I think the detective story is by far the best upholder of the democratic doctrine in literature. I mean, there couldn’t have been detective stories until there were democracies, because the very foundation of the detective story is the thesis that if you’re guilty you’ll get it in the neck and if you’re innocent you can’t possibly be harmed. No matter who you are. There was no such conception of justice until after 1830. There was no such thing as a policeman or a detective in the world before 1830, because the modern conception of the policeman and detective, namely, a man whose only function is to find out who did it and then get the evidence that will punish him, did not exist. … In Paris before the year 1800 — read the Dumas stories — there were gangs of people whose business was to go out and punish wrongdoers. But why? Because they had hurt De Marillac or Richelieu or the Duke or some Huguenot noble, not just because they had harmed society. It is only the modern policeman that is out to protect society.

Rex Stout (1886-1975) American writer
On “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,” Invitation to Learning Radio Show, hosted by Mark Van Doren (Jan 1942)

Transcribed in Mark Van Doren, The New Invitation to Learning: The Essence of the Great Books of All Times (1942).
Added on 2-Jan-14 | Last updated 2-Jan-14
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