Master of Arts (MA)
Semester of Degree Completion
Donna J. Binns
More definitive answers about the creation and form of the modern True Crime genre narrative can be found by exploring, not the creators of True Crime narratives, but by following reader expectations and examining the social situation from which True Crime narratives were able to arise. Theorists in the genre field such as Lloyd Bitzer Carolyn Miller and Amy Devitt have introduced and refined the view of genre as a social action. In this view, genre does not come about as a set of rules imposed upon types of literature to bring order, but as a societally accepted creation constructed to respond to a recurring situation or as Bitzer calls it, a social "exigency." The elements of a genre, further, come about through resultant reader, not creator, expectations. When genre is created through social action, it is often in the form of loose sets of genre having a nexus of commonality.
This thesis argues that though the term would not be coined until decades later and a continent away, the True Crime genre and the core characteristics that comprise it can be found in pre-Victorian and Victorian England, coming about as a social response to a confluence of circumstances that occurred for the first time in human history: unprecedented freedom, literacy, and access to literature accompanied by concerns about newer, more complex crimes.
This is shown as primary True Crime non-fiction elements, followed through several case studies herein, appear and develop through the nineteenth century. These elements include the use of classical and modern persuasive rhetorical theory, an interactive element of public participation, a broader external question that engages the public in a wider conversation.
Brown, Jonathan G., "Hanging the Servant Girl to Hunting the Ripper: The Victorian Birth of the True Crime Genre" (2016). Masters Theses. 2432.