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CLS 90 — Classic American Detective Novels and Films

Quarter: Spring
Day(s): Tuesdays
Course Format: On-campus
Duration: 10 weeks
Date(s): Apr 3—Jun 5
Time: 7:00—8:50 pm
Drop Deadline: Apr 16
Units: 2
Tuition: $460
Instructor(s): Joyce Moser
Status: Open
7:00—8:50 pm
Apr 3—Jun 5
10 weeks
Drop By
Apr 16
2 Units
Joyce Moser
The fast-talking, sometimes duplicitous, but ultimately honorable American detective has become an essential figure in American novels, plays, TV series, and award-winning films, and their creators are now comfortably ensconced in the Library of America along with William Faulkner, John Steinbeck, and other icons of American writing. This course will offer students an introduction to the classic novels and films that brought American detective fiction to new artistic heights.

Our exploration will begin with Edgar Allan Poe’s Dupin, the basis for Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. It will then lead us to Mark Twain, who uniquely combines detection, slavery, and race in his short novel Pudd’nhead Wilson; Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade and Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe; and Walter Mosley’s Easy Rawlins, an African American detective reluctantly following Marlowe down the mean streets of a newer but equally dark Los Angeles. We will also engage with Chandler’s great essay, “The Simple Art of Murder,” in which he explains why he loathes and detests both Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. As we read these classic works, we will watch and take apart some masterpieces of cinema, including Double Indemnity, The Big Sleep, The Maltese Falcon, Laura, L.A. Confidential, and Rear Window. By the end of the course, students will have explored the best that the American detective tradition has to offer.

Joyce Moser, Associate Director for Faculty Connection in Undergraduate Advising and Research, Stanford

Joyce Moser has taught at Stanford since 1988. Her research interests center on American literature from 1870 to 1940, particularly California writing, detective fiction, and Jewish American literature. She received a PhD in English and humanities from Stanford.

Textbooks for this course:

(Required) Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson (ISBN 978-0486408859)
(Required) Dashiell Hammett, Maltese Falcon (ISBN 978-0679722649)
(Recommended) Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep (ISBN 978-0394758282)