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"Who Cares who Killed Ivan Ivanovich?": The Literary Detective in Tsarist Russia

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As British writers of detective fiction began turning the genre into the parlor game of figuring out "whodunit," their Russian analogues were privileging the question of "why." The primary distinction between "who" and "why" lies in the source of signification: the detective looks for who, whereas the criminal must explain why. Privileging "why" allows for the exoneration of an individual's actions because it can hold broader social forces, including the state, accountable. Thus did Russian detective novelists mitigate the culpability of their protagonists' most violent acts and allow readers to shift blame to the autocracy.

Affiliations: 1: University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

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