RARA-AVIS: Gothic/hardboiled academics

From: Mbdlevin@aol.com
Date: 06 Feb 2000

A.N. Smith writes:

<< I'm glad you mentioned this, as I am taking a graduate seminar on the Gothic
 novel right now, and had the same thought about pulp and noir being so
 closely aligned. The professor said about my thought, "To equate pulp with
 gothic is to do violence to both terms." Which I think is a pretty awful
 thing to say. Gothic and noir share so many elements, but because of the
 "feminization" of gothic early on, they sort of laughed my comments off, as
 they were moreinterested in talking about gender issues and historical
 perspective in defining what gothic is. So, where I thought I was going to
 enjoy the class, it seems now I've been chastised for bringing up the noir
 aspect I so looked forward to exploring. >>

The lesson here is that graduate school cuts into one's time for reading and profitable thought. All right, I'm ready to uncloset my academic trappings and take on this professor guy (or woman). A few things and then a loop back to harboiled: As I recall, Gothic has a sharply defined genre history
(beginning in 1764 with Castle of Otranto); the genre as genre was identifiable enough to be well parodied by Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey. Noir on the other hand seems to be a term of mood that has come into use in the 20th-century, but might be applied to, say, Macbeth. I'm curious when
"pulp" was first used to describe the cheap magazines themselves (that usage is not in the old OED); I misuse the word, I believe (in a way that is becoming acceptable from use), by calling paperback originals of the 1950s,
"pulp novels." Now back to the matter at hand, hardboiled. One geneology would be to look at pulps, especially "Weird Tales" type stuff, but also hardboiled, in another vein, as coming through Poe (with forgotten intermediaries like George Lippard, who incidentally wrote about corrupt society in a way reminiscent of the hardboiled). Poe wrote Gothicky stuff, surely, and also those detective stories (and the Gothic always had those investigative questions--what's behind the locked door, what was that body with the worms). Hardboiled tales are not of course Sherlock Holmes/Dupin affairs, but we do want to find out (at least a bit, sometimes) who did the murder (or that question serves as a McGuffin to drive the plot). Poe himself was inspired by and stole from many, including Charles Brockden Brown, who wrote--you heard it here first--the first American murder mystery in which an amateur detective investigates the murder of his friend. This novel, Edgar Huntly (1799) also quite, deliberately takes from the Gothic tradition (Brown says so himself and uses the word "Gothic"). Thus, Brown, Poe, Hard-boiled/Weird Tales pulp; Gothic/Detection/Hard-boiled pulp. QED.
--The other Doug

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