionalism in the Victorian Novel

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Mariaconcetta Costantini

This book explores the extent to which four sensation novelists responded to the Victorian theorizing of professionalism. A crucial period of redefinition of the professional ideal, the third quarter of the nineteenth century also witnessed the rise and the decline of the sensation novel, a scandalous and electrifying form that challenged aesthetic and socio-cultural standards. Owing to their controversial position in the literary marketplace, novelists like Wilkie Collins, Mary Elizabeth Braddon, Charles Reade and Ellen Wood developed a keen interest in professional issues, which occupy centre stage in their 1850s-70s narratives. By drawing on a variety of sociological, cultural and philosophical theories, Costantini skilfully assesses the ideological implications of the genre’s fictionalization of professionalism. She shows how sensation novelists provocatively represented the challenges faced by both elite and rising professionals, who are used as narrative vehicles for thorny discourses on authorship, ethicality, aestheticism and sociocultural identity.
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Chapter 7: Agents of law and order

The rise of detectives: from history to fiction

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Chapter 7 Agents of law and order

The law offered employment to four main groups – barristers, attorneys/solicitors, judges and clerks – who performed activities in the judicial and contractual areas of the legal field. There was, though, another occupational group that came to play an important role in that field. The members of this group – policemen and detectives – fulfilled functions of crime prevention, law enforcement and the investigation of lawbreaking actions. They were more directly enmeshed, therefore, than lawyers were in the world of crime. Unlike lawyers, moreover, they traditionally lacked organization and were slow to achieve a professional status during the nineteenth century.

Historians have linked the reforms leading to the creation of the new class of detectives (police and private agents) to the development of a “professional” criminal class that, owing to large urban unemployment, became a threat to law-abiding citizens: “The inevitable response to the widespread emergence of the professional criminal was the birth of the modern policeman”1. Before these reforms were called for, the existing system of law and order was quite disorganized. In the eighteenth century, the main functionaries were justices of the peace and parish constables. Functionaries of both types were unpaid, but serving as a justice entailed a certain social prestige. In London, where crime rates kept rising, constables were assisted by nightly watchmen and privately organized forces. Other common practices were the employment of informers and the payment of rewards to persuade criminals to turn against their fellows....

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