April 07, 2004

It takes a village to raise a detective…

I don’t have a lot of time today to get right down into long, “epic” novels, so I’ve been making do with the local library’s stockpile of short stories and novellas. This afternoon I squeezed in some time to read George Eliot’s Silas Marner, weighing in at a slim and merciful 176 pages—as opposed to her 800-900 page mammoth novels like Middlemarch and Daniel Deronda. Big boys, those: I really can’t imagine that the big Victorian novels are ever going to rise in popularity.

Anyways, in the book, two events at roughly the same time. The hermit Silas finds that somebody has stolen his hoard of gold, and Dunstan Cass—a knave if ever there was one!—disappears from the village. Now, the natural thing to suppose is that Dunstan has filched the gold and fled. And, lo, this is what has actually happened. But marvelously enough, not a single person in the quaint little town can put two and two together. Wha—? Come on friends, get with it…

Maybe it’s just a bizarre plot device, and Eliot made her villagers intentionally dumb. But I wonder, are people nowadays better detectives? It seems like any old group of modern folks could make the connection.

But maybe early 19th century villagers really weren’t too good at playing detective. At one point people saw coincidences and invented supernatural causes to explain them. Nowadays we search a little harder to make causal links between two events, and have a better grasp that things can be connected in non-obvious ways—a crackdown on graffiti, for instance, can lead to a reduction in crime. So maybe all this starts to explain why my mom figured out the ending of The Sixth Sense right away, while the dumb little village of Raveloe never figured out who took Silas’ gold.
-- Brad Plumer 11:41 PM || ||