RARA-AVIS: Is Brigid based on "Milady"?

K. Harper (kharper@bgnet.bgsu.edu)
Mon, 27 Jul 1998 12:23:52 -0400 (EDT) Greetings, all--

As most of you know, I am preparing for a lengthy series of doctoral
examinations in English and American literature. My committee was kind
enough to allow several hard-boiled or semi-HB items on my reading list
(_Little Caesar_, _High Sierra_, _The Asphalt Jungle_, _The Maltese
Falcon_, _The Glass Key_, _The Front Page_, _Brighton Rock_, _Appointment
at Samarra_, Willard Motley's _Knock on Any Door_, and the Hemingway story
collection _Men Without Women_), as well as a number of canonical works
containing a mystery, such as _Zadig_ and _The Moonstone_. While reading,
I watch for links or similarities between items. A possible connection
came up this morning that intrigues me, as it may shed new light on one of
this list's favorite characters: Brigid O'Shaughnessey.

The character I have in mind, the villain of Alexandre Dumas' _The Three
Musketeers_, can be described as follows:

* Name: Elizabeth de Bruie, a.k.a. the Countess de la Fere, a.k.a. Lady
Clarick. The text refers to her mainly as "Milady."
* Age: 25. Skin: alabaster. Eyes: "blue and languid." Manner: helpless
at first, then sly and seductive, and eventually savage. A skilled liar.
* Occupation: International conspirator and jewel thief, allied on-and-off
with the crafty Cardinal Richelieu.
* Method: Seduces a man, accepts gifts from him, and sets him first
against his predecessor and then, if he survives, against her other
enemies. As described by a near-victim: "Look at this woman: she is young,
she is beautiful, she has all the seductions in the world; well! she is a
monster who, at the age of twenty-five years, has been guilty of as many
crimes as you could read in a year in the archives of our tribunals. Her
voice prejudices one in her favor, her beauty serves as a bait for her
victims, she even pays with her body what she has promised--that much
justice must be done to her. She will attempt to seduce you; she will
perhaps try to kill you."
* Current lover: A musketeer-in-training--that is, an armed law
enforcement official, the 17th-century equivalent of a policeman/detective,
but one who has not officially been accepted into their ranks.
* Fate: Her lover arranges for her to be arrested and, eventually,
executed. He does so in part because it is right, and in part because of
her earlier (attempted) murder of his partner.

Based on these similarities, I believe that Brigid O'Shaughnessey, a.k.a.
Miss Wonderly, a.k.a. Miss LeBlanc, is, if not a conscious re-creation of
Milady, at least strongly influenced by her. Lillian Hellman has said that
Hammett would become obsessed with an author or topic and read until he had
exhausted the subject. We know that he was familiar with Dumas: in "Fly
Paper," he borrowed, with due credit, a method of undetectable murder from
the French author's _The Count of Monte Cristo_. Hammett's other writings
frequently contain references to/borrowings from notable books: everything
from _The Mystery of Udolpho_ to Zane Grey.

What do the rest of the list's _Falcon_ fans think? Do I have a basis for
argument, or am I seeing something that isn't there? I'd be most
interested to hear your thoughts.



Katherine Harper
Department of English
Bowling Green State University
Visit the W.R. Burnett Page at http://ernie.bgsu.edu/~kharper/

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