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This article is taken from PN Review 57, Volume 14 Number 1, September - October 1987.

Only a Thriller or Where Does the Mainstream Flow? Marghanita Laski

What guilty relationship burdened Jane Fairfax? What hold had Mr Tulkinghorn over Lady Deadlock, and whoever could Mr Datchery have been? Whose was the curious laugh, formal and mirthless, behind the locked door in Thornfield Hall? What did Raffles know of Mr Bulstrode? Was he Popenjoy?

There is hardly a novel written between, say, 1800 and 1870 in which an element of mystery, terror, suspense, chicanery, and even murder is not a major strand, second only, as a rule, to the domestic framework on which these novels are built; The Moonstone and Uncle Silas are unusual for their period only in reversing the normal weighting of the domestic and extra-domestic suspense. There were, of course, in varying proportions and at authorial choice, other possible strands: some cause of specific moral propaganda in addition to the usual authorial moral tone, like Dickens on sanitary reform and Mrs Gaskell on employers' duty of caring; some farce, as often as not, then, lower-class - Sam Weller, the scene at the Rainbow inn; and possibly an element of useful information, such as land development in the United States, church sinecures, the Jewish problem.

But in the early 1870s, after the publication of major novels by Thomas Hardy and Henry James, quite another kind of fiction came to be seen as the serious novel, the important and mainstream novel, even - a new demand in fiction - the art novel. Between the traditional novel and this newer form there were ...


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