Event—Adult Education

The Golden Age of Mystery Fiction: Soft-Boiled and Hard-Boiled

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Detective fiction and film noir exposed social anxieties and aspirations in the period between world wars.

Agatha Christie as a young woman. Source: The Christie Archive Trust, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Class Description

Mystery fiction (aka detective or crime fiction) of the early 20th century is often divided into British soft-boiled whodunnits and American hard-boiled detective fiction. Both these types of literature became enormously popular across social strata. They also generated (and continue to generate) material for film and television.

Indeed, the interwar period between World War I and World War II is known as the Golden Age of soft-boiled mystery writers: Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayers, Margery Allingham, and Ngaio Marsh. The same period became the era of film noir, drawing on the hard-boiled detective novels of Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler.

In this class, we will read and discuss selected examples of both modes in the context of the interwar and war periods, which will allow us to explore the role of popular culture in both exposing and containing societal anxieties and aspirations. 

Dr. Elzbieta Foeller-Pituch is the Assistant Director of the Chabraja Center for Historical Studies at Northwestern University, where she also teaches literature classes.

Materials List


  • Agatha Christie, The Thirteen Problems. Harper Collins Paperbacks, 2017. ISBN: 978-0008196523
  • Agatha Christie, The Labors of Hercules. William Morrow, Company, 2011. ISBN: 9780062073983
  • Dashiell Hammett, Red Harvest. Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1989. ISBN: 978-0679722618
  • Dashiell Hammett, The Maltese Falcon. Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1992. ISBN: 978-0679722649
  • Raymond Chandler, The Big Sleep. Vintage Crime/Black Lizard, 1988. ISBN: 978-0394758282
  • Vera Caspary, Laura. The Feminist Press at CUNY, 2005. ISBN: 978-1558615052

First Reading: 

For the first meeting, please read the following:

    Cost and Registration

    This class is full, but you can still register for the waitlist on Learning Stream.

    Five sessions, $205 ($184.50 for Newberry members, seniors, and students). Learn about becoming a member.

    To register multiple people for this class, please go through the course calendar in Learning Stream, our registration platform. When you select the course and register, you’ll be prompted to add another registrant.

    Register for Waitlist

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