RARA-AVIS: Re: Hard-Boiled vs Noir

ejm duggan (ejmd@mcmail.com)
Mon, 27 Jul 1998 11:04:47 -0700 On Monday, July 27 1998, RARA-AVIS Digest wrote:

Reed Andrus <randrus@home.com> wrote:

> Interesting. By that definition, John Camp's FOOL'S RUN and THE EMPRESS
> FILES qualify. For want of another description, the protagonist (and
> those he employs) are professional vengeance handlers. They contract out
> to defeat corrupt town leaders, or big business powermongers.
> Here's another one: John Clarkson's excellent AND JUSTICE FOR ALL. The
> hero is Jack Devlin, head of international security for some
> world-spanning conglomerate who returns home when his only relative is
> beaten near to death in a bar. As he investigates, he runs up against a
> powerful gang of thugs who have some police in their hip pocket. A minor
> investigation escalates into an all-out war.

It's difficult to comment on these specific titles as I haven't read
'em, so while I'm wary (are you setting me up here?) the plots as you
describe them are commensurate with what I would describe as the key
features of hb.
> Does the fact that the corrupt institution is basically criminal fall
> into the hb category?

Yes, I think it's safe to say this.

> So the theme of wrongfully imprisoned guy (or the guy who takes the fall
> for a corrupt friend), who returns for retribution is what ... noir or
> hard boiled?

I think it could be either or both. It would depend upon what other
elements are present.

> And what about ambience? Can't a hardboiled novel also be gloomy.

Indeed it could---I think that there is no easy dividing line between
the two.
HB can have 'noirish' elements; noir can demonstrate hb qualities.
Perhaps it's best to think of these categories as two extremes in an
ideal sense (ie, just for the purpose of distinguishing them) but in a
practical sense, there is a considerable overlap.

Here's a crude ascii diagram that will probably get mangled and not show
what I mean at all:
(Also, it's so crude that the dimensions are not meant to be relative or

| #===============|-------+ #
|hb # mostly overlapping | noir #
| #===============|-------+ #

James Rogers <jetan@ionet.net> wrote:

> Since I don't think anyone on here has ever succesfully defined
> "hard-boiled", I doubt that we are going to make much progress in arriving
> at a satisfactory distinction from "noir" either.

That's right---in fact I think I posted almost the same comment a couple
of days ago.

> But I believe when the expression "roman noir" first started to be
> tossed around, it just referred generally to "that kind of stuff",
> whether it was the Chandler flavor or the McGivern flavor.

Yes, I think you're right, but here you're also imposing a distinction,
between 'the Chandler flavour' (ie hb) and 'the McGivern flavour' (ie
noir). However, it is a distinction that is hard to maintain: the two
flip in and out like a necker cube. We *know* there's a difference, but
it's difficult to keep the two distinct.

jross@utxvms.cc.utexas.edu (Julie Ross), or was it Jacques?, wrote:

> I've always understood these terms to be used interchageably. The only
> difference that ever pops into my head is "hard-boiled" being used more
> often as an attribute of style, and "noir" as used as a description of tone
> or mood, i.e. "roman noir" or black (dark) novel. I don't really feel
> uncomfortable substituting one for the other.

I think they are used interchangable, but I don't think they really are
synonymous. The style:tone distinction is interesting, but one which I
think would be as difficult to maintain in practice (ie while reading)
as any other way of distinguishing between the two.

I would be uncomfortable in seeing the terms used interchangably.
Hammett's _Red Harvest_ for example, is quite a different kettle of fish
from Woolrich's _I Married a Dead Man_

Apologies to all for so lengthy a post,


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