chapter  12
13 Pages

“The moral muddle about murder”

The decrease in sympathy for the murder victim in late Victorian detective fiction
WithMarjolein Platjee

In 1844, The Spectator published three articles in which an anonymous contributor voiced his concerns regarding a change in the allocation of public sympathy. According to the contributor, the public had begun to sympathise with murderers instead of with their victims. Disturbed by this development, he warns that this change in public sympathy will result in a loss of social cohesion and morality. By looking at Fergus Hume’s A Mystery of a Hansom Cab (1886) and Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet (1887), I pose that late-nineteenth-century detective fiction reflects this decline in sympathy for the murder victim in favour of the murderer, society or characters with a vested interest in the murder case. However, contrary to The Spectator’s prediction, I show that the shift in sympathy in these texts does not result in the disintegration of social morality or society itself, but in their re-establishment instead.