LEVAN BREGADZE # 2
TO THE HISTORY OF DETECTIVE FICTION
Detective fiction, an independent branch of crime fiction, is widely considered to have begun in 1841 with the publication of “The Murders in the Rue Morgue”, a short story by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849). Before Edgar Poe only separate elements of this genre have been marked by the researchers. From this viewpoint, it is interesting to mention the paper published by film director and screenwriter, remarkable expert of adventure fiction Leonid Trauberg (Trauberg L. 1965: 106-108). He reveals the elements of detective fiction in Homer’s Odyssey (Odysseus’s adroitness), in “The Tracking Satyrs” by Sophocles (Hermes has stolen Appolo’s cows; the satyrs are trying to track down the stolen cattle. Hermes covers up the traces in a cunning way and escapes from the trackers. Here the offender wins which is not characteristic for detective story). In the same place L.Trauberg mentions Voltaire’s “Zadig” (1748) which features a main character who performs feats of analysis, particularly, he has an extraordinary ability to detect the trace. He depicted with strict accuracy the Queen’s dog and horse that he had never seen before (the motif of genuine trace reading is also found in Georgian folklore and prosaic composition of the 17th century known under the name of “Rusudaniani”. About this see Glonti 1993: 13-14. Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose starts with the episode containing the same motif).
L.Trauberg writes that Voltaire did not create genre but his Zadig has both deductive ability and a detective’s power of observation. It is true Voltaire did not create genre of detective fiction. It is not a detective story even because there is no offence: nobody has stolen the Queen’s dog and horse (which traces were identified by Zadig).
Obviously, none of these works belongs to true detective fiction due to the fact that the elements obligatory to this genre in total are not represented in any of them as it is in Edgar Poe’s works: 1.offence covered with mystery; 2. clearance of crime wrapped in mystery by a man who is distinguished with extraordinary power of observance, sharp mind, strong deductive reasoning, profound knowledge of human psychology.
After this brief excursus, let us recall the short story “The Man who was Married to a Sorceres” by Georgian writer Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani (1668-1725) from the book of fables, “A Book of Wisdom and Lies”. In Ispahan there lived one poor man whose wife was a hypocritical and lustful person. She pretended to be good-wife, (constantly reading the Koran, praying five times a day, never washed her hands in drinking water), but in reality she was corrupted and disloyal wife. One day the husband went to Baghdad with caravan. The caravan was delayed for a while and as they were not far from Ispahan, the husband decided to return back to his house to spend the night. From the outside he caught a glimpse of his wife feasting with her lover. The husband, broken-hearted with what he had seen, could not enter his home and went away. He left his family for ever and settled in Baghdad where he earned his living by carrying water.
At that time a gang of robbers acted in Baghdad. Not a single house was left which was not burgled, the whole town was in panic. The Caliph ordered his guards: “If you do not catch the thieves, I swear by my head I’ll have you disemboweled, every one of you” (Orbeliani 1982: 147). The guards failed to find the offenders and in order to escape penalty they caught the carrier of water, the poor man from Ispahan and accused him to be guilty but the man pleaded them to give him one week to find the robber. Finally he was released for a short time. The Ispahan refugee was wandering around and he did not know what to do.
One day he caught a glimpse of someone stalking along the street and two serfs in front of him sweeping with broom the spot where he stepped. He inquired who that man might be and why they were sweeping the street before he stepped. He was explained that it was local top spiritual person Sadri, the saint and thanks to his prays the country lives, rain and crop are also the result of his prayers.
The Ispahan man thought that must have been the thief they were looking for. He followed him, stole into his house and made sure that Sadri was the leader of the gang indeed.
He informed about it the guards but they made a mock at him from the beginning. It took much time to persuade first the guards and then the Caliph that it in reality Sadri was the offender. Eventually Sadri was arrested and “received his deserts” (Orbeliani 1982: 149).
Of course everybody was amazed how poor water carrier could have guessed that Sadri was the thief. Having had such a dishonest wife as he had it was not difficult to guess and told them the story of his wife’s hypocrisy, who pretended to be a saint that we know from the beginning of the story.
Here first of all it is of particular importance the author’s remark on the scale of the offence: “There was an outbreak of robbery in Baghdad, and no house was spared” (Orbeliani 1982: 147). The Ispahan man found himself in a tight corner began to think that it was not an ordinary offence. An ordinary criminal would not have behaved in this way. In spite of great effort, the criminal cases remain unsolved because they are committed by such people who are least suspected.
It is interesting to note two remarkable details which express the peak of hypocrisy: 1.The wife is such “saint” that she never washed her hands in drinking water; 2. With each step Sadri takes, the servants sweep the place where that “saint” man is to step. An excessive and persistent attempt to present oneself as saint is a cover-shelter for lustful people.
Those who are well aware of detective fiction might guess that we are dealing here with a story of the kind of Gilbert Keith Chesterton’s (1874-1936) detective stories. Here is what N.Trauberg states about Chesterton’s detective novels: “maybe Chesterton’s novels are detective fiction plus psychology? It is generally recognized that their distinctive feature is that Father Brown and Fisher (Chesterton’s main characters. – L. B.) to find evidence do not crawl with magnifying glass in their hands but they try to penetrate into the offender’s psychology. Anyway the honor to introduce this novelty is given to Chesterton – it seems he makes this better and more truthful than others” (Trauberg N. 1967: 506).
As is known, numerous of S.S.Orbeliani’s fables and stories can have an analog or parallel with various monuments of the world literature. The question is how things are in connection with the story we are interested in.
According to Zurab Avalishvili the story “must be constructed on the basis of Persian town anecdote. As it seems from the beginning, it was targeted to praise Ispahanians wits and smartness. However, Orbeliani transformed it into the work directed against the hypocrisy in general and created from it a wonderful satire” (Avalishvili 1933: 45).
Z.Avalishvili does not have at his disposal any documents proving the existence of such kinds of Persian anecdotes but if a supposed anecdote had actually existed it is evident that its development in Saba’s way could be considered original creation. As is known, numerous masterpieces have been created by remaking fables spread orally.
Thus, while speaking about the history of detective fiction, this novel created by Sulkhan-Saba Orbeliani should also be mentioned.
Avalishvili 1933: Avalishvili S., Einleitung. In: Orbeliani S.S., Weisheit der Lüge. Berlin, 1933.
Glonti 1933: Glonti A., Voltair and Georgian Tale. Newspaper “Sitkva Kartuli” (Georgian word), 1993, #6 (in Georgian).
Orbeliani 1982: Orbeliani S.S., A Book of Wisdom and Lies. Translated from the Georgian by Katharine Vivian. The Octagon Press, London, 1982.
Trauberg L. 1965: Trauberg L., Sherlock Holmes’ Mistake. J. “Nauka i zhizn”, 1965, #8) (in Russian).
Trauberg N. 1967: Gilbert Keith Chesterton’s Detective Stories. In: Poe E. A., The Gold-Bug; Chesterton G. K, The Queer Feet. Moscow, 1967 (in Russian).