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  • P-ISSN0023-3900
  • E-ISSN2733-9343

The Detective Appears: Rethinking the Origin of Modern Detective Fiction in Korean Literary History

Korea Journal, (P)0023-3900; (E)2733-9343
2020, v.60 no.3, pp.295-319
https://doi.org/10.25024/kj.2020.60.3.295

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Abstract

This article rethinks the significance of the modern detective fiction genre in Korean literary history by focusing on Yi Haejo’s (1869–1927) Ssangokjeok (Double Jade Flutes). Ssangokjeok (1908) has been appreciated as the first self-conscious detective story in Korean literary history. However, it is contradictorily viewed as a mediocre adaptation of Western detective fiction or as a transitional text between traditional crime fiction and the fully developed modern detective story. This view tends to dismiss the ideological ambiguity or cultural complexity exhibited in the novel as a narrative defect, eventually making the novel a flawed detective story. However, in reconsidering the broader cultural context of reading and writing Korean detective fiction beyond the boundaries of the genre itself, the novel captures our attention by helping us draw a more complex picture of modern Korean literature and rethink the Korean literary modern. From this perspective, we should understand the novel as a complex text reflecting the conflicting relationships between traditional culture and modern civilization. In particular, this aspect appears conspicuous in the portrayal of the novel’s detective figure. Unlike modern detective heroes such as Sherlock Holmes, Detective Jeong devotes himself to fulfilling the function of modern enlightenment and social criticism rather than following the rules of popular fantasy for science and modern rationality. In this way, the novel suggests we must rethink the significance of fiction subgenres in Korean literary history.

keywords
Ssangokjeok (Double Jade Flutes) Yi Haejo the new novel detective fiction mystery court case fiction Korean literary history

Korea Journal