Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Committee Member

Kelly Mays

Second Committee Member

Anne Stevens

Third Committee Member

Denise Tillery

Fourth Committee Member

Michelle Tusan

Number of Pages



My dissertation argues that within the mid- to late-nineteenth-century British detective novel, the abductive arguments used to build circumstantial evidence (indirect evidence), or "clues," form the method of the detective, but those arguments are not logically certain. In order to resolve the mystery of the detective novel, to discover how the crime was committed and who committed it, circumstantial evidence proves insufficiently conclusive, so confessions, a more logically conclusive (direct) form of evidence, begins to appear frequently in detective novels. Confessions conclusively confirm the events of the crime, the guilt of the criminal, and reveal the inner workings of the criminal mind. Yet by also investigating the larger category of testimony as both direct and indirect evidence, I also show how receiving evidence from people instead of things complicates the detection process.

I look to the legal philosophy of Jeremy Bentham for much of the schema of evidence that I use. In my first chapter, I argue that lawyers in detective fiction should receive more critical attention than they currently receive. Both lawyers and legal language frequently appear in detective novels of the 1850s-1870s, and the rational, evidentiary methodology of the lawyer is also that of the detective. Both use abductive arguments, namely those arguments based on inferences that explain a set of circumstances, to create narratives about the events of a crime. I investigate the literary and historical circumstances that account for the prevalence of legal matters and lawyers in detective fiction of the 1850s-1870s.

In the second, third, and fourth chapters I lay out the argument concerning circumstantial evidence, testimony, and confession that I stated above. The second chapter examines the logical underpinnings of circumstantial evidence, drawing on C. S. Peirce's observations on logic. I demonstrate that the production of circumstantial evidence via abductive reasoning is the detection method not only of Edgar Allan Poe's legendary Auguste Dupin, but of nearly all mid- to late- British detectives as well. By analyzing ,The Notting Hill Mystery, a novel in which the only form of evidence offered to the reader is circumstantial evidence, I explore how insufficient such evidence and the abductive reasoning out of which it is built ultimately turn out to be, failing to be logically conclusive enough to satisfy the reader concerning the resolution of the criminal investigation.

In the third chapter, I examine two categories of testimony, indirect and direct, in Wilkie Collins's novelsThe Law and the LadyandThe Moonstone, arguing that though it might seem that direct -- or eyewitness -- testimony is more reliable than indirect testimony, or circumstantial evidence,The Moonstonesuggests that even eyewitness testimony might be unreliable, because there is the possibility that a person cannot accurately interpret his or her own experiences.

The final chapter considers a special form of direct testimony, the confession. Largely by analyzingLady Audley's Secret, I argue that confession alone is the type of evidence that confirms lingering uncertainty that is the necessary result of abductive arguments made from circumstantial evidence. It is the resolution of this uncertainty that accounts for the prevalence of confessions in detective fiction where detectives use abductive reasoning to solve crimes. Additionally, confession allows the reader insight into the criminal mind and confirms the guilt of the criminal.


Criticism; Detective and mystery stories; English; Evidence; Circumstantial; in literature; Confession in literature; Lawyers in literature


Literature in English, British Isles

File Format


Degree Grantor

University of Nevada, Las Vegas




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