School of Area Studies, History, Politics and Literature


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Dr Christopher Pittard


I joined the University of Portsmouth in 2009, having held previous teaching positions at Newcastle University and the University of Exeter. My main research focus is on the popular culture of the nineteenth century, especially the emergence of popular genres in the Victorian fin de siecle and detective fiction in particular. My monograph, Purity and Contamination in Late Victorian Detective Fiction, arising out of an AHRC funded project at the University of Exeter, considers how such fictions (and the periodicals in which they appeared) engaged with ideas of material and social purity, ranging from Sherlock Holmes cleaning the face of criminality in “The Man with the Twisted Lip” to the moral policing carried out by the Social Purity movements and late Victorian antivivisection campaigns. My publications in this area include discussions of Arthur Conan Doyle, Arthur Morrison, Fergus Hume, and of the Strand Magazine more widely.

My wider interests in popular culture and Victorian fiction are also served by my work on the editorial boards of The Journal of Popular CultureClues: A Journal of Detection, and the Victorian Popular Fiction Assocation; and peer review for the Wellcome Trust, publishers including Oxford University Press, Edinburgh University Press, Routledge, Blackwell, Broadview and Palgrave, and a range of journals including PMLA, Victorian Periodicals ReviewJournal of Neo-Victorian Studies, and Configurations, and as a faculty member of the Dickens Project, University of California Santa Cruz (2010-2015).

Reviews for Purity and Contamination in Late Victorian Detective Fiction

“[There is] much to relish in a work that is both theoretically informed and rigorously grounded in primary research... The effort to clean up dirt, to restore it to its rightful place, is a way of 'reordering our environment' in order to 'make it conform to an idea'. This is a provocative way of thinking about detective fiction, and Pittard makes it pay... richly suggestive” Times Literary Supplement 13 April 2012

"Pittard convincingly revises some of the most familiar arguments in the field. Foucauldian readings of the genre, the relationship between Victorian science and crime fiction, and Victorian science and questions of form all come in for revisionary treatment.... [Pittard's] interest lies in figuring out where the theoretical conversation about detective fiction goes from here, several decades now after D. A. Miller's The Novel and the Police. Pittard does this playfully in his intriguing book." Victorian Studies 56.1 (2013).

Purity and Contamination is rich in ideas, analysis, and information, offering new perspectives on familiar texts and introducing archival material that has received little if any critical attention.... There has been much written on late-Victorian detective fiction, but Pittard takes an innovative approach.... a masterly revisioning of [Victorian crime] narratives.”  Review of English Studies 63.261 Sept 2012


My current major research project is a consideration of conjuring and secular magic in Victorian and Edwardian fiction, reading the work of Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Elizabeth Gaskell, and Max Beerbohm, among others. This work draws upon various critical perspectives (such as the Freudian uncanny and Derrida’s analysis of ‘conjurement’) to theorise secular magic as a narrative, and combine these approaches with the attention to material culture that characterises my research. 

My work in detective fiction continues with co-editorship (with Janice M. Allan) of The Cambridge Companion to Sherlock Holmes (Cambridge University Press, 2017), and with articles and papers on illustration in detective fiction and the figure of the animal in such writings.


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