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Making Manhattan: urban hieroglyphics, patternings and tattoos in Edgar Allan Poe's 'The Tell-Tale Heart' (1843) and Herman Melville's Moby Dick (1851)

Jordan, Spencer


Spencer Jordan


K. Cox

K. Watson


In detective fiction, the city has often been represented as an arena of signs and secrets, what Laura Marcus has called ‘urban hieroglyphics’. Through the analysis of two literary works, this essay discusses how tattoos and patterning within detective fiction can be understood as direct responses to the unprecedented wave of urbanisation that swept both Europe and America from the early nineteenth century. The essay takes as its frame of reference the city of New York in the mid nineteenth century, a period that witnessed dramatic expansion based on the gridiron symmetry of the Commissioners’ Plan of 1811. Through a detailed analysis of Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’ (1843) and Herman Melville's Moby Dick (1851), the essay analyses how Henri Lefebvre’s concepts of ‘spatial code’ and ‘representational space’ offers a means of conceptualising the symbolic use of tattooing and patterning within the detective genre. Through these concepts, the essay goes on to explore the transgressive relationship between body and city at a time of radical change.

Book Type Book Chapter
Publication Date 2019-06
Publisher Manchester University Press
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Book Title Tattoos in Crime and Detective Narratives: Marking and Re-marking
ISBN 978-1-5261-2867-6
Publisher URL
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